Early in the morning I headed down the highway from Lubbock to Butman Methodist Camp and Retreat Center. This was my first time going to the camp in Merkel. As I drove the twisting, winding roads in the glow of dawn, my heart was at peace. I could feel God’s presence well before I could even see the Butman sign at the entrance of the camp. I drove in, checked in and got to work. I started filming and taking photos of kids in their small groups. Small groups where kids were intent on listening and learning from their leaders. The sound of laughter was everywhere in the camp as the campers truly enjoyed being there.
I caught up with Robert Burke, the Director of High School One-Way Camp, after the week was over. The following is a little Q&A he agreed to do with me.
Levi McKay: First off, I want to thank you for taking time to talk with me about High School One-Way Camp at Butman Methodist Camp & Retreat Center. How long have you served as director of the camp, and how long have you been volunteering?
Robert Burke: I have been volunteering for Butman Methodist Camp for 7 years. I was co-director under Donald Ward for 1 year before my first year as Director this year.
LM: With seven years of volunteering in camping ministry, I bet you’ve seen it all! In your years of experience as a volunteer, what would you describe as your favorite part of camping ministry at Butman?
RB: I have three favorite parts of camp.
The first thing I love about camp is when I see the kids on the first day who have never been to camp act “all cool and reserved”. They laugh and snicker at things said on that first day. It is completely obvious that they have been classically conditioned to put up their defense mechanisms to protect themselves from years of a bullying environment that they have daily lived in through the public-school system and on social media. They obviously are uncomfortable about trusting others with exposing their emotions on that first day of camp. The thing I love to watch is, how over the course of the week, these barriers quickly come down; and I am delighted to see the moment in which they realize that they are in a safe place to have an encounter with God. By the last day, these same kids are the kids that do not want to go back into their own Babylon because they love to be close to God and they fear that this closeness will change when they go back. The Butman experience is one of mutual respect and love for each other. It is that agape love that Jesus wants for all of us.
The second favorite thing is connected to the first. I love to see kids praying over each other. I like this because these kids feel God's love so strongly that it fills their depleted and empty cups. These cups are filled at camp; so much that “runneth over” and spills into those campers around them that so desperately need a refill. By the end of camp, everyone is filled to overflowing. When I see these kids praying over each other, it makes me tear up. Nowhere in these kids’ lives have they EVER been able to be that exposed and respond with such tenderness and compassion for one another. This is truly amazing to me to witness because I know what their everyday lives are like. I know how students treat each other at school.
The last thing I love about camp is how the family groups come together and truly become a “family”. These campers set up group chats to keep in contact with each other when they get home from Butman. In these groups they created, they hold each other accountable. They pray for each other when anyone needs it. The Butman experience does not end when camp is over. Their love for the essence of Butman keeps going throughout the year. Some groups, like the family Vietnam (we give country names for families), try hard to have reunions during the school year in a central location so that as many people in that group can come and fellowship. When I go to Butman camp for a personal retreat, the staff at Butman and I always try to have a youth night on Wednesday night and campers that live in the area try very hard to come that night. We meet for dinner, fellowship and have worship in Shep Chapel. These young men and women LONG for Butman and they long for what Butman represents, A GOD EXPERIENCE. God is STRONGLY at work in this camp.
I also love how kids who would normally be in separate social cliques at school come together as a family at camp. This is great to see because under normal circumstances, these kids would otherwise not co-mingle at home.
LM: That’s great to know that you can truly see student’s lives being changed at camp. So, what is some practical advice you would give to encourage parents and pastors of students to continue to help them grow in their relationship with Christ?
RB: One of the most difficult things for campers to overcome is the "post Butman blues”. Most campers go into a depression shortly after camp and it lasts until school starts. This gives parents and pastors a golden opportunity to talk with their youth. I think it is very important to remind these kids about camp as much as possible. I encourage them to talk about the way they felt at camp. In our youth, we download the songs we sang at camp from iTunes so that they have a musical cue to remind them of camp as well. I play the music as they walk into the youth room and then we sing the songs during our praise and worship time. This year at camp, I served Oreos each day at the morning services so that they will have a "cookie cue" to remind them.
Through these reminders, I would hope that the youth will consistently want to recreate that Butman environment at home. After football season and school has gone into full swing and their Babylon has engulfed them again, these reminders are very effective to re-center their lives around Christ. Pastors, parents AND their camp family support group via social media are wonderful vehicles for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in each of their lives.
LM: Those cues are so important to jog their memories of how God moved in them at camp. So, what would you say to encourage churches in the NWTX Conference to continue to support camping?
RB: I would encourage churches in the NWTX Conference to continue supporting camping because, for our youth, this may be the only way they make a connection with God. Our home churches may or may not have a youth group and if they do, that experience may not be enough to break down the walls our youth put around themselves. Students who attend their home churches still put up barriers so that their peers may not see their true feelings. Camp is a great way for youth to feel comfortable showing and/or discovering their true love for Christ without the fear of being made fun of. Pastors and church members should encourage all their youth to attend camp.
In addition to that, all pastors and church members should attend camp themselves to witness the Holy Spirit in action. The Holy Spirit doesn't just change the lives of the campers, it also changes the lives of its directors, support staff, and its volunteers. I am a true testament to that statement. I answered the call to full time ministry at Butman Methodist Camp after a long, prosperous career as a teacher of instrumental music in Texas public schools.
When I went to camp that day, I got to see baptisms in the pool, where just ten minutes prior, children were playing and splashing. I got to witness a plan to take the campers on a hike to the top of a hill where the worship band was waiting to lead a “mountain top experience,” only to have the rain roll in and the campers having to take shelter in the Recreation Center. With half of the volunteers still up on the top of the hill, the other leaders took charge. Utilizing a single guitar, one individual led all these kids in worship. These campers stood on the concrete floor of an outdoor recreation area and worshipped their hearts out. It didn’t matter that we were on a gym floor instead of a concert hall or sanctuary or that the original plan failed. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a full band leading worship or that there wasn’t even a sound system to amplify the songs. All that mattered was they got to worship God, and they were able to do that alongside their friends at camp.
A lot of times I feel like we get caught up in the competition between camps. People argue that one campsite is better than another, or that one type of camp experience is more impactful. We get caught up in our human nature and most times we forget that God is going to move wherever He wants to, as long as hearts are open. He is going to move in a room with crazy lights and a loud band, but he is also going to move with kids in a Rec center with one acoustic guitar and foiled plans.
No matter what camp experience you prefer, encourage your kids to go. Life change happens at camp and God moves always.