Asian Camps Focus on Asian Heritages, Social Justice Issues Relevant to Youth: Part 3 of series
By JB Brayfindley
The National Japanese American United Methodist Caucus (NJAUMC) Asian American Summer Camp (AC), in its 45th year history of empowering and inspirational ministry, has developed a reputation amongst its participants as a family-like community, yielding lifelong relationships and faithful servants of God.
Begun in 1974 under the direction of the Reverends Peter Chen and Harry Marakami, Asian Camp has a tradition of creating programs that address issues related to Asian heritages and social justice. Chen and Marakami aimed to develop a camp that would speak to the youth “right where they were,” but also challenge their faith so that they might come to a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ – seen through the eyes, felt in the heart, and known by the spirit of the Asian American faith experience.
Although the name of camp carries a long-standing cultural history, AC is open to youth of all backgrounds and ethnicities.With a focus on equipping youth for the future, AC instills pride in each campers’ spiritual, cultural, and ethnic identity.
“Today, the ministry of AC is more greatly needed than ever, for we are aware that our youth are seeking to find meaning, direction and wholeness at a time when they are receiving many mixed messages in their lives,” says the NJAUMC. “Asian Camp seeks to give them hope and promise for today, and for their future. We believe in the ministry of Asian Camp, and believe that we can and will make a difference in the lives of our youth, enabling them, with God’s help, to shape their tomorrows, so that they might be 'all that God has created them to be.’”
It is “a place where – not only do we feel at home – but we also develop forever lasting friendships," said third year counselor Noah Soo-Hoo of Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose, reflecting on this summer’s Junior High Camp that was sponsored by The National Japanese American United Methodist Caucus (NJAUMC).
Held at Camp Lodestar in Wilseyville, CA June 30-July 5, Junior High Camp helps incoming 6th to 9th graders encounter God in new and transformative ways. This summer there were 67 campers in attendance, along with 16 counselors, four directors, and clergy and adult staff.
This year's camp theme, "This Is Who I Am!" centered around helping campers realize that regardless of all the pressures to fit in and be someone who they aren't in middle school, self-identity is key.
“Realizing that at this point in their lives they are going through a lot of changes … it is important to be in control of that change and realize that God loves them for exactly who they are. God is walking on this journey with all of us, and we can be our true authentic selves with God,” explained Evan Hamada, who was in his second year as camp director.
“For our counselors, the experiences they had as campers at Junior High Camp brought them back to share their love of God with the next generation.”
Youth and Young Adult Asian Camp Theme: Purpose
Held July 21-27 at Camp Lodestar in Wilseyville, California, the weeklong Asian American Summer Camp camp challenges youth, 10th grade through college, to reflect on finding comfort, guidance, and peace – through understanding both Jesus’ purpose and our purpose here on Earth. This year more than 70 campers attended, from United Methodist churches all over the United States as well as a group of campers from Japan.
“This year we dove into the topic of “Purpose.” It hurts to see how the world treats each other. It’s not easy [to live] through times like these. With such a high emphasis on social media and the pressure to portray yourself a certain way, it makes achieving true happiness that much more difficult. You really don’t know what the person next to you is going through,” said Jessica Tondo, one of three members of the Asian Camp Design Team which also included Kelli Yamaguma and Camille Obata.
“We all have some pain buried deep inside of us. With the internal conflict of dealing with our struggles on top of living out our lives as Christians or non-Christians, we begin to question what our purpose here on Earth is,” Tondo added.
Throughout the week of camp, youth wrestled with questions such as, “What is purpose to us?” “What are we placed to this earth to do?” “How can we decipher God's plan for us?” and “What do times of stillness mean for me?"
“For both campers and counselors, it remains one of their favorite weeks of the year as it provides a space away from the craziness back at home,” Tondo continued. “Attendees are surrounded by fellow Christians from both far and near, enjoy an intentional time of fellowship, and are challenged to reflect on their lives in new perspectives.”
The Design Team hopes in coming years to provide an open door for anyone and everyone willing to join in the AC experience, to encourage both new and old faces, and to carry on the legacy of the NJAUMC Asian American Summer Camp.