I’ve gone back to my spiritual roots this week. I’m in Gambier, Ohio on the campus of Kenyon College speaking to 300 high school students at an annual regional youth conference now called “Velocity.” It began for me 27 years ago when I attended this very conference at a place called “Miracle Camp” outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Back then it was much more laid back and had more of a “camp feel” to it, but in the summer of 1982, I began attending a youth camp that has played a major role in my life and in my spiritual development even to this day.
Back in the early 80’s, the camp was started by a few youth pastors from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio who had no denominational summer camps to take their kids to each summer. These friends formed an organization called Evangelical Youth Fellowship (EYF) and decided to hold their own youth camp each summer at a rented facility.
In 1984, they moved to Camp Mack near Warsaw, Indiana where the summer camp was held for the next 14 years. I attended Camp Mack until I graduated high school in 1988 and then attended there as a camp counselor a couple of times while I was in college.
It was at Camp Mack in 1990 that a youth pastor from Dayton, Ohio named Tony Plummer pulled me aside and challenged me to pursue full-time ministry after I graduated from college. He had observed me all week long interacting with the students and felt compelled to challenge me to change my major from mass communication (radio broadcasting) to Christian Education (youth ministry). I was pretty offended at his boldness at first, but after a while, I realized that the Lord had used Tony to affirm an eventual ministry call of my life.
That interaction with Tony proved to be more than just a one week event in my life as I was called by FairCreek Church in Dayton, Ohio (Tony’s church) in 1994 to come serve as their youth pastor. Tony had moved into an associate pastor role at the church, and I was brought in to continue his work in youth ministry. One month after I arrived at FairCreek Church, I found myself at Camp Mack once again – but this time I was a youth pastor leading my own group of kids.
In 1996, the baton of leadership for EYF was handed to me as the “old guard” – those who started the organization in the early 80’s – were all leaving youth ministry one by one. From 1996-1999, I served as the president of EYF, and in 1998, I – along with a new crop of youth pastors – moved the camp from Camp Mack to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It was at this point that the camp transitioned from less of a “church youth camp” to more more of a “summer youth conference,” and it was at this point that the number of churches involved in EYF and the number of students attending the conference each summer began to really grow.
When I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1999, in addition to leaving my church in Dayton, I also left my post as president of EYF. But, in 2001, I was asked to come back as a main session speaker. The conference had been moved from Miami University to Taylor University in Indiana, and when I arrived that summer to speak, I discovered that the conference was as strong as ever.
In 2005, I was back in Ohio and was asked by my home church to go to the conference as a leader. The conference had moved once again to its current location at Kenyon College, and I discovered when I arrived that many of the youth leaders and youth pastors serving the kids that week were alumni of past summer conferences themselves.
And then this year, I was asked to come back as a main session speaker once again. Including mid-high students, high school students, and leaders, there are nearly 500 people in attendance. There’s an incredible praise band that plays at each main session and the lights, video, and sound during these sessions are top-notch. Students from all over the Midwest have come together to enjoy a week of friendship, worship, and to be challenged by God’s Word…and it all started nearly 30 years ago.
I’m blessed to be a part of EYF’s summer youth conference once again this year, and I’m blown away by the longevity of it. For almost three decades, God has used this summer camp experience to impact the lives of thousands of students, and I’m one of the fortunate ones who continues to be impacted by it as an adult.
Do you have any EYF memories you’d like to share? Some experiences aren’t appropriate for sharing here, so keep it clean (especially you Lacy boys)!