A new annual camp started by the education department of the Arizona Conference is equipping seventh- and eighth-grade students with a spiritual framework for building good decision-making skills.
“GRIP” is an acronym based on 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (RSV). Nicole Mattson, superintendent of schools for the Arizona Conference, developed and launched the camp with a team following discussions about how to give young people opportunities to develop life skills. Her team decided that, rather than have fifth- through eighth-graders repeat an outdoor education experience, they would split the groups up and tailor a day camp to fit their needs. Now, fifth- and sixth-graders will have the chance to focus on the theme of creation in the subject areas, and seventh- and eighth-graders will tackle topics that will help prepare them for solving real-world problems.
“GRIP is really a process for decision-making,” Mattson said. “In GRIP, each letter represents lessons for holding onto what is good and of God when making decisions. It helps introduce young people to using the Bible when evaluating decisions.”
In GRIP, G stands for Gauge and encourages students to think the problem over and assess who/what is involved. R stands for Risk and prompts students to consider potential consequences and who might be affected. I stands for Ignite, a step advocating that students make wise decisions based on their love for God and what they know to be right in the situation. Finally, P stands for Pursue and urges students to move forward with no regrets towards growing closer to God.
The first GRIP event, a partly virtual, partly in-person gathering, took place on March 4. Nearly 100 students joined in via Zoom from their respective schools and distance-learning locations to hear stories with real-life applications from Pastor Daniel Ortega, youth director for the Oklahoma Conference. For each focus of “GRIP,” there was a short talk, a breakout session, and then a scheduled break.
One unique aspect of the camp had students later pair up in group breakout sessions with their local pastors. Each pastor facilitated games and activities illustrating decision-making concepts, using activity kits that Mattson’s team mailed to each school. Activities included a matching “good choices and bad choices” game, a dice rolling game challenging students to not take too many risks, a beach ball catching game with challenging questions about decision-making, and balloon rockets to symbolize giving all decisions to God.
Following the presentation of each of the four concepts (Gauge, Risk, Ignite, and Pursue), local pastors led discussions and taught students about using the Bible journals provided to each of them during the event. Pastors also helped their young people identify ways to act on what they were learning, such as signing up for Bible studies, baptism, or getting involved in a youth group.
Schools ended their day with service projects in their locality, which included creating cards for shut-ins, yard cleanup at their school, painting covers for night lights, and thank you cards for people who donate to the school.
A survey of the students after the event revealed that 85 percent strongly agreed or agreed that they enjoyed connecting with their breakout session facilitator, who in most cases was their local pastor. Additionally, 78 percent strongly agreed or agreed that they feel better equipped to make decisions and face challenges, and over 85 percent said overall, they feel closer to Jesus after participating in GRIP.
One student stated, “Even though we didn’t go to Camp Yavapines, we’re still thankful for this fun day.”
Another shared, “It (this day) was fun and reminds us to be careful with our decisions.”
Yet another added, “I know positivity comes from God. I’m learning to take risks. He will always have my back.”
Mattson’s team looks forward to hosting the fifth- and sixth-grader camp next and to seeing how these annual camps will help young people learn and grow together.
By Faith Hoyt