What four women and one man learned at church camp
For some time, our church leaders had wondered: was it time to bring back the church’s beloved camp, usually held every second year in Malaysia? What was the appetite? Will people hesitate? If an unexpected outbreak rears its head, will we be forced to cancel our overseas resort booking again? Pay a penalty? Will we be trapped in Malaysia if we rode our buses there, and then Singapore closes her borders?
Well, the decision was not to go overseas this year. Then, would people settle for a local venue like YWCA Fort Canning? Or would that turn out to be a lesser draw, or no draw at all?
As it turned out, the camp of 9-10 June was a terrific success. A total of 234 people took part. Titled “Do You Love Me?”, the camp messages by Rev David Wong examined the poignant, laminous meanings of the 21st chapter of John’s beautiful gospel.
By all accounts, people felt they had fun as well as instruction. People met each other. We asked five campers to tell us about their experience of the camp.
The best advice I’ve ever received about attending church camps is to think and pray about at least one thing I’d like to happen through the camp, then reflect on how God answers my prayer by the end of the camp.
This was my second time joining a True Way church camp, and I had the same prayer as my first time back in 2014: to get to know more people in this church.
I’m glad to report that my prayer was answered again, this time through the nine wonderful women in my discussion group: Annie, Chu Lan, Chwee Leng, Fiona, Meow Lang, not one but two Sallys, Sarah, and Wai Po.
I was given the unexpected task of leading my discussion group, who did more than meet after each of the three talks by Reverend David Wong: we also had icebreakers, a lunch excursion, and games at VivoCity. As I facilitated all these activities, I felt the joy and challenge of giving and receiving exhortation and encouragement while getting to know the group members.
I loved how different we turned out to be from one another and how our unique perspectives made our learning and sharing so much richer.
It was a happy coincidence that I was already acquainted with Rev David and his wife, Jenny, as I had met them in Cambridge pre-pandemic. At that time in my life, I was a little homesick. They happened to be visiting Tyndale House, a biblical studies library where I did my PhD research and writing, for Rev David to write one of his many books.
I was glad to catch up with this warm-hearted couple. Seeing them in the context of our church camp showed me how razor-focused they are in their dedication to God’s call upon their lives.
My discussion group took Rev David’s advice to focus on one takeaway from each talk. Sharing and praying about individual learning points helped to turn our instant takeaways into spiritual nourishment we could take home after leaving the cocoon of the camp.
Here are my three ‘take-homes’ that I need to keep revisiting.
First, God does love me even when I feel ashamed of myself. Second, God has already opened the way for me to make it through the valley of rejection, given me what I need to bring about reconciliation, and provided a true rest in Jesus.
Third, pride, bitterness, and failure have inevitably been part of my journey, but I can keep going by exercising trust in our Lord more fully, even as I exercise wisdom in my life with others.
“What? I have to be in charge of stuff?” I whined to my husband after finding a message on my phone one night, less than two weeks before church camp.
“Hi hi,” Elder Lawrence’s message began cheerfully, before asking if I would be a discussion group facilitator, and lead the group’s ice-breaker and lunch-out games. At the mention of games, I panicked. My mind raced to scan my entire childhood and work life and confirmed what I always knew: I have never been good at being ra-ra. God simply did not make me that way.
What if my games fell flat? What if my group has a bad time? I fretted for an hour before conceding that the camp organisers needed all hands on deck. After all, this text arrived at 10.45pm! This must mean they needed my help. So, I agreed, but hinted that I might cause the games to “bomb”. Graciously, Elder Lawrence reassured me that every detail would be planned by his team; facilitators simply had to follow instructions.
Unbeknownst to me then, receiving such grace from others would mark my entire church camp experience.
On Friday morning, my first task indeed “bombed”. Somehow, I missed the instruction to begin the ice-breakers. Outnumbered by babies and children, the ladies in my all-women group made some small talk, until someone suddenly yelled, “time to stop the ice-breakers!”
I was mortified. The ice-breakers were over and we didn’t even start. Having wasted not just the materials but also everyone’s time, I started apologizing awkwardly. However, one of my group members calmly shook her head and said, “It’s not a problem at all.”
My group patiently let me play catch-up by doing self-introductions during the first half of our discussion time. Then, my most stressful time arrived. With eleven children among nine women, how are we going to navigate the busy lunchtime slot and complete the assigned challenges?
Thankfully, a few husbands appeared. They took some children into their groups, leaving us with only five! My very easygoing group gamely settled for the very first restaurant we chanced upon – Shake Shack! Although our lunch quickly broke our budget – there was a “allowance” — I must report that the children were very pleased.
After we received the game instructions, I was amazed that everyone moved with one accord. Though there was initial confusion – “duplicate” purchases for the same food challenge – nobody complained. Everyone graciously followed my lead even when I made the dubious decision of spending too much at Starbucks. Soon, we fell into the groove of ambling slowly, solving the puzzles on supermarket displays and selecting food to buy. I was so thankful for the TWPC chillax-ness!
I was also blessed during each of our group’s discussions over our two days together. Despite being distracted by our little children, the depth of everyone’s sharing was so heartening. The women were willing to share inner struggles and painful lessons from past trials. I saw how everybody listened to each other. The openness and trust towards sisters-in-Christ, despite being new to each other, really humbled me.
Here I was, thinking I was serving by leading, but actually everyone is serving each other, I thought.
Additionally, my heart swelled each time I saw the young adults lead activities. Some who helped at the children’s programs waited patiently for me when I forgot to claim my children from them! These instances and more filled me with gratefulness towards the True Way family.
I think that, sometimes, we are fearful of spending extended time with church mates lest they discover our shortcomings.
The camp has shown me that sharing our flaws helps us uncover the grace and kindness of others. This is one way of fulfilling God’s command to love one another.
This was my first church camp with True Way. I was asked to write a reflection article about my camp experience. In my head was a myriad of thoughts and presenting them in a clear way to readers seemed challenging.
I was put in an all-ladies group. We were F9. I thought this was so funny—F9 sounded like a failing grade.
I made friends. I guess this happens at church camps because people spend a lot of time together. I made quite a few intergenerational friendships. Some of these happened during the night walk and morning walk. I chose the walks because I thought they would give me the opportunity to chat with fellow walkers. On the night walk, I mischievously asked Joyce (Chiew Har) how she first got to know her husband, Pastor George.
Later on the walk, we met a young man who was on his way home after the night talk. When he saw us, he joined us.
I woke up late the next morning and missed the meet-up for the morning walk. I was worried. Thankfully, I found Pastor Cheng Huat and a few women who wanted to walk more slowly.
Belinda Tan was F9’s group leader. She is in the same church small group as I. I was so glad we got to know each other better at the camp.
The camp experience was above my expectations. The messages we heard from the church speaker were personal and timely.
After the camp, we were asked to do three things. The first was to share our thoughts and our notes with another person. The second was to pray and meditate over John’s 21st chapter.
The final instruction was to close a chapter in one’s life, if there was a difficult, unresolved chapter to close.
This was the hardest thing to do for me. We have all experienced periods where we didn’t have the best relationships with our families. This was I. My relationship with my mom was strained. It helped to be reminded to keep running to Jesus. It helped to be told to think about Jesus’ gaze towards Peter when Peter had denied Him. I tried to imagine the pain Jesus felt at Peter’s denial and the breadth of mercy the gaze required.
I’m a teacher at U12. We had been planning a Thanksgiving Sunday for 25 June 2023 where we would teach our U12 children to thank their parents with handwritten cards. How could I, in good conscience, do that, given my own circumstances? But by God’s grace, I reconciled with my mum on 24 June. I could not have done this without the lessons I learnt from the camp.
The last church camp which I attended with my family was back in 2005. I remembered the camp was held at the Sebana Cove Resort in Johor. Apart from being surrounded by beautiful scenery and tasty food, we had a wonderful time reaching out to the local community there.
Back then our children were in primary school. They are now young adults, how time flies!
The theme for the recent church camp was “Do You Love Me?”
This was the question that Jesus asked his disciple Peter. Peter and his friends had returned from a night on the Sea of Tiberias. They were standing on the beach. Reverend David Wong, our camp speaker, spoke from the 21st chapter of John’s gospel. He showed us that, although Peter had denied Jesus thrice at Caiaphas’ courtyard, God still loved him and did not forsake him.
At the camp, I was reminded that although people change and things change, God never changes. This was very comforting for me to know. God will not forsake us no matter how sinful we are, He will lead us back to Him.
I enjoyed very much the group discussions after each message. My discussion group leader was Elder Say Tiong. As we listened to each other, we learned from each other. We established each other’s faith.
One of my hopes was to get to know more people. God used the food trails, morning walk, and intergenerational mass games to answer this prayer of mine. I had many opportunities to get to know people whom I only knew by face.
Another amazing part of this YWCA camp was its theme song “Compelled By Love”.
The song continued to ring in my head for weeks, reminding me that we are able to love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
It has been more than five years since I last attended a church camp.
This year’s camp was held at YWCA Fort Canning. This made it different from the camps that were held in West Malaysia. Holding a camp in Singapore saved us from having to clear customs during the June school vacation. There was no need to travel on buses. Also, it was good to see some church members who would not usually attend camps when they were held overseas.
The camp speaker, Rev Dr David Wong gave three expository messages on the 21st chapter of John. His theme was “Do You Love Me?”, Jesus’ words to his disciple Peter. Rev Wong was adept in providing recaps of of each of his messages as well as action items for us to follow up. This was to ensure that we crystallized the lessons we learnt and put them into practice.
The food trail and puzzle games as well as the intergenerational mass games were great fun and provided great opportunities for bonding. How creative the organising committee was! It was more than the adrenalin rush of competing against other teams. Through the games, I saw the strengths of the members of my team, and how all of us had a part to contribute. For example, there was a pop song to identify that only a young boy less than 10 years knew, and a catchphrase that only a senior member identified.
I saw that we completed the games faster when we listened to each other and acted on each other’s ideas and suggestions.