Exiting the highway and turning onto the gravel road, I could barely contain my excitement. As I rounded a corner and passed the lake, however, the anxiety began to mix in. My summer would be spent on staff at a Christian camp.

If my experiences during high school were any indication, the summer ahead would be great.

During one of our first times of staff worship, the camp director spoke on how this summer would be anchored in prayer and the Word. Reflecting on Isaiah 37, I read how the Lord is faithful through all generations, so I can/should bring my “armies” to the Lord in prayer and lay them at His feet.

I journaled this on May 24:

Tonight, before campers begin to come, I need to begin preparing for summer and give things over to You, God. Honestly, there are two things weighing on my heart tonight concerning this summer at camp: being able to relate to campers and connecting with the other male staff because of my past. Deliver me from my insecurities.

A few days later, my boss shared with the staff from Philippians 2:1-11, one of my favorite passages. He reminded us of the servant mind of Christ for this summer ahead.

But the feeling lingered that I had lost this humility during these past semesters of struggles. So many times during the past year I’d doubted my identity, wondered if my faith was real, questioned how my sexuality could be part of my story, and lied to myself to make friendships and ministry happen.

And so, the inner dialogue started . . .

The staff don’t know my story. Just be yourself. Do I even know who that is without the facades? Don’t force a deeper conversation. Do they need to know my past to know me now?

We continued our camp training — cleaning camp, digging into the Bible, sharing meals. One afternoon, all the cabin leaders went to do the ropes course. Partly as team-building for our staff and partly so we could connect when our campers were twenty feet in the air.

As one who doesn’t care for heights, participating had the desired effect of making me trust the others in the group. How could I not feel closer to the cabin leaders after that?

One night, though, I had a sexual dream about one of the male cabin leaders. I didn’t want my past to ruin the summer and my connections with the other male staff.

On several previous occasions, telling my story had helped me break down some of the awkwardness I felt. So, I grabbed JP, the cabin leader supervisor, and shared my story with him.

He thanked me for being vulnerable. My only follow-up was if there would be time for the male cabin leaders to share some of the baggage and hopes we were each bringing into the summer.

Alas, the schedule didn’t have time for this. But I could always connect with individuals on the weekends.

Suddenly, it was the first week of camp! What a rush as campers arrived and my co-cabin leader and I started to get to know the boys in our cabin — their quirks, middle school boy-humor, and all. How alive camp felt with kids there, playing camp-wide games, filling each space with laughter and conversations, seeing our guys grow during team-building and worship.

Thursday at lunch, JP asked what I was doing in the afternoon. A couple of my boys had invited me to the waterslide with them, but I could meet up with him after that.

When I got to his office, the camp director and camp manager were there as well. They asked me to share that uncomfortable part of my story again.

After listening to my story, they informed me that I could not stay on staff as a cabin leader.

What.

JP assured me that he felt God had me at camp this summer for a reason, though. He said I could stay on staff as part of the grounds and maintenance team, but the leadership also understood if I wanted to leave camp altogether at the end of the week.

I left the room. Passing by one male staffer, I told him I’d just received some tough news. I went to my cabin and closed the door.

What do I do? Wasn’t I called to work with youth? I know nothing about maintenance. What would it mean to leave camp with no other summer plans? Does my story really disqualify me from working with young men? What do I do?

At our Saturday staff meeting, JP announced that I would be joining program staff as part of the maintenance team. He also told me that if I ever needed help understanding the what or how of any task, I could ask him.

Good, I thought, because there will probably be several tasks I have never done before.

I’d be lying if I didn’t share how difficult that next week was for me. Seeing campers who weren’t part of my cabin; having a menial or completely new workload; having to form friendships with program staff as my new support.

Overwhelmed, I asked JP what my purpose even was for the summer. Why had I stayed at camp?

He encouraged me to use my new time as a ministry of prayer and care. When I was out mowing or weed-whipping, I could pray for the camp. As I set up campfires, I could thank God for creation. With the friendships I’d made with cabin leaders, I could pray over their campers.

It didn’t sound glamorous, but I gave it a try.

There were lots of sweaty prayers as I removed weeds around the lake. There were tearful prayers as I prayed over specific campers and asked why I wasn’t able to be more involved with camp. There were interceding prayers as I helped behind the scenes during worship.

I started connecting regularly during down times with Bart, one of the other guys on program staff. Slowly, I found tasks I could champion: unclogging toilets, fixing lights, weed-whipping for hours, and helping with cookout night.

The rhythms of program staff were different, but it did allow space to be in nature, connect with God, and help make camp, well, camp.

One weekend toward the end of the summer, Bart and I were walking the trails, talking about life and how the summer had been, along with what was in store for the fall semester. The conversation turned to dating, and I felt myself tense up.

Did Bart know my secret? Had he guessed why I was moved from cabin-leading? I tried to answer his questions vaguely but honestly.

Eventually, I just asked him why all the talk about dating.

“I’ve seen the way you take care of people at camp, especially the female staffers,” Bart responded. “It’s clear that you care, and I wanted to learn how to be a better man for the next gal I date.”

Darn my overthinking and overanalyzing self. I proceeded to share my story — all of it — with Bart. He thanked me for trusting him with my story, and we continued on our trek.

As the summer wrapped up, I continued to enjoy my ministry of prayer, though tinged with anxiety about the upcoming semester. There were good conversations with JP about my unexpected growth during the summer, and with Bart about what the fall semester would hold for each of us.

The worship that final week couldn’t be matched. The laughter shared during staff reflection was contagious. Those final laps around the lake and stargazing the last few nights — reminders of how big and beautiful and mysterious God and his ways are to me.

Have you attended or worked at a Christian camp? Did your story with sexuality ever come up? What was great and what was difficult about camp?

  • I tend to agree with Kevin Browne in the comments. When you advised JP about your situation, did you expect that he would pass that news on to the camp director and the camp manager? The whole thing seems odd. It’s like a a veiled accusation was made about your character for which they had absolutely no evidence. Your willingness to share the information should have indicated your transparency, but instead, they used it to disqualify you. It’s not right.
    It’s good that you took their consolation offer and ran with it. I’m sure they realized what a mistake they made by excluding you. It’s probably what prompted the ‘unexpected growth’ conversation with JP?
    I am also getting the impression that you do not view any of this as an injustice perpetrated by small minded people. Would that be correct? Whatever the case, you made the best of what you were left with.
    Trusting people with our personal stories should help build our relationships with them. Do you feel like that’s what happened?

    • G’day Friedrich – I don’t know what my expectations were after telling JP. At that point in my life, I just felt that I was better able to connect with other men if I had shared at least part of my story. But, I definitely did not expect to be have a meeting with the camp leadership… so yeah, a bit strange for sure. And, it was long enough ago that the LGBT/Christian conversation was still new-ish.
      .
      And yes, I didn’t see it as an injustice. It’s only been as I revisited this summer in blogging that I realize how big of a deal this could have been. But, at the time, I rested on the fact that I had other opportunities for the summer and God had given me peace about choosing camp, so I figured that I should stay where I had felt called.
      .
      Vulnerability begets vulnerablility (usually). I actually maintained a good friendship with JP that summer and beyond (which I will likely blog more about). So….long term yes. Short term… not so much.
      .
      Thanks for journeying with us!!

  • That sounds so incredibly hard Kevin. I would truly be upset at being demoted to pure maintenance work over something like this. That would hurt my heart a lot. And ugh, I hate it when guys who don’t know my story bring up dating. Always so awkward and I’m never sure what to say.

    • Maintenance isn’t a demotion! (but I get what you’re saying).
      .
      And dating conversations….thankfully I’ve learned from some good friends, so those chats are easier now.

  • Kevin, how you handled everything was so gracious. It reads like punishment on top of betrayal for being honest. I think I would’ve been crushed by disappointment and hurt and anger. That camp ended so well for you speaks volumes for how you stayed and handled the maintenance job somehow as an opportunity.
    EDIT: pulling my camp comment, it just isn’t helpful or encouraging. Camp’s good for so many guys. Let’s just say I wish I knew Jesus back then.

    • I’m so sorry you experience this early in your childhood! I hope you can work through the trauma you experienced! Praying for you brother!

      • Thanks man, older guys got it a lot worse than I did. I’m doing good, so much better than I deserve. Grace is real.

    • Thanks Blu. I don’t think I realized then what my response meant. There was another opportunity open for me that summer, but I felt more peace about working at camp, so when this conversation happened, I came back to my decision. But yes, it was definitely tough that week… and the next… and several other times during the summer.
      .
      Maybe you can volunteer at a camp sometime to have a redeeming experience??

      • Well, good on you for sticking with your decision to stay Kev. I don’t know about you, but the best things in life kinda come as a surprise from decisions we don’t understand fully.
        Gotta say, camp is for sure worth going to for guys, didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. It’s a good question tho. You can’t really go back or get a take back, would volunteering now redeem then? Maybe, I don’t know.

  • Hi Kevin,
    I’ve loved following your story! I hope you work in some ministry capacity today!
    I never worked at a Christian camp, nor did I go to one! A lot of people I went to college with worked at Lake Forest Ranch and Pine Cove.
    I commend you on your willingness to do prayer ministry over the camp! I’m learning more and more that a fruitful prayer life leads to a fruitful ministry. I know that your prayers over that camp lead to spiritual breakthrough for so many of the campers and the staff.
    I will say, my heart sank when I read that you were removed from your position as a cabin leader for sharing your story and struggle with SSA. I know that it isn’t easy sharing your story! I’ve never shared my struggle with SSA with anyone in ministry, I haven’t found it necessary and honestly after reading what happened to you, I’m scared to share it. I wonder if another cabin leader would have shared that he struggled with masturbation and looking at straight-porn if he would have gotten removed from his role?
    Also, I hate sex dreams! I always wake up feeling defeated….
    Best,
    Landon

    • Landon! So much that I want to respond to!
      I don’t work in ministry currently. There have been a few opportunities, but nothing right now.
      As far as prayer goes – I don’t remember any specific instances that summer. But I grew in my understanding of prayer, and how to incorporate it within my daily tasks (something I need to remind myself of now). I was thankful to have the connection with cabin leaders so I could think of them as I work in/around their cabins.
      Don’t let this keep you from sharing!! The majority of times that I have shared my story have been very positive. Whether or not you should, probably is circumstantial – the person(s) and place.
      And yes. Sexual dreams are UNFAIR.

  • Kevin! Thanks for sharing this story. You handled the situation quite well, many would have just left. It sounds like even though it was a tough situation, sticking around was the right choice and allowed you to encounter God in a unique way. Whether their decision was right or wrong, God was there working in your experience at that camp. This story is a great example of how to extend grace and love to those who may make decisions that hurt us- particularly decisions around a topic as sensitive as sexuality.

    • Thanks for your kind words Aaron! In reading comments I have realized at least 2 things:
      1) I could have responded MUCH differently, and most people would be understanding
      2) I didn’t fully explain my pre-camp situation. In April I was sitting with an acceptance letter to camp AND to another summer mission trip. Honestly, I was more excited to do summer missions again, but through prayer and conversations with friends, I felt more peace about camp. When this roadblock came, I had to return to my decision in April and trust that peace would still be true.

  • Ooooff wow. Thanks for sharing all this. I think what happened to you is one of my worst nightmares if I were to be open about my sexuality. There’s definitely some privilege in keeping the SSA part under wraps.
    But in addressing your questions at the end. I LOVE CHRISTIAN CAMP. I became a christian at a camp in northern california. God used those trips instrumentally to change the course of my life! PTL

  • When I first read your blog, I rolled my eyes & thought, “Well, what can you expect from a bunch of homophobic bigots?” Good stories let us put ourselves in each of the characters’ places & when I re-read this, I thought about how I would have acted if I were you, PJ, the director, or Bart. It’s important to you that people know who & whose you are. I’m glad things worked out for you there but it seems like you’re moving on with your life. Trying to fit into their agenda is like wearing shoes you’ve outgrown. It would have nice if the campers had experienced an openly gay man worship with them & see you’re actually okay, not a wolf on the prowl. Maybe the director has to preserve the image of the predator evil queer rather than grow. The reality is different but it’s hard for reality to overcome prejudice & fear. Hope school is going well for you! Keep going!

    • Hey Richard
      That summer was a decade ago, so the conversations were fresh-er about what inclusion could look like. I was still fairly new at putting words to my story/identity. And, the camp was/is interdenominational, so they didn’t have a written stance on homosexuality. While I don’t think their decision was necessary, I understand why they thought it seemed necessary. But also, yes, I think that the kids would have been fine and learned from me – even without bringing up my sexuality – it is only part of who I was/am.

  • Thank you for sharing your story Kevin! I’m glad it all worked out in the end even though what you did wouldn’t have been your first choice.
    I do think they treated you somewhat unfairly to change your job. They may have had a good reason but that doesn’t make it any easier.
    Similarly I came out to a counselor at a Christian summer camp while I was in high school (2007). I had wanted to serve on staff there when I completed high school in 2010. I asked this guy for a reference for the job in which he later confessed to me via Facebook message that he told the camp that I wrestled with attractions to other guys and that I was not a good fit for the job. This is a family camp in Michigan. We had a heart to heart and ultimately I believe he understood where I came from at the end of it. God closed that door for me. This camp believed that even having attractions to the same sex was sinful. There was even another counselor that was studying ministry and counseling that when I shared my wrestlings completely unfriended me and no further contact was made. Camp experiences have been very trying for me though I have not had many of them.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    Born and raised in the Midwest, I find my heart bent toward nature and travel. Things that I love? Travelling, cooking, trying new food, hiking trails, exploring other cultures, the arts, stories – told and read – summer camp, and lists (seriously). Personality tests run the risk of putting people into boxes, so I'd rather let you get to know me before sharing what I "test" as. "Sojourner" is a term I'm becoming more comfortable using to describe myself and my lifestyle. Random facts about me: I played the bassoon for eleven years and can speak French. Let's journey together.

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