Debate given at Fuller Ave Young Men’s Society
The subject for this time is resolved: that we should have a Christian Youth Camp for our own. First, I think it might be well for me to define what I mean by a youth camp of our own. By this I mean a summer camp supported and maintained by our churches for the use of our young people up to the age of fifteen or sixteen years. To prove that we should have such a camp, I would like to show its necessity and possibility.
This whole question hinges upon what our young people are to do with their spare time during the summer. So far, parents have been mainly negative in their solution to this problem. Because of the many evils of the world of today, parents instruct their children not to go to certain places and not to do certain things. Parents have not, however, established anything on a church-wide scale in the way of a positive solution to this problem. To be sure, there are societies, catechism classes, and Sunday School classes during the school terms, but all of these cease meeting during the summer months. I think, then, that the operation of a youth camp of our own during the summer months would be a positive solution for some of this spare time.
The way things are now, for a large part of the summer the young people are in contact, at least to some extent, with other young people who have no positive Christian background. Such companions often show disrespect for God in their speech and actions. This does not have a bad effect on those who have firm Christian principles, but on the weaker ones this is sometimes disastrous. Also, in their relations with such people, Christian young people often hear of movie attendance and other worldly amusements. I do not say that the mere knowledge of such places is wrong, but sometimes young Christians, because of this knowledge start going to such places. Close contact with the world is always dangerous, even though not always fatal, and should be avoided as much as possible. I think that through a youth camp of our own we could not only avoid some unnecessary contact with the world but also prepare the young people for other contacts with the world.
A youth camp of our own would not only help solve the spare time problem, but would also be very beneficial for the young people. In such a place, in as far as it is a Christian youth camp, a good Christian atmosphere would prevail. There would be no profanity or enticing talk of worldly amusements. This atmosphere would be positive and would give a positive, Christian approach to work and play. Such an atmosphere would be conducive to greater self-expression by our youth on spiritual matters. Such a youth camp would also be a very fine training place for the young people. The camp life would be regular with respect to certain tasks. Thus the young people would be taught the value of order in life. They would understand better that life is not all play and no work. At the camp the young people would also receive training in sports and handicraft. In this way they would gain skill in the use of their hands. Many of the young people would find an awakened interest in some of these things and take them over as hobbies or pastimes. This would then be a positive solution for the use of some of their spare time.
But, you may say, aren’t you picturing this too idealistically? Don’t you realize that things won’t work out that way in practice? To this I must say, yes, I am picturing this as it would be if we had conquered our sinful natures. I realize that the extent that the old man of sin still rules, the Christian atmosphere and the instructiveness would be lacking at the youth camp. But, even though this is true, the young people would still be in the company of Christians and who can deny that this is much better than the company of the world? I am convinced that a Christian youth camp would be very beneficial to our young people. I realize that although I have shown that a Christian youth camp of our own is necessary and would be beneficial, I must still prove that it is possible and practical to have one. I realize that the erection and maintenance of a youth camp would cost much money and need much labor and care. This does not mean, however, that we do not have the resources to meet this demand. The largest resource at hand is the young people themselves. After all, this matter directly concerns them and I am sure that they would all be willing to help in every way that they could. The collecting of finances could be taken care of largely by them, especially by the older ones. I am sure that the money would be forthcoming since their parents are as deeply interested in the way they spend their time as they are. Much money could also be saved by the young people by doing as much of the manual work connected with the building of the camp as possible themselves. Surely, this would mean work, but then, look what it’s for!
In conclusion I would only like to say that since a youth camp is necessary, since it would be very beneficial, and since it is possible to have one, why the delay? Let’s remedy the situation.
When this subject was assigned to me by the program committee of the Young Men’s Society of Fuller Avenue, I was glad that they assigned to me the negative side of it. I was glad, because I am not in favor of a Summer Youth Camp for Protestant Reformed children. And I am not in favor of a camp of this kind for three reasons. They are: one, because I believe that it is not practical from a financial point of view; and, secondly, there are other needs which in my opinion are far greater; and, finally, there is a great potential danger in an organization of this kind.
Now you must all realize that there would be quite a number of problems involved in a project of this sort. First, we would have to secure an ideal camp site. Land in these days is rather expensive. I understand that there is a tract of land available now on Lake Michigan, but which is priced at $45,000, and that would only be the beginning. We would still have only the site; we would also need buildings on it. For instance, we would need a dormitory, or cabins, and maybe a recreation building. We will play all our games etc. outdoors. Yes, but what about those days on which it rains, or on which there is other bad weather. I could very well conceive of the possibility that this project would cost well over $100,000. From this point of view, I say it certainly is not practical. If we have to work almost three years even do be able to start to build an eight-room school, how can we expect to have a Summer Youth Camp?
And this brings me to my second reason why I am not in favor of a Summer Camp. I believe that the cause of our own Protestant Reformed School for education in the way of the truth as we have been privileged to receive it from God, is greater by far than the need of a Summer Youth Camp. We should all be willing to do, and that is our duty to do that which we promise when we present our children for Baptism before the Lord. And certainly we ought to most enthusiastically from the point of view of Prov. 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” If some of us would have done this in the past, maybe the children would not have departed. That is why I say the need of our own school, both grade school and high school is far greater than that for a Summer Youth Camp.
It is also not necessary for us to have a Summer Youth Camp from the point of view of its purpose. You say to solve the problem of children playing with the world—get them together with only our own children. But, you see, a Summer Youth Camp would not solve that problem. These children would be sent to this camp for two weeks, but after that, where will they go? Out among the children of the world, the same place they were before. What would really have to be our aim for having a Youth Camp? Would it be our purpose to give these children physical training, in order to make them strong men and women in the future? Maybe this would be a good thing. Or would it be our purpose to supply them with a good environment and concentrate in character building? I am sure that this could never be our purpose. To my mind, our only purpose could be to emphasize the glory of God through His Word. You say, we could teach the children the glory of God in recreation. But you realize that we could never do this without the Word of God. We may even have to have lectures on this subject and classes with an instructor teaching them.
I said that this camp would not be necessary from the point of view of its purpose. I believe that this is true because we have ample ways of instruction in our churches; the societies, Sunday School and Catechism classes. It is also not necessary from the point of view of recreation. I think that there are very few families that do not at some time of the summer go to a cottage at the beach, or have picnics at some place, and then these children are under the wing of their parents, and are much better off than under a counsellor at a Youth Camp. The opinion has been expressed that there is the possibility that a counsellor might be more strict than the parents in the home. But, you see that then it is the fault of the parents who are guilty of the sin of neglecting their children from the point of view of discipline. There are also the Sunday School picnics and the school picnics, and here the children are also under good leadership. I believe, therefore, that there are ample ways of recreation for the children.
Finally, there is the danger, and that is, it is so easy for us, as children of God, in the flesh to go along with the Spirit of the age. You know, that it is the tendency of the church today. There are men and women who will go bowling twice a week, but you do not find them at the societies, studying the Word of God with other of God’s children? No, I’m afraid that they are conspicuously absent. You find that throughout the church in the world today. And that is precisely the danger that we will come up against. We must always remember that we and our children have a corrupt and depraved nature. There is always that danger that our children will go to this camp for the sake of the recreation only. Even though you have speeches and lectures, when they go out of the lecture room, what they heard will be put out of their minds.
Because I believe that it is not practical and because we have greater needs elsewhere, and because there is a danger of going along with the spirit of the age, say that we cannot and should not have a Summer Youth Camp.