By Ann Shumway
Jan 18, 2015

How Serving on Camp Staff Prepared My Son for A Mission

Nicholas talking to investigatorsOn Christmas, there’s nothing a missionary mom looks forward to more than the call from their missionary serving somewhere throughout the world.  I was no exception.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long because my son’s call came at 7:00 AM.

After more than a half hour of catching up and hearing some of the adventures he’s had in the last few months,  Nicholas mentioned out of the blue how grateful he was for the opportunity to work at Camp Jeremiah Johnson for the five summers prior to his mission.  He mentioned specific things that helped him prepare to serve.  Here’s a brief rundown of things he learned:

  1. Talk to people.
Nick at Campfire

Nick leading out at a campfire program

At Camp Jeremiah Johnson (Camp JJ), staff members teach different subjects almost every day. They continually interacting with both youth and adults.  You have to get over your hesitancy to speak to people you don’t know quickly.  Being in this situation year after year has helped Nicholas feel very comfortable going up and talking to almost anyone anywhere.

  1. Get up early.

A camp staff’s day starts really early.  At Camp JJ, youth catch rides to camp anywhere between 5:45 and 6:15 AM to make it to camp by 7:00 AM.  Being late isn’t an option.  Getting up early and meeting your ride is essential.  Because he did this for so long, getting up at 6:00 AM on his mission hasn’t been an issue.

  1. Learn lessons and practice teaching.
Nick teaches a Cub Scout fire buidling

Nick teaches a Cub Scout fire building

Since Camp JJ has rotating staff positions, things are never dull.  You show up each morning and check the duty roster to see where you’ve been assigned.  This accomplishes two things: 1- you never get bored teaching the same thing over and over.  2- Changing often forces you to know your material and feel comfortable teaching whatever your assigned.

Of course, there were things you liked doing more than others.  According to Nicholas, there’s nothing different in the mission field.  You have to be flexible.  Every day is different.   He has to be prepared to teach at whatever opportunities come his way.

  1. Follow the rules.

Camp JJ has rules in place to protect staff members as well as the youth it serves.  Missions are no different.

  1. Work hard even when you’re tired.

Days at Camp JJ are long.  They seem especially long on hot days when you’ve had over 400 kids come through camp. You want to be done, but you know this is their one day to come to camp and you’ve got to make it a good one.  You push forward no matter how tired you are.   Towards the end of the day after Nicholas has walked more than 10 miles (no bikes allowed, very few cars) and he still has a few hours to go, he’s learned he can keep going.  You have to keep going no matter how tired you are.

  1. Get along with people.
Nick at Camp 2

Nick and Arturo Malpica, an unlikely camp combination

Camp JJ has about 60 staff members all with rotating schedules.  Just like not knowing what you’ll be teaching, you also don’t know who you’ll work with till you show up to work.  This forces you to know and get along with lots of different people with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies.  Nicholas has had all kinds of companions.  He’s never had a problem with any of them because he’s had the opportunity to get to know and work with all kinds of people.

  1. Be responsible.

Each day at camp you look to see what you’re teaching, and you go and set up the station.  You have to be responsible for the teaching supplies, getting your station set up, and being ready to teach. On top of those things, you need to show up to the opening ceremony on time.  If you don’t do your part, things don’t run smoothly.  Everyone has to be responsible to pull their weight, fill their role, teach the lesson the way it’s outlined and be where they need to be.

This fits right in with missionary work.  You have to be where you need to be, you have to show up for appointments and other meetings, and you have to follow the lesson outlines–just like at scout camp.

  1. Wear your uniform.

Nick with missionatiesEach day you have to show up to work in your uniform (whether it’s clean or not).  You can’t wear jeans because you don’t like uniform pants or wear white gym socks because you can’t find your scout socks.  In Nicholas’ mission, he’s required to wear dark slacks, a white shirt and a tie every day.   Not wearing it isn’t an option. But, for him, it isn’t a big deal.  He knows what’s expected and does it without question.

  1. Set a good example.

Regardless of gender, when youth come to camp, they look up to staff members and think they’re cool. It’s not uncommon to have a youth come up to you six months after camp ends at the grocery store and say they remember you from camp.   It’s imperative as a staff member to always set a good example whether at camp or away.  Nicholas is 6’ 8” tall. He’s only had native companions who average about 5’5”.  They attract a lot of attention and are constantly in the public’s view.  Kids stop Nicholas all the time and want to compare their height to his.  He always has to be happy, polite and willing to talk to anyone, which, luckily, isn’t hard for him.

10.  Take criticism and be willing to learn.

Before staff members teach youth, they’ve watched others teach and had a chance to practice.  As they practice their techniques, they have to be willing to listen to ideas on how they can improve. They must be willing to try new things, which often take them out of their comfort zone.  When you arrive to your mission, you’re assigned to a trainer for a reason.  It takes months and months to start to feel comfortable.  Nicholas has said he’s made a lot of mistakes and continues to learn things every day.

The paycheck is one of the least valuable things youth will receive at camp.  Scout camps offer opportunities to learn life lessons that would be hard to get in any other setting.  In addition to this, you never have to worry about being bored, you’re around good kids, and you make lots of new friends.  For more information, click here.

Ann Shumway


Author: Ann Shumway | Camp Director, Camp Jeremiah Johnson | Learning for Life Director, Utah National Parks Council




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4 thoughts on “How Serving on Camp Staff Prepared My Son for A Mission

  1. JohnJohn

    This is an amazing list and something that many parents don’t realize. I think I could add at least one more, especially when it comes to working at a Boy Scout camp.

    11. Have a meaningful away-from-home experience. Many missionaries struggle with being homesick and not yet having the skills of taking care of themselves without Mom close by. Working at camp for up to six weeks gives them an opportunity to learn to be self-reliant, learn to overcome homesickness, and managing their time. A highly needed skill for the mission field.

  2. AvatarHeidie

    This was a well written post and I really appreciate the thoughts shared here. I have had sons that volunteer, but I had never thought about several of the points listed. Thank you for sharing.


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