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Reaching Kids and Families Through Camping

Karakariki Christian Camp (KCC) is a campsite in Whatawhata, Waikato, with a vision to serve their local community, especially helping the underprivileged. CCCNZ Communications Manager Sophia Sinclair caught up with Camp Managers Eli and Noelle Savill to find out more about their school holiday camps and how they are reaching their local community.

Describe what happens during the school holidays at KCC.

For 10 days we put on three separate holiday programmes. The first is Impact Camp, where we have 10—13-year-olds; the second is Teen Camp, which is for 13—18-year-olds; and the final camp is Kool Camp, where we have 6—9-year-olds.

During these camps, we work to challenge the campers to step outside their comfort zones and try new things in a safe environment. We help foster social skills and teach them to work in a team. We create a loving family environment where they eat, sleep and play together. And, most importantly, we share the love of Christ with them.

This all happens thanks to our leaders who are paired up and then given a small group of campers. It is the leader’s role to facilitate a family environment. We encourage the leaders to get to know each of their team members and then begin to speak Christ into their lives.

What motivated KCC to serve the Waikato community in this way?

A group of Bible-in-Schools teachers and Rally leaders dreamed of having a place where they could take the children they were teaching to share the gospel with them. They wanted to create a small camp, one where the children wouldn’t feel lost and one where they could keep the expenses down. The dream was a camp that could reach into the heart of Hamilton and introduce Christ to those in need.

We take pride in the fact that we can have the roughest kids come to our camp from broken homes and they are given a small glimpse of a loving, stable, family environment even if it is only for a few days.

What are some of the challenges in reaching out into the community?

Ever since we started, we have sensed an immense amount of spiritual warfare. It feels like we are constantly being attacked and once we come out the other end and take a breath something else arises. We sense that God has exciting things in store for this camp, and the enemy is fighting us at every turn.

What do kids think of the holiday outreach camps?

Some kids love our camp and are transformed by the experience, but we are also very aware that our camp is not for every child. We obviously seek to be inclusive in every way possible, but some kids don’t thrive the same way others do.

We are a smaller camp, which is a great context for children who are timid or have special challenges. Bigger camps can potentially struggle to accommodate those children. Most kids who come to our camp say something about wanting to come back, which is encouraging to hear. We are also glad when particularly challenging children do return time after time.

How are leaders nurtured and developed through holiday outreach camps?

We are big believers in DISCIPLESHIP! If we are not discipling our leaders, we feel like we are not setting them up to succeed.

“We are desperate for more church involvement and support of our camp. We think the first and most important thing a church can be doing to support camping ministry is by loving-on and supporting camp staff.”

We try to maintain a constant connection with our leaders all throughout the year. Some leaders we disciple one- on-one, others we connect with in different ways that suit them. We have a fortnightly Zoom conference call where we walk through a section of Scripture and discuss it with our leaders. This has been a great way to connect with busy teenagers from the convenience of their phones or computers. We also run leadership training programs outside of our holiday camps. 

We work hard as a staff to connect with different leaders and coach them through different situations during camps. We also pair leaders up so they are not in the journey alone. We have daily prayer meetings and Bible study times as well as meetings where we discuss the challenges of camp and problem-solve together.

Also, Alisha, one of our staff members, works hard to find ways to encourage each leader during camp with notes, gifts, food, etc. to make them feel cared for and special. We realise that being a leader during holiday camps is a challenging ministry, but it really grows resilience andconfidence in our teenagers. We are proud of how they grow from camp to camp.

How can churches support camping ministry to children and their families?

We are desperate for more church involvement and support of our camp. We think the first and most important thing a church can be doing to support camping ministry is by loving-on and supporting camp staff. We, as staff, often miss church services and gatherings because of the demanding workload and booking schedule. We have been blessed by those who reach out and check in even if we have been missing from church for numerous weeks.

We also need people with a variety of skills to volunteer time. If you are feeling called by the Lord to use your gifts to glorify him, a great way to do that is to show up to your local camp and say, “Here’s what I can do. How can I help?”

This is the biggest blessing we have experienced thus far. We have quickly realised that Christian camping is not about how large your camp or staff is, but it is about your ability to strategically utilise the giftings of fellow believers to work together to get the job done.

Another way churches can support camping ministries is to be in constant prayer for the ministry. We love when people offer to pray for us and the camp. We even welcome people to come walk around our camp and pray. This is especially important before our holiday programmes because we never know where each child is coming from and we need prayer to break those strongholds.

Since starting your roles last year, what has most encouraged you?

As a ministry, we obviously need constant prayer and financial support, but the most encouraging gift we have been given has been people and their many unique skills. We only have a small staff and limited skillsets, so when others visit the camp and say, “I can do that!” or “I can help out here!” we are absolutely thrilled!

We had a working bee in September, and we had about 60 people attend. We were so encouraged to have people from all over, even neighbours, pitch in to make camp a better place. It makes us feel like we aren’t in this work alone and that others—even people who do not know Jesus—believe in the ministry and vision of our camp.

We also have numerous social workers connected with our camp. Every school holidays we get more and more kids sent through to us. They have voiced their confidence in our programmes, which encourages us to keep going. When we took on this camp, we loved the fact that it was reaching less-privileged young people.

Many of the parents are concerned about their children coming to camp due to mental health and social challenges, but we assure them that their child is more than welcome at our camp. Because of our backgrounds and training, we are very sensitive to those needing extra care and attention. We often have campers with ADD and ADHD, and we explain to them that our manager has ADD and that we are very aware of how to help them cope at camp.

If you’d like to find out more about Karakariki Christian Camp, visit:


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