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Ernest & Jennifer’s Story

Ernest and Jennifer Hafner are the parents of three daughters, ages 18, 12, and 11. The past two summers, they signed up their two youngest daughters to go to Youthfront Camp West with their church. When they were asked to be volunteer cabin leaders this year, they were hesitant at first. However, their time at camp ended up impacting each of their lives in a profound way. They were kind enough to sit down and chat with us and we are thrilled to share some of their story with you.

How did you get involved with Youthfront camps in the first place?
EH: Last summer, there were flyers at our church and we thought it sounded like a good idea. Our kids had never done anything like this before. Then they asked me to be a volunteer cabin leader and I was hesitant. I didn’t see myself as a leader at all. We prayed about it and it felt like I was being called to go with the kids. I was so impressed when I was here. I got energized and then decided to become the youth leader for the 6th grade boys at our church.

Why did you want your kids to go to camp?
JH: We wanted to challenge what was in society – what society was telling them about how to be successful or what’s important. People are important and that’s why we’re here. We just wanted to be a good role model for them and we wanted to see their faith develop further.

Why did you decide to be volunteer cabin leaders?
JH: At first it was off our radar. We were really excited for the kids to go, but then the director of student ministries called us and thought we’d be ideal to be cabin leaders. We prayed about it and we started to get excited about it being a really cool bonding experience. We really felt like that’s where God wanted us. Everything just fell into place.

What do you like about the camp environment?
JH: A great thing about Youthfront and a big part of our decision in letting our girls come here is the idea of ‘unplugging’ them from everything else that bombards them about where their value is and what’s important – all the things that can potentially take their focus away from Jesus.
EH: No iPads or cell phones – I like that.
JH: When we came here; it was like a retreat. I didn’t realize how much noise I had in my head. I needed to get back to some roots too. I also like that they’re giving challenging stories to the kids. They’re not making it easy-breezy. I like that because the kids are capable of listening and learning; they don’t have to dumb it down. They can understand some pretty deep things at that age. They have a childlike heart, but they have the ability to grasp some pretty heavy stuff.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing parents and youth in today’s culture?
EH: Kids are bombarded by so much stuff now; everyone has cell phones and iPads. Back when I was their age, we didn’t have anything. You could either read a book or you could play. I didn’t have Internet. When I was their age, any bullying stopped at school. At home, it was gone; you didn’t get phone calls or text messages. Now, it’s constant.
JH: It’s harder to be a kid now. As parents, we want to fill them up as much as we can with the truth so that when they’re out there making decisions, they can hopefully remember those lessons.
EH: You want that foundation built prior to all the stuff that’s going to happen in high school and college.

What’s something you’d like middle schoolers to know?
JH: If you know nothing else right now in your faith other than the fact that you are so unconditionally loved by God and that you are never, ever alone, then that can take you so far. God isn’t going to love you more if you win the spelling bee. He’s not going to turn His back on you if you mess up. Even if you’re the loneliest kid, you’re never alone. I wish I would have accepted that sooner (how much God loves me). I could just see that the kids got it.

Are there any aspects of camp that you want to take home with you and apply to your daily lives?
JH: Some of the more regular devotional time throughout my day. We have our Bible time at night, but I think I would like to teach my kids more about the stillness part of communicating with God. I teach them to talk to God and to incorporate that into their day, but I would like for them to see the importance of morning quiet time. I want to teach them to get up and spend a little bit of time with God before anything else. That’s a great way to start your day.

Looking back on your time here this summer, what are some final thoughts?
JH: It was an honor to be here. I don’t think I gave back everything I received. I tried, but there’s no way. I learned tons from the campers. I was reminded of how deep and how real their world is. And how much they are thinking and caring and loving and need good, positive role models like the cabin leaders here. They need that desperately in their lives. Even if it’s just for a week, it can make a huge difference. I hope they know that and I hope they understand that can really change them as a person.

What would you tell other parents who are considering volunteering at camp?
EH: If you can’t come for a whole week, at least spend 2 days here. Spend the night here too and wake up with the campers. Be here for that time when the college kids get everybody pumped up and hear the message with your kid there. Also, tune everything out. Don’t check your phone all day long. Just embrace it. In the end, it doesn’t matter your age, even if you’re 48, you can still run around with kids and get shot in the head with a paintball gun.
JH: Try to open your heart and not see it as a chore. That’s something God changed in us. We were in a busy phase of life and we were just tired. We didn’t know if we had it in us to spend a week at camp. But now, I have more energy spiritually. I left with so much more than I came here with.

Ernest & Jennifer Hafner, Volunteer Cabin Leaders at Youthfront Camp West

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