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One teen’s amazing discovery at a French camp

by Tim Wilson and Tralita Alderman

Sophie had heard rumors of religious sects isolated in the French Alps, where glaciers, abundant wildflowers, sheer rock cliffs, and green pastures fairly cry out, testifying to their Creator. The natural beauty clashes with the dark spiritual condition of the region.

Once a hotbed of the Protestant reformation, this stretch of winding mountain road was devoid of even one evangelical church—and there was certainly no church in Sophie’s town. Even Catholicism was dwindling as each priest served about 30 tiny parishes. Ornate cathedrals and picturesque chapels stood as monuments to a history few wanted to awaken in one of the most popular vacation areas of France, the Oisans.

Sophie grew up believing that science had fully explained humankind’s existence, and that religion was intellectual suicide. For her and her fellow nationals, “I am French; I am Catholic; I am atheist” held no contradiction.

Bridging the Gap
Sophie, at first hesitant to accept her friend’s invitation to Camp of the Peaks, decided to participate in the program, located off the road that winds through the Alps.

Unbeknownst to her, this relationship-based and missionary-staffed outreach to European teenagers served as a door to Christianity and was vital to church growth in France. Without it and similar ministries, the “irrelevance gap” between Europeans and the church might never be bridged.

The first few days of camp made Sophie uneasy. Christian songs, testimonies about the Bible and faith in God, prayers before meals—she found it all strange. In fact, she asked a staff member if she could skip the singing and sessions since she wasn’t a believer. Sophie would have gone home, except she relished the chance to spend time with her friends.

By the fifth day, the 16-year-old began to hear the songs as less invasive. She enjoyed making pottery and participating in drama and games. The strangeness gave way as she discovered something different from anything to which she’d ever been exposed. Sophie sensed a longing in her heart for something she didn’t know existed—something her culture insists doesn’t exist.

The Camp of the Peaks counselors’ sincere kindness and upbeat personalities were countercultural. Sophie was accustomed to feeling shame; it is the French school system’s chief means of motivation to ensure conformity. To the French, anything strange is suspect and avoided if possible. But Sophie couldn’t help softening to the camp counselors’ relaxed, loving faces. And encouragement led to hope.

Hope Blossoms
During the second week, Sophie was as engaged in activities as any other camper. The place was now familiar and fun. The conversations she had with new friends whom she knew she could trust challenged her thinking.

She felt a growing hope. Perhaps life holds more than I’ve been led to believe, she thought. Maybe secularism isn’t the ideal my teachers and parents say it is.

Believing in the Bible as God’s Word was still too great a stretch for Sophie. Yet the beauty of creation all around her blossomed into a testimony of Someone beyond. How could the warmth I feel be artificial? she wondered. The Holy Spirit—together with the ingredients of observation, time, and participation—was at work.

At the end of two weeks, Sophie’s mom came to pick her up and was delighted in her daughter’s demeanor. She had never dreamed a teen could enjoy being at a place with so much structure.

The next day, Sophie, sleeping bag under her arm, returned for the optional third week of camp. Ecstatic campers greeted her, happy to have their friend back. The counselors noted something small but significant: Sophie clutched her clarinet, an instrument she’d not touched in years. The sudden creative flair astonished Sophie’s mom.

Trusting the Creator
The message Sophie heard at camp embraced her heart. As Jesus said, “‘I tell you, if they [my disciples] keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” (Luke 19:40). Indeed, the majestic praise of the stony cliffs of the French Alps continue to frame a door of hope for teens like Sophie to hear about their Creator.

And at Camp of the Peaks, religious prejudice is met with the reality of changed lives. Teens are finding Jesus Christ relevant in a society determined to live without Him.

Sophie is no exception. Several months after camp, she invited Jesus Christ to live within her for eternity. Neither the lack of area churches nor the firm humanistic stance of her culture could stop her from experiencing abundant life.

Tim served as director of Camp of the Peaks for 10 years. He is currently director of missionary mobilization for Greater Europe Mission in Colorado.

Tralita works at the international headquarters of Greater Europe Mission and is a freelance writer and speaker in the Colorado Springs area.

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