Blog article by Bethany Gibson, 27
I work for The Salvation Army but I’m also a church member and most of my family and friends are part of The Salvation Army. It’s a massive part of my identity and one that was forged by attending Salvation Army summer schools for young people.
Each summer throughout my teenage years I was filled with a fresh enthusiasm for the year ahead, after spending a week with amazing friends and role models who helped me explore who I was, who God was and what that all meant for my everyday life and future.
Salvation Army summer schools and camps take place all around the world. While they may cater for different ages, from children to teenagers and young adults, they follow a similar format: a week’s residential, involving Christian worship, Bible study, creative and performing arts, sport and little sleep.
In the UK, most young people who go to summer schools also have links with their local Salvation Army church on a Sunday or throughout the week. Getting away from home and the routine of studying and work provides an opportunity to delve deeper into issues that affect young people, especially those who are exploring church and faith.
For me, Salvation Army summer schools are about inclusion, places where all are welcome, heard and accepted. They’re safe spaces with no judgment. There’s an understanding that everyone is at a different stage in their faith journey.
Faith is a personal relationship with God and not something you can inherit because your parents brought you along to church as a child. There comes a point as you are growing up when you have to make your own mind up.
For several years I’ve returned to summer schools as a volunteer staff member. It’s my role now to create a space where young people feel relaxed enough to respectfully discuss, debate and challenge each other and their leaders.
I often find it’s the students themselves that lead the way with this. They look for the person that’s on their own at dinner and strike up a conversation, they offer help and encouragement when the person next to them is finding the music difficult in a rehearsal and they listen and value each other’s point of view when discussing big questions in Bible study.
At the end of the week, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing students stand a little taller, confident in their individual worth and collective potential.
But there’s also an awareness that some young people will face difficult situations when they go back home. That’s when I pray their local Salvation Army church, their friends and family will be able to step in and support them and that they will have been blessed with experiences that stay with them for life.
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, told early Christians:
“You are… chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. 1 Peter 2:9-10 (MSG)
Thanks to attending Salvation Army summer schools as a teenager, I found a sense of belonging and purpose that went deeper than social and cultural acceptance - I connected with and found my place in God’s family.
Jesus gives us insight into what a meal in God’s family looks like:
“The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbours, the kind of people who will return the favour. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing.” Luke 14:12-14 (MSG)
I know that, with God, everyone has a seat at the table and no one has to earn their place, but Jesus reminds us that in this world, not everyone feels like they are invited. That’s where Salvation Army summer schools and the wider work of The Salvation Army come in: it’s our purpose and mission to offer the invitation.
Let’s create spaces where people can recognise their inherent value and encounter the welcome of God.
Find your nearest Salvation Army to connect with our youth work throughout the year and during the summer.