Harrison Wise (17) doesn’t consider himself an outdoorsy person. But he loves serving as a camp director at Meadow Ranch Camp.

“The main portion of my ministry here at Hume is working with youth, pastors, and counselors from churches,” Wise said. “Our hope is that we provide a camp experience that is going to bolster the youth pastors, that’s going to set them up for success to have those conversations with students to give them time to be in chapel students.”

Meadow Ranch is one of many locations affiliated with Hume Lake Christian Camps. The first camp opened in 1946 along the eponymous lake, located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range within Sequoia National Forest. Now, Hume operates camps across the country, including in Southern California and New England.

Hume Lake with green pine trees all around.

Wise first attended camp at Hume Lake while part of a youth group with his home church. He never thought years later he’d be in a leadership position where he originally visited for ten summers growing up.

Wise was working toward a degree in Managerial and Organizational Communication (MOCM) at PLNU when he received an email from a camp counselor from Hume Lake Christian Camps. They were looking for counselors for the upcoming summer season, and Wise had been recommended by a colleague.

Prior to interviewing for the position, he had previously served in student government as director of school spirit and as class president on campus. But he felt that being an MOCM major and his leadership experience helped prepare him for the role of a camp counselor.

“MOCM felt like a good combination of business and communication,” he explained. “I knew that I wanted to do something with people, and eventually be in leadership in some capacity. I would say that prepared me well on a very practical level of understanding concepts, communication, getting comfortable with public speaking, and understanding how to work with certain personalities.”

“I knew that I wanted to do something with people, and eventually be in leadership in some capacity. I would say that [PLNU’s MOCM degree] prepared me well on a very practical level of understanding concepts, communication, getting comfortable with public speaking, and understanding how to work with certain personalities.”

Holding positions in student government also helped him develop skills such as balancing larger budgets and programming events.

“Those are things that I hadn’t had to do in life before, on that scale at least,” he continued. “And I would say even those prepared me on how to hire people, how to conduct an interview well, and how to build a team. A huge part of my job now is considering the people I’m hiring. How are we accomplishing the goal that we have?”

Wise started working his first summer at Hume Lake in 2016 as a part-time employee. After taking a year off, he was asked to return to fill an interim position at a Hume camp in Massachusetts. Upon returning, he was fired full-time at his current position.

Hume’s model focuses on bringing Christians together in a camp setting and helping them grow in their relationship with God. Even though middle, junior, and high school students may only attend a week at a time, a lot goes into helping them understand how to exemplify their faith through the relationships they develop and how they exemplify discipleship in every aspect of their life.

Wise explained how he and the rest of the Meadow Ranch team approach programming their week-long camp schedules.

“When we program and design certain things in the schedule, we’re always thinking how we can best serve the churches that come up,” he said. “Part of the camping ministry is the fact that there’s time that’s just spending time with students having fun. The hope is that that models real life and what discipleship looks like back at home.”

Wise (far right) with others from the Meadow Ranch Camp team.

He expressed hope that students build empathy and see camp counselors as good role models for how to build their lives. In addition, he said that these interactions help them become comfortable asking and considering hard questions related to daily struggles. These conversations help turn their attention to Christ as an answer.

Wise also noted how there is a tendency among people to underestimate the intelligence and maturity of these children, especially those who are junior high students. He recognized that these students have a desire to learn. It is important for adults — especially those in a teaching, leadership, or pastoral capacity — to treat them with respect and not condescend to them.

“Anyone who works in junior high ministry will tell you that you’re wrong,” he clarified. “Junior high students are very smart. They’re very capable of asking hard questions, asking good questions, and receiving those answers. I would just say why they’re typically written off is because they’re one of the purest versions of themselves. They’re in that age range where they know what they like. But they haven’t necessarily hit the age range where self-consciousness sets in.”

A typical day at Meadow Ranch starts with breakfast and a chapel service, followed by different types of activities (such as a night swim or a football tournament), as well as free recreational time. One of the most meaningful activities Harrison’s team introduced recently was an anonymous questions and answer box during chapel. Students would write their question on a slip of paper and drop it into the box at the beginning of the week. During Thursday’s chapel service, he and the other counselors would open the box and answer the questions.

“This is worth it if students have things they want to know, I want to give them those answers,” he explained. “Especially in a place where we know they’re going to get solid theology and answers that point them back to Scripture, back to who Christ is.”

At first, they received a lot of criticism regarding how well that system would work. This feedback was based on misconceptions that students would write down inappropriate questions and not take the activity seriously. Wise admitted that over the course of this past summer’s 10 weeks, where an estimated 500 students attend each week, they only received two jokes. But to him, this showed the maturity level the majority of student attendees had.

“The main questions revealed that students are hurting very much. So it shows, again, that junior high students have an emotional intelligence. They understand the emotions that are going through, can comprehend that, and talk about them.”

“But also, it shows a desire to learn. Because the first step in wanting to learn something is wanting to grow, is asking questions — how if I want to learn about something, I’m going to go find someone who knows the most about it and ask them a question. These students are doing that week after week after week after week. There are questions that oftentimes I found myself going, ‘Whoa, that’s deep. That’s a hard question. That’s a very well-written question.’”

Every camp season, Meadow Lake designates a spiritual theme and pairs it with a creative one. This summer it was ‘Marooned on Treasure Island.’ Each week, camp counselors and pastors went through the Book of Daniel with campers.

The Marooned on Treasure Island stage.

To help students understand and engage with these ideas, Wise said counselors consider the three Cs to be successful: how to clearly, carefully, and creatively communicate the truth of scripture. In doing so, they can reach students who are church-goers, but also those who have never heard of Christ. He acknowledged that it can sometimes be difficult to show them scripture in a new light, but often the students engage on a level deeper than the surface narrative.

An example he gave was the story of Jonah and the whale. Many students may have heard the ‘SparkNotes’ version or seen the VeggieTales version. But what the Meadow Ranch counselors try to do in chapel is put on a production and identify for students where it takes place in the Bible. Then in cabin time, counselors point to instances where the children are exemplifying some of the lessons taught in the Biblical story they previously learned about. This approach helps the students make connections between scripture and their own lives.

Although the 2024 winter camp theme is currently under wraps, Wise did say it’ll explore the Book of Ecclesiastes, particularly the purpose of humankind in loving God and obeying the commandments. It’ll be set up in a talk show format similar to Jimmy Fallon.

“We want to show students that, above all else, you can chase everything in this world, but nothing’s going bring you satisfaction except for following God and obeying the commandments set forth,” Wise said. “That’s what’s going to ultimately bring true joy and satisfaction.”

Sean Woodard (PLNU '14) is an educator and film scholar. He is currently pursuing an English PhD at University of Texas at Arlington. As a journalist, he has served as an editor, writer, and columnist for multiple publications. Sean's poetry, fiction, and other writing can be found here: https://www.seanwoodard.com/