It was July in the summer of 2016. It was the first year I could go to Great Escape because I was an incoming seventh grader. Great Escape is a church summer camp. We had heard great stories from people that had gone in the past years. They told us about night games, ziplines, and mud pits. When we were in elementary school, we couldn’t wait to go to Great Escape. We had been waiting 12 years to go to TGE Midwest. And now, it was our turn to go.
Since quite a few of my friends go to my church, I was with a big group of friends. It made it a lot more fun because I could hang out with my friends all week. It was like a six day sleepover. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I grabbed my hairbrush and put it in my backpack. I looked at my checklist and hoped I had grabbed everything. If I hadn’t, I would have to figure out a way to live without it for the next six days. I grabbed my giant black suitcase and took it downstairs. I then sprinted back up the stairs and grabbed my grey duffle bag and my multi-colored backpack.
I had over packed quite a bit, but I didn’t know that we would be staying in hotel rooms. At every other camp I had ever gone to, I had stayed in a cabin. So, I had packed a pillow, two blankets, a sleeping bag, and a mini pillow. That is what took up most of my duffle bag. Little did I know, I wouldn’t need any of that.
I dropped my bags at the bottom of the stairs and grabbed a cup of water. I glanced at the clock. It was 1:00 P.M. I had to be at church by 1:30. I found my dad in the garage and asked him to help me with my suitcase. We grabbed my things and took them to the trunk of my dad’s 1989 Alfa Romeo. The car is small, red convertible. We had to use a black bungee cord to keep the trunk down. Like I had said, my suitcase was huge.
I put my duffle bag in the space between the leather seats. I sat down and put my backpack by my feet. I then realized, after getting situated and comfortable, that I had to go back inside. Why? Because I still had my phone. If I was caught with my phone at camp, I would be sent home. They had very strict rules on phone usage at camp.
I ran back inside, shut my phone down, and tossed it on my bed. The clock read 1:13. I raced back outside, jumped in the car, and we were on our way.
When we pulled into the Crossroads parking lot, there were a bunch of cars parked. There were kids walking in and out of the church. There were three busses lined up in the front of the church. There were group leaders loading them.
We had heard about how we were grouped on the busses. The first bus was for the girls going into 7th and 8th grade. The second bus was for the boys going into 7th and 8th grade. The third bus was for boys and girls going into 9th grade.
My dad gave me one last hug and said goodbye. I grabbed my things and went up to the front doors of the church. I gave my bags to Alex. He was one of the leaders loading up the busses. When I went inside, I was excited to see a group of my friends waiting for me. It had been about a month and a half since we had seen each other. So, we were pretty excited.
I walked over to Jill, a group leader, and JoJo. Jill asked me if I had my phone contract signed. I thought my mom had turned in all my papers, but she hadn’t. I told this to Jill and said it was okay. She signed the parent signature part of the contract for me.
I walked into the CLC and got my nametag. This contained our schedules. I went over to the next station. My parents had not signed the high ropes course permission form. It was okay though. My friends and I decided we were not going to go anyway. If we did, we would be missing Lake rec. None of us wanted to miss Lake rec.
I went back out to find my friends. None of us really knew what to say. We just stood around in an awkward silence. You would think that after not seeing eachother for a month and a half, we would be yelling over each other trying to talk. But no one knew what to say.
Finally, everyone else came into the hallway. Our group leaders had us stand in a big circle. We said a quick prayer and went outside. We grabbed our snacks for the bus and filed on.
The bus ride lasted for about two hours. Some girls slept, some played games, and some had a screaming match. Now to be honest, I'm not sure how some of the girls stayed asleep while ? of us were screaming our heads off, but somehow they managed.
The two hours felt more like two minutes. When we got there, the busses parked. Some of the camp counselors ran by in strange hats, huge sunglasses, and goofy outfits. We stuck our hands out the window and as the counselors ran by, we gave them high fives. They came onto our bus with a large camera. They recorded us screaming and jumping around. We were trying to show how excited we were for camp.
The busses started driving again. We got to the top of a hill. We stood up and got off of the bus. They unloaded the bags, I grabbed mine, and I followed the crowd up a small hill. I found the Crossroads building and walked inside, my friends and I got onto an elevator and went up to the third floor. That was the floor for the girls.
We were given our room keys. We opened our door to our room. There were two queen sized beds, a full bathroom, and a little sitting area.
My watch read 5:00. We had to be at the Lake in a half an hour. I grabbed my blue swimsuit and put it on. I pulled my hair into a high ponytail. By the time I was ready, my friends were ready to go too.
We ran down the stairs and to the beach. There were kids playing volleyball, others swimming, and others dancing. Music was blasting on the giant speakers.
We all looked at each other and, as if it was rehearsed, we ran into the water. We swam and danced and had fun. Camp was going well so far.
Eventually, we had to go get dinner. We ate a quick dinner and went back to our room. I unpacked my things and put them into drawers. I put my blanket on my bed and made the room more like home.
I put on my PJs and hung out with my friends. Before we knew it, it was 10:30. We decided to go to bed. We had a long and fun week ahead of us.
We woke up at 7 AM and got ready for the day. We went downstairs and out of our building and to the cafeteria building. We got a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, muffins, and cappuccinos.
After breakfast, we had our morning session. Sessions were the time when we would go to another building and we would sing songs and listen to one of the speakers talk about his or her experience with God helping them through a hard time.The band would then come out and play a few more songs.
After morning session, we would go to Quiet Time. We would start off by sitting all together in a large area with benches that overlooked the water. The speaker would talk to us for a few minutes and then we would be sent off on our own. We would take out our bibles and our TGE Field guides and pick a spot to sit. We would read a bible verse that we were instructed to read and analyze it.
After Quiet Time, we would go to one of the recs. The different recreation activities that they had were at Lake rec, Field rec, and Mud rec.
We were put into groups of people that we would go to different recreation activities with. I was on team Everest Elisabeth. All of the group names had their leader's name in it. They would also have something to do with climbing. This is because the Great Escape theme for this year was “The Summit”.
On our first day we went to Mud rec. There was a giant waterslide and relay races. There was also a big mud pit, and we played a game called steal the bacon.
Steal The Bacon is a when you take a giant flotation tube and you put it in the center of the mud pit. There are multiple people on each team that run towards the tube and grab the tube. You then have to try and pull it over to your side. If you do, then you win the game.
They started out by giving us all numbers. Then with only having four people playing. Then eventually as time went on, they just would call out random numbers and if your number was called, you ran up and tried to grab the tube. By the time that the game was almost over, there were about 24 of us trying to grab onto the flotation tube. We were knocking each other over, pushing each other into mud ,and falling on top of each other. It was super fun and messy.
After we were all covered in mud, we went back to our room to get ready for lunch. We all knew that there was no way we were going to get the mud out of our clothes, so we just threw them away.
After that, we went to lunch. As always, it was delicious. Then, we had free time. This was the time when we could do whatever we felt like. We could go to the art room and be creative, we could go swimming, we could just hang out in our dorm rooms. Sometimes they had special activities that we could do. There were volleyball tournaments, chess matches, soccer games, and on Thursday, there was tie dyeing. My favorite thing to do was banana boating.
We only went banana boating once that week, but it was super fun. We sat with 4-6 people on a giant tube that was yellow and shaped like a banana. We would hold onto the handles in front of us and a boat would drive us around and try to throw us off. I was always in the back because I was the tallest. So, because of this, I was always getting thrown off. I swallowed quite a bit of Lake water that day.
After free time, we went to evening session. Evening session was like morning session. The only differences were that evening session was a half hour longer, and it was focussed more on the lecture rather than the singing.
Next was family time. family time was when we spent time with the people from our church. We would go back to our building where all of us were staying. we would then hang out with our church family for about an hour. We would talk about the fun and exciting things we did that day. On Thursday night, we had boys and girls night. The boys were in one room and the girls were in another. The girls all wore their pajamas and brought their pillows. There were streamers and balloons, soda and cupcakes, we even had a pillow fight with about 45 girls. It was a really fun night.
Family time would last for about an hour every night. Then, we would go upstairs and get ready for bed. Most girls didn’t have alarms in their rooms so they relied on other people to wake them up. My friend, Megan, had a watch with an alarm on it. The alarm was a bit annoying, but we got used to it.
On our third day we had Field rec. This one was also a lot of fun. We went out and played soccer, but with a twist. We took floaty tubes and put them around ourselves. We then had to run around and try and kick the ball. We knock people over and it was very challenging to stand back up. We also played giant human foosball as well as a couple of other relay races.
Then it was the same routine as the day before. First we had lunch, then free time, evening session .
Our third day was a Wednesday. Evening session was a bit different that night. We went to the place where we all met for Quiet Time. That night we could make a big choice. We could choose to give our life to God. We could choose if we wanted to. I did.
Everyone has their own experience that night. But one thing is for sure. Everyone cried that night. If we chose to, we could go up to the front and get a commitment bracelet. We would be with our church family in a big group hug. I went up there not expecting to cry. But as soon as I was welcomed into the big group hug, my eyes swelled with tears.
It was dark outside and they had big lights shining on us. They gave each one of us a white candle to light. As soon as all the candles were lit, they turned off the huge lights. There were bugs that started flying around us. They were crawling everywhere. They were attracted to the light of our candles. They were in our hair and up our sleeves. They were around our feet and our heads. They would fly directly into the candles and get melted into the candles. I even swallowed a few by accident. We were all jumping around trying not to get attacked by bugs. We were all crying and laughing at the same time. It was an amazing and emotional night.
After commitment night, we went to family time. We had a short family time that night because commitment night went an hour longer than it should have. It was almost midnight by the time we got back to our dorms.
On the third day we had Lake rec. after breakfast we grabbed our swimsuits and we sped down to the Lake. There were a lot of fun things to do at Lake rec. We could be involved in the relay races, we could swim, we could get sprayed with a firehose, we could just run around with our friends, or we could play a game in the Lake.
In the Lake, there was a game that was a mix of basketball, football, and soccer. It was a very complex game involving inner tubes, buckets, footballs, and piggy back rides. I’m not so sure that anyone knew how to play, but we had fun with it.
After rec, we had lunch then free time. This was on Thursday. Thursday was tie dye day. I went down to the beachfront with my friends and tie dyed t-shirts.
After that, it was a normal day. Dinner, evening session, family time, then bed, The normal order.
Friday. Our last full day at camp. We started off by going to the beachfront for devotionals. We would watch the sunrise, sing hymns, and listen to an inspirational story from a speaker.
We went to breakfast, as usual. Then Quiet time, as usual. Rec was different though. We had already done Lake rec, Field rec, and mud rec. So what were we going to do in rec on Friday? Obviously, a shaving cream war.
At the beginning of camp, we had all brought in two bottles of shaving cream. We were instructed to put on our swimsuits and shorts after Quiet Time. We then met at the same place as when we went to Lake rec.
They had set up a giant orange plastic fence. They had counselors standing around the orange fence with bottles of shaving cream. You would run up to one of them and they would put huge globs of shaving cream in your hands. Then, you find your friends or anyone you want to cream, and you put shaving cream on them.
Although the war was for everyone, there were four boys in our grade that decided it was a good idea to start a mini war with four of us girls. But, we came up with a system. One of the girls would chase one on the boys. The rest of the girls would just wait. As soon as the boy came running past, we slapped them in the face with shaving cream. It was a very effective method.
Eventually, people started to leave to go get changed. My friends left and three of the boys left. In the mini war, it was just me and one other boy.
I had known him since we were babies. We always saw each other at church. But at the time, we were not very good friends. We didn’t know each other. His name is Daniel. And we both had the same look in our eyes. We both could tell what the other was thinking. We were thinking, “It’s on!”
We threw shaving cream at each other. Then we used pool noodles filled with shaving cream to whack each other. Then he ran out of the arena. I thought I had won. But less than five minutes later, Daniel came back with a giant squirt gun filled with Lake water. If he was going to use his resources, so was I.
Most people were gone. It was me, Daniel, and eight or nine other people that we didn’t know were left. I ran out of the arena. Just as Daniel thought that he had won the war, I came up behind him with a big bucket of shaving cream water and dumped it on his head. It was one of the six eye washing stations. Since there were only a few people left, I got permission to use one of them.
He turned around and I put the bucket down. I still remember exactly what he said.
He said, “This isn’t over.”
My response was, “We will continue this next year.”
His final words on the matter were, “Agreed.”
We then walked over and got sprayed off with ice cold water from a fire hose. It stung like cold ice, but it also felt good on such a hot day.
I quickly ran back to my dorm and changed out of my shaving cream covered clothes. I met my friends for lunch and then we all went to the art room to make some crafts. I duct taped my bible case.
That night, after dinner, we didn’t have evening session. Instead, we had the camp dance. We went to the same place as we usually did for evening session. But instead of chairs and a speaker, there were sodas and candy. There were people dancing and having fun. The band came out and played a few songs. I spilled my soda on the dance floor. Whoops.
We danced for almost three hours. Then the last song played. I still remember what it was. If I listen to it, I can imagine exactly what everything looked like. It became my camp remembrance song. The song was “One More Time” by Daft Punk. We were all jumping around and having fun. The song has a build up to one part when they sing “One last time!” super loud. At this point, we all crowded in the middle of the room, and held our right hand up with our pointer finger up and as soon as they sang the line, we all shouted.
When the song was over, none of us were ready to go. So, we all shouted “One Last Time!” at the top of our lungs until the song played again. The energy in the room increased. We were all singing and shouting even louder this time.
Once the song ended, we all accepted the reality that tomorrow, Saturday July 16th, was the day we had to leave and go back home. We packed up our things that night. All we left out was what we needed for the next day.
On the morning of Saturday, July 16th, we woke up early. We went to devotionals. We then went back to our rooms and brought our bags to the busses. As they were being loaded, our church family went down by the Lake. We had breakfast and hung out for a while. Some of us went to the park, some went to the end of the pier, other just sat at the picnic tables.
Victor, our youth pastor, called us to the Lake. He recited some bible verses as he stood knee deep in the water. He called everyone going into 9th grade forward. They stepped into the water. He then called the future 8th graders into the water. They were told to put their hand on a 9th grader’s shoulder. Finally, he called the future 7th graders forward. We were told to put out hand on a 8th grader’s shoulder.
Victor said, “Now future 8th and 9th graders, look behind you. The kids behind you are younger than you. They are looking up to you. They are looking to you for an example. So, set a good one. And 7th graders, next year, you will have 6th graders looking up to you. Set a good example for them. And we have had a very fun week. But now we have to go back home. I know that some of you are going back to hard situations. Some are going home to their parents getting divorced, some have had a death in the family recently, some are just struggling with friends or something else in your life. Camp was a nice way to get away from those things that were troubling people But this break from reality cannot last forever. We have to go back home. Just remember, God loves you no matter what.”
Victor’s words stuck with me.
I remember the water. It was cool, but it wasn’t cold. It was clear as day. The sand was soft between my toes. The sun was still rising. There was a yellow sailboat floating a half mile away. The tree line on my left seemed to go on forever. It was a beautiful view. Some of us started to cry. We didn’t want to leave.
We had to go though. We were dismissed to go to the busses. We boarded onto the same bussed we had been on 6 days earlier. Some of us whispered. Most were silent. Some were quietly crying. It was time to go back home. We just where not ready to accept that.
On the bus ride back, all of us girls talked about our experiences. The good and the bad. We talked about the friendships that were formed. We talked about everything that had happened that week. It had gone by so fast.
We got back to the church and our bags were unloaded. We said goodbye to our friends and counselors. I had just grabbed my bags when I ran into Daniel.
“The war shall continue next year,” he told me.
“Yes, it shall,” I replied.
We smiled at each other and went our separate ways. I found my dad waiting in his ‘89 Alfa Romeo. We loaded my bags and went home.
On August 29th, we had our church’s camp reunion. We gathered at Crossroads. We sw friends we hasn’t seen in almost two months. We would all be starting school in a few days. We shared how our lives had changed since camp. 9th graders shared their experiences from the three years they had gone to camp. We watched a video full of pictures and videos of camp memories. There were serious photos and photos of people covered in shaving cream with goofy smiles on their faces. There were videos of us falling in mud and tackling each other in tube soccer. It brought back all the memories of camp.
Our lives have all changed so much since The Great Escape 2016. Lots of kids are now in high school. Lots of us middle schoolers have become closer with other middle schoolers at church. Our youth pastor, Victor, has left the church and has moved to another state. We all had to move on from camp. We all had to come back to reality. But we know that if we are ever feeling sad and missing camp, we can just go online and rewatch all the videos we saw that week. We can see all the pictures and the best parts of the lectures from sessions. And we know that we will never forget Great Escape 2016, because it will always have a special place in our hearts.