Can-Do Camp

YoungLives coordinator Susanna Clawson received a phone call in the middle of a busy Wednesday afternoon last July that she thought was a prank.

Camp is canceled.

Those are the last words any trip leader wants to hear three days before leaving for Young Life camp, but it was no joke. Due to health concerns, Washington Family Ranch was closed. Hours of preparation, prayer, fundraising and high hopes were out the window, leaving a group of teen moms in a cloud of disappointment.

For Clawson, that meant only one thing: she had to find the silver lining.

This came in the form of what the YoungLives team in Anchorage, Alaska, affectionately called “Faux Camp” — a quickly planned retreat designed not to replace the best week of their lives, but, simply, to make space for Jesus.

What Can Still Be Done

After Clawson hung up the phone, she realized she had one thing going for her: she’d never been to Young Life camp. She didn’t know trying to recreate that week for her four YoungLives moms would be impossible. So she set out to do it.

“My mind started spinning with retreat ideas,” she recalled. “I knew we had to get our girls out of Anchorage.”

Clawson called an emergency planning meeting with her volunteer mentors, Caroline Smith and Rachel Rowlan.

“They were bummed because they’d been to Young Life camp before and knew how great it was. I finally said we just have to drop the expectations. We don’t need camp to talk about Jesus. We can’t focus on what’s missing but on what can still be done.”

Miraculously, by Thursday afternoon, Clawson confirmed the bulk of their camp expenses had been refunded or credited. Knowing funds were available, Clawson divided activity planning between the leaders, and they got to work.

By Friday the team had a rough schedule and deposits made on a rental van, adventures and housing. The money they’d raised for the girls’ camp store accounts went instead to a remembrance of the week: a Bible for each mom, engraved with her name.

“I think the week could have been a disaster without the Holy Spirit moving ahead of us to arrange all the logistics,” Rowlan said. “Nothing compares to Young Life camp as a way to share Jesus with kids. I was ready to chunk it all once I knew we weren’t going to camp. Thankfully, Susanna had a better mindset than my pout-fest.”

Clawson also wanted to be intentional about cabin time. She found a six-session study on hope that beautifully presented the Gospel.

“Our girls are curious about or actively pursuing Jesus, so it worked perfectly for our cabin time,” Clawson said. “When we’re disappointed, even with camp canceled, where is our hope? Who is our hope?”

The Adventure Begins

On Sunday — the first day of “Faux Camp” — the leaders took the girls to the Anchorage mall for a photo scavenger hunt, complete with prizes from Bath and Body Works. And the fun was just beginning.

The next morning the group piled car seats, strollers and suitcases into a van and headed south to Moose Pass and their cabin in the woods. Maintaining the element of surprise kept things interesting.

“The girls were really excited when they saw we’d have a space of our own,” Clawson said. “This week was really about spending time with the girls and building relationships with them. And the girls were totally oblivious to what they were missing.”

The week was a mix of child-friendly and mom-only activities. They spent Monday at the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward, where moms and babies enjoyed the sea creatures and dinner in town. The cabin’s hot tub was the hang out spot after little ones were in bed.

For Tuesday, the team reserved a three-hour zip line tour in Seward that provided an afternoon of high adventure just for the moms.

The crew set out for Whittier on Wednesday to go shrimping in Prince William Sound. And on the way home Thursday, they stopped at an indoor waterpark where everyone unwound from the week of adventure together.

“We weren’t trying to replace camp,” Clawson said. “We were trying to create space for them to learn and grow. We learned to take a situation none of us were happy about and watch God turn it into good.”

Nothing Wasted

Out-of-the-ordinary fun was had every day, but important conversations filled the time together as well.

“I had one mom tell me she didn’t really understand cabin time,” Rowlan said. “Kaylin was the one girl we took who has no relationship or background with God at all. I asked her questions that led to sharing the Gospel with her. Nothing in the world compares with having the opportunity to share one-on-one what Jesus has done for the lost soul. She has not yet made a decision to follow Jesus as far as we know, but she now knows how much He loves her.”

“I love the way Young Life does things,” Smith said, “and this week was just part of that — one small piece of being in the girls’ lives, getting to know them, earning the right to be heard and sharing Jesus. I don’t know why things happen the way they do, but you do what you can in the moment. And then wait to see what God is going to do in everybody’s hearts.”

Clawson said every girl can reapply for camp next year, and they also have a head start on campership funds. As a bonus, they have a successful retreat under their belts to use as a model for future events.

“Overall, we feel incredibly blessed, knowing God had all this in store for us from the beginning,” Clawson said. “It wasn’t Young Life camp, but I think they still had the best week of their lives. And they’ll have another best week next year.”

The Best Three Days of My Life
Anchorage, Alaska, YoungLives was one of five groups to put on alternative camps as a result of the canceled week. Hundreds of teen moms from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington rounded out the other camps. Three of these camps had as many as 200 people in attendance. Spurred on by their tremendous love for the moms and their babies, the YoungLives staff, leaders, volunteers and nannies rallied and created unique opportunities to point the girls to Jesus. Here are just a few of the comments shared by teen moms in attendance:
“I don’t think I’ve ever met people this real!”
“Every girl here is a mom, like me!”
"You mean we can have as much food as we want?
That doesn’t happen at home.”
“Besides my baby girl being born,
this was the best three days of my life.”
To see some of the creativity in action, check out the video of Western Washington YoungLives kids enjoying their time at the Seabrook Resort.