Recruiting teams gearing up for busy summers on the road
The mention of summer youth camp gets most teens salivating. Sunshine, swimming, worship and meeting new people make for an attractive offer. Add to that a chance to get away from home for a week - preferably to a much more scenic locale - and the deal is sealed.
Now picture that experience times ten, every week of the summer instead of just one. Picture the heat, the traveling and the responsibility for entertaining all those bubbly youth.
This is the life for 15 students from Wayland Baptist University who are members of Rejoice and Rec Team. These brave souls trade the academic aerobics they've been doing for nine months for three months of the most rigorous physical activity this side of military boot camp.
Rejoice is a five-member vocal ensemble that actually commits to a year of service, though their most strenuous work occurs over the summer. The group spends the first two weeks in intense practice sessions, learning their music repertoire for the summer and brushing up on praise and worship songs. Then they head off to the first of nine weeks of camps.
"We try to book opportunities for them to do performance and worship," explained Shawn Thomas, director of admissions at Wayland. "But they do everything Rec Team does as well."
The group gives a concert on campus at the end of May before they leave. Their typical program includes about 10 songs and many praise tunes. Since the group focuses on singing, most of the members need to be familiar with music and be able to pick up the songs easily.
"It's pretty important that you have some musical knowledge, because you have to have it ready," said Sara Henry, a junior music major from Anahuac who is returning for her second year with the group. "You have to be flexible and ready to pull something together."
Henry said the summer is definitely not all play and no work. Many times the group was responsible for leading or helping with recreation, plus leading worship in the evenings and that made for a long day.
"A typical day for us is leading rec from 8 to 11:30 in the morning, then the group would entertain the students while all the counselors met," said James Jarvey, a church music major from Anchorage, Alaska who is also returning to the group. "Then we'd eat at noon and from 1 to 5 we'd lead music sessions. We'd have to rotate off to take showers, then eat dinner at 5 and change and practice for praise and worship at the worship center. We'd do two worship services and finish about 9 or 9:30 and plan for the next day."
"The challenge is making your tenth week feel like the first," added Henry. "Just having that same energy and enthusiasm and keeping it fresh for the students is necessary."
Though the routine sounds exhausting - and group members admit it is - they also say the rewards outweigh the challenges. For Jarvey, the relationships built with students at the camps, being able to make an impact in their lives and encourage them, is the biggest blessing.
"The reward is just knowing you're serving God and seeing people really worship, not because of what you've done but because of the talent he's given you and because you were willing to be a servant," Henry said. "Seeing the kids different on the last day of camp than they were on the first day is also great."
Both admitted that while their love for music was the initial impetus for auditioning for Rejoice, the recreation aspect of the summer was highly enjoyable because it gave them opportunities to work alongside students and make a difference.
After the school year begins, Rejoice gives many concerts at area church "Youth Nights" and at churches, group meetings and other events. They also perform at Wayland's annual recruiting event, Big Weekend.
The other members of Rejoice are Carla Douglas, a junior music major from Breckenridge, Jared Hardy, a junior music education major from Lubbock - both returning for their second year - and Ashley Wood, a freshman from Gordon, who is new to the group this year. Keith Kilpatrick, a recent graduate and new recruiter, will serve as the group's leader and sound man.
For Rec Team members, the summer holds a bit of mystery. They know they'll be playing games and drumming up enthusiasm among their young charges. But beyond that, anything can happen.
"Their primary focus is to go to church youth camps and minister through recreation," said Thomas. "Depending on the camps, they may be small group leaders, lead Bible studies, do skits or even clean toilets. Whatever they are needed for at that camp is what they do."
Rec Team is actually two teams of five members each who are accompanied by a leader, typically a recent Wayland graduate. The groups attend a weekend training retreat in early May, where they learn a variety of games and participate in team-building exercises "to establish relationships and bonds and to teach them to work as a team," Thomas said.
Since the summer demands so much, Thomas said choosing the teams requires a pretty in-depth interview and application process to ensure the best possible students.
"We look for flexibility, leadership, talent in recreation areas, outgoingness, ability to work with youth and a strong Christian faith and bold witness," he said.
Pam McClement, who will spend her third summer on the Rec Team, agreed that team members have to possess certain qualities to really enjoy the job.
"You have to be creative and flexible. You're at a new camp every week with new students," said McClement, a junior math major from Lubbock. "You have to be joyful around the kids, too. It's our responsibility to put forth a good attitude around them."
McClement said her first exposure to Rec Team came as a participant in church camp while in high school. She was impressed with the Wayland team then, and after arriving on campus, she knew she wanted to be a part of the team. By now, she's done enough camps to be a seasoned veteran at nearly any game imaginable. But that doesn't make the summer any less exciting for her.
Jeremy Douglas, a sophomore elementary education major from Littlefield, is a second-year Rec Team veteran. For him, the experience of getting to know the students and being able to minister to them is the biggest plus. He also enjoyed the introspective nature of participating in youth camps.
"I enjoyed learning about different areas of my own life that I needed to look at and maybe change," he said, echoing Henry's thoughts about the summer's challenges. "Just going week after week after week doing the same thing and really working your body. That made it hard to face the day, but you know you'd get a blessing."
Douglas said Rec Team members must follow the edict in Philippians 2:5 - "Let this mind be in you which is also in Christ Jesus" - and be prepared to go beyond what they think they can do, both in attitude and physical activity.
Other Rec Team members are Hillary Matteson of Childress; James Garrett of Arlington; Brian Street of Andrews; John Ed Baker of Odessa; Carrie Pearce of Sublette, Kansas; Staci Copeland of Perryton; Melissa O'Brien of Lander, Wyoming; and Andra French of Dalhart.
Paid to play?
Thomas said students do get paid for their summer of service, and they are considered employees of the Admissions department, though they do little formal recruiting.
"Their primary focus is to minister to students; their second is to recruit," Thomas said. "The best way to recruit is for folks to meet our students and get to know them. We do typically set up a booth one night of the camp for students to get information about Wayland."
McClement said the opportunity to talk-up the university is natural since they work closely with students and get frequent questions about college life. She said that puts an added responsibility to the job.
"I know that I represent Wayland in everything I do, so my attitude and my appearance has to be positive," she said. "That can really draw people in."
Rec Teams and Rejoice visit camps around Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and have been to Louisiana and Arkansas in the past. Chaparral Baptist Encampment in Wichita Falls and Highland Lakes Camp and Conference Center near Austin are two of the more frequented locations. The schedule for all three teams is booked on a first come, first served basis, and Thomas said, "We probably turn down half as many camps as we accept." The schedule has been booked since Christmas.
The camps booking a Wayland team are not charged a fee.
"This is something we provide as a ministry and recruiting tool, so we provide the services free of charge," he said. "All we ask is that they take care of our kids at camp - providing them with meals and place to stay. Some churches do give an honorarium to the students or the university out of appreciation."
So is the expense Wayland puts into this ministry paying off? Thomas thinks so.
"I know it's worth the return we get. There are students who are here solely because of Rec Team and Rejoice. So there are definite benefits to it," he said.