It seems as though each year we leave camp saying, “This was the best camp year yet!” and every year, that statement becomes more true.

This year indeed was Camp Tzadi’s best year yet. With seventy campers from all over the world, an impressive counselor team, support staff, and even our own kitchen team, we showed up to the Missouri campsite ready to roll.

While our numbers were at the highest they’ve ever been in our young three years, that’s not our most impressive accomplishment this summer. This year, by Gods help, Camp Tzadi was completely self-sufficient, and we managed to run all of our programming, meals (feeding seventy hungry teenagers for two weeks is no small feat), services, and specialized activities. Having this experience on rental campgrounds reinforced our dream to one day own our very own campsite for numerous 12-21 events to be held throughout the year. While this dream is several years away and a lot of work remains to get to our goal, we saw a small glimpse of this hopeful reality.

As exciting as it was to see a glimpse of our future dream, we also had the privilege of seeing a real glimpse of the future Messianic Kingdom. This year’s curriculum was taught by FFOZ teacher Toby Janicki and focused on the kingdom and reversing the natural order of today’s society into a flourishing, robust society focused on bringing the kingdom. Camp Tzadi campers responded to this curriculum extremely well as Toby focused on relevant, practical topics. Toby was able to communicate practical ideas about how we can implement the kingdom now, every day, in small ways. It was inspiring to hear the kids talk about ways they were already doing this and new ideas they had during the discussion. Our goal was for the campers to not only be inspired for the two weeks of camp but also that they would take home their inspiration and be a part of bringing about the kingdom.

A unique activity that we introduce at camp this year was an intentional conversation with both our Jewish and Gentile campers. We asked the group to divide into two, one group with those who carry Jewish heritage and the other group who are Messianic Gentile. We then placed positive and negative pictures and cards with adjectives written on them. We laid these out and asked each camper to choose one negative card/picture and one positive card/picture. We asked them to have in mind the question, “What does it mean to me, to be either Messianic Jewish or Gentile?” Once each group chose their cards, we divided into our groups, and each camper was able to share why they chose their negative card, and why they chose their positive card.

For many of the Jewish campers, their negative cards reflected feeling isolated from the broader Jewish community, getting kicked out of Jewish day schools or synagogues for their beliefs. Many expressed frustrations and hurt over the broader Jewish community’s rejection of them. Many tears were shed during this discussion, as older counselors spoke words of strength and encouragement. Their positive cards reflected pride, strength, and a deep knowledge of truth. Each camper spoke with conviction about their faith, strength in their journey, and a knowledge that the truth of their faith will one day be clear to the community by which they so dearly wish to be accepted.

For the Gentile believers, there was a shared sense of feeling awkward or “out of place” when interacting with non-Messianic friends or family. Kids in more traditional Messianic communities felt confused about how to act in order not to blur identity markers, while kids lacking Messianic community felt the press of the outside world labeling them as “Jewish” or weird. Shared throughout the different ages was the feeling of fear and intimidation to share or talk about their faith with others. While this certainly exists with all faiths and beliefs, Messianic Judaism is a smaller and newer religion that challenges things people never thought needed to be challenged. With this feeling, one would think that many campers would be questioning their faith, but without a doubt, they responded with pride and joy about being Messianic Gentiles. Campers chose words like “truth” and “revealed” to reflect their thoughts on their faith. This was truly inspirational for the leaders of each group. Hearing so many positive answers that shared a sincere hope and trust was encouraging.

A week later, we asked all campers to gather and answer the question, “What do you appreciate about the other (either Gentile or Jewish followers of Yeshua)?” With strength and poise, our campers each shared enlightening and encouraging words about the other. Individually and collectively, they each saw how the other is equal, needed, and important to building the kingdom. Together they shared that without the other, their faith in Messiah and the kingdom would not be true.

To us at Camp Tzadi, this revealed the depth of our mission. We all worked tirelessly to give the next generation a proud identity as individuals and a community. We hope that by providing our campers a fun and safe place they can explore their faith together and grow into leaders for the next generation.

The two weeks at camp ended on a high note. Campers left proud, humbled, and ready to help bring the kingdom by taking small actions in their community. They each felt uplifted in their unique identities and encouraged by the community to which they’ve been called.

As for the staff, we left energized, enthralled in our mission, and ready to bring the kingdom one summer camp at a time. If you would like to help support this mission, you can do so by donating to Camp Tzadi.