To the point week of 6-19-08

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AS YOU READ THIS COLUMN this week, I will be close to returning from a trip to Panama City Beach, Florida. After a long winter it will be good to hit the beach, and I love Panama City.

In fact, this is the eighth straight year that I’ve gone there.

A family vacation? Sort of.

Each summer I have been a part of the group of high school students and chaperones from Switzerland County and the surrounding area who have attended the “Big Stuf” Christian Camp.

It’s a week with 1,500 teenagers on the beach in Florida, which is enough to make many of you cringe – but it’s also a week filled with speakers and music and times of reflection.

And I love it there.

Many of you may be familiar with Big Stuf, because we have been blessed to take a large number of students from Switzerland County High School each summer.

This year, nearly 90 will go, filling two charter buses and enduring the 15-hour ride down to Florida.

Big Stuf is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before, and now heading to the camp for my eighth straight year, I wanted to share a little bit with each of you about why it’s important for our kids to go there.

First of all, if the word “Christian Camp” puts a knot in your stomach, please don’t think that this is a week filled with “brainwashing” and denominational discussions.

There is no primary denomination coordinating this camp, but instead those who organize it push students to understand the importance of a personal relationship. It’s one-on-one that matters, and each student is given plenty of time to assess their life and their choices.

But the camp is also one that pushes students (and chaperones) to understand that they have a responsibility to their community and society in general. Students are challenged to see the “bigger picture”, and understand that while we have been blessed to live in this country, people around the world aren’t as fortunate.

At last year’s camp, our students learned about the problem facing people in Kenya because of the lack of clean drinking water.

Everyday people – young and old – die from drinking polluted water in Kenya. In fact, more people die from drinking bad water than from AIDS.

Someone dies every six seconds.

The Switzerland County community should know that your teenagers heard that message, and decided to do something about it.

They found out that an organization is drilling wells for Kenyan communities that brings clean and healthy water to towns. They found out that drilling one of those wells cost $3,400.

By the time we left Florida last year, our students – YOUR students – collected more than enough money to drill a well.

People in Kenya are alive today because of OUR kids.

But they didn’t stop there.

When they got back here, they organized a community water balloon fight at the Swiss Wine Festival to raise more money. They saw the meaning in using water to have fun as a means of providing life-giving water to others.

They also took plastic water bottles and began to fill them with change, with that money going to drill more wells.

Now, a year later, we’ve drilled a second well in Kenya, and are ‘well’ on our way (pun intended) to drilling a third.

And I’m sure that there will be a fourth.

In a society where adults look suspiciously at teenagers, I just wanted you to know that you have a large group of them living in this county that are committed to making this community and this world a better place in which to live.

There’s no place I’d be right now other than with our kids down at Big Stuf camp. When we return, you will probably see many kids wearing shirts with the camp logo on them.

But you’ll also see teens who have had their hearts changed for the betterment of society – and our community.