Why I Became a Christian

“Wait, what!? I thought you weren’t a Christian!” That’s true now, but this post is about when I was a child of about 11, and what took place at  Camp Sandy Hill.

I don’t remember much exposure to the Christian faith before that summer. Our family had attended church when I was quite young, but for whatever reason we hadn’t attended regularly for several years.

I did think about God, but mostly in the negative. I recall that when we said the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school, I was uncomfortable with the “under God” part. Sometimes I didn’t say it, and sometimes I said it but gave myself the excuse that God didn’t exist anyway so it didn’t matter.

I also recall an episode in first grade. This was in the 1960s, when prayers were still said in public school. After one prayer, one of my classmates told the teacher that I had had my eyes open. She was a wise lady and replied, “You wouldn’t have seen that his eyes were open if yours hadn’t been open, too.”

But I did have beliefs. My cornerstone belief was in Justice: I thought that good would eventually be rewarded and evil recompensed. Just how this happened I didn’t know, but it was almost like the Law of Conservation of Mass that I would later learn in high school. The universe would always be in balance.

That was my frame of mind when I went away to my first summer at camp. Sandy Hill was a Christian boys’ camp, with all that entails: fun crafts and activities, listening to Christian messages and singing Christian songs. One song was by far my favorite:

He’s Everything to Me
by Ralph Carmichael 

In the stars His handiwork I see;
On the wind He speaks with majesty.
Though He ruleth over land and sea,
What is that to me?

I will celebrate Nativity,
for it has a place in history.
Sure, He came to set His people free.
What is that to me?

Till by faith I met Him face to face
and I felt the wonder of his grace.
Then I knew that He was more
than just a God who didn’t care
That lived a way out there

And now He walks beside
Me day by day,
Ever watching o’er me lest I stray,
Helping me to find that narrow way
He’s Everything To Me.

Here’s a cheesy version sung around a campfire:

I had always wanted to do the right thing, so the idea that the majestic creator of the stars would be “ever watching over me lest I stray, helping me to find that narrow way” was very appealing. The evangelical Christian message that someone had to pay for our sins fit well with my idea of Justice. It made perfect sense to me that either I could pay (in hell) or I could accept Jesus’ payment on the cross and go to heaven instead.

So one night, lying on my bunk, I committed my life to Christ. I felt quite a rush. It was mind-blowing to have a connection — nay, a relationship — with he who “speaks on the wind” and “ruleth over land and sea.” Being even then a truth-seeking beagle, it also felt good to be right. It felt even better to be right with God.

Regular readers of the blog know that I look on faith differently now, but that was a very genuine experience of my 11-year-old self and I don’t want to tear it apart it in this post. I just wanted to tell that story, and now you have it.

7 responses to “Why I Became a Christian

  1. Interesting… I cannot even find a reference in Sandy Hill’s website that they are a Christian camp, not even in their “history and philosophy” section. Are they still christian? Or is this a stealth mission?

    • Sandy Hill has changed ownership since I was there.It is definitely more low-key now. This is from their Expectations and Values page: “The camp directors and many of the staff are Christians. However, there are staff and campers from many religious, racial, and cultural backgrounds every year at camp. You do not need to sign a statement of faith or believe any certain doctrine in order to be on our staff. Our program is activity based – ‘where learning and adventure meet’. There are no camper Bible studies, sermons, religious services, etc. … There is one optional Christian activity per week where campers can learn more about Christianity if they choose.” Not at all what it was like in the old days!

  2. Interesting. I have to say, I harbor a bit of negative emotions towards Sandy Hill. You were converted at a very young and vulnerable age, and the effect that had on you and the family was non trivial and long lasting. My sense was that the whole Christian mission of the camp was not openly explained to families who sent their kids there.

    • I hear you about the vulnerability. Someday I’m going to write a post about indoctrinating children. :\

      I don’t know whether the Christian mission of the camp was openly explained, but I’ll bet it was. Most families who send their children to evangelical Christian camps are evangelical Christians. They want to be assured that the camp is thoroughly Christian, doctrinally sound, etc., etc.. There would be very little motive for a Christian camp to be in stealth mode.

      OTOH, an evangelical camp could think they’re being completely open, but use Christian words that non-evangelical families would interpret differently. Example: Camp says, “We tell kids that God loves them and wants to have a relationship with them through His Son, Jesus Christ.” Non-evangelical families might be confused about the “through His Son” part, but still think the message sounds warm and positive. An evangelical family would hear the same message and realize that it means that the only way to even begin a relationship with God is to “receive Christ as Lord and Savior.” They would probably also understand the implication that if you don’t receive Christ, you won’t have a relationship with God and will eventually find yourself in what is eupemistically called “a Christless eternity.” Every sub-culture has its vocabulary that outsiders don’t quite understand, and evangelicals are no different. Evangelicals have gotten better at recognizing and correcting this problem in the last 20 years, but in the 1960s, just south of the Mason-Dixon line, I can easily imagine the sort of disconnect I just described.

      But that’s all conjecture. I really don’t know how they explained their message.

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