Bible camps: Evangelism through intensive summer camps

These Bible camps, as described by the author, continue as an important role in the evangelistic cycle by the church in Finland.

Aimo Helminen, DMin, is director of the Media7 Bible School located in Helsinki, Finland.

The Voice of Prophecy Bible correspondence school in Finland began its operation in 1948. Through the years, the school has offered several Bible courses for thousands of Finns. With its modern name, Media7 Bible School, it reaches about 1,500 students every year with correspondence courses and through radio, Internet, and television.

Each year we invite many of our students to special evangelistic events organized by local churches or the Bible school. In addition, all those who complete one of the Bible courses also receive an invitation and free ticket to a summer Bible camp. Most of the camps are held in the Adventist camp ground, Camp Kallioniemi, which is ideally situated in the center of Finland. Usually we have two, six-day Bible camps each summer in June or July. People feel relaxed while surrounded by beautiful nature and a friendly atmosphere. Some of the students come to the camp with a mind-set that they are willing to make their decision to follow Christ and join the Adventist Church. The majority of the participants have previously acquainted themselves with the Advent message but are still undecided. About half of the participants are already Adventists who support the camp by bringing their friends along with them and having personal discussions with other participants.

The Bible camp work, in a unique way, follows the interests that we have in Finland. Although this method may not be the most modern or innovative way of doing evangelism, the Bible camp work has been tested, developed, and adapted to changes in society through the years, so it has had steady success even in an increasingly secularized society. Problems do exist, but the benefits outweigh the negatives. The Bible camp work still has an important role in the reaping, or the evangelistic cycle, of our small 5,000-member church in Finland.

Uniquely Finnish model

The Bible camp work started about 50 years ago, leading to the baptism of more than a thousand people thus far. We have a unique Finnish Adventist model of organizing reaping campaigns for the Bible students and our friends who have an interest in our message. Each year during the spring, we plan the program and start advertising the camps among the correspondence school students and through local churches and pastors. Many of the pastors are invited to join as speakers in the camps, with a crafted schedule and topics chosen. The camps are also open to friends of Adventists who, though not necessarily correspondence school students, have studied the Adventist message, visited a local church, and attended other evangelistic campaigns during the year. Also, some of the newly baptized members receive invitations so that they might grow in faith and encourage others to make their decision to follow Christ. The Finnish conference plays a major role by sponsoring the camp and providing free tickets to the camp to those who need help. Each camp has about 50 participants and approximately eight pastors or Bible workers. This size seems to work quite well within the facilities we have.

The camp program has been planned in such a way that the basics of the gospel and our unique message are covered intensively for the participants to have a chance to make their decision to follow Christ and be baptized. The camp starts Monday night with an introduction to the whole week and a personal, Christ-centered message. In our most recent camps, the daily schedule begins on Tuesday morning at 8:15 with a devotional study on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit theme has thus been connected with Christ, His Word, spiritual gifts, and other related topics. After breakfast, we have two more lectures and one in the afternoon that concentrates on the core Adventist themes, such as Christ’s second coming, salvation, Sabbath, death, baptism, and our prophetic faith. In addition to these daily Bible lectures, we have about a 45-minute question-and-answer period just before lunch every day during the week. People are invited to write their prayer requests and questions on a piece of paper, and these are read, prayed for, and questions are answered.

After the afternoon lecture, the participants are divided into small groups led by pastors. Groups usually consist of eight members, both Adventists and non-Adventists, with one or two pastors leading out. During these meetings, people get acquainted with each other on a personal level and have a chance to discuss and study more deeply the most important topics presented during the lectures. Many personal matters are prayed for and decisions made.

Evening meetings have a special spiritually uplifting tone, with music, singing, and personal testimonies. Spiritually deep and reviving messages are presented and calls made. At the end of each evening, people who attended the meeting are prayed for, and pastors serve in individual discussions with spiritually needy people. Calls have a special purpose each night. We call people to experience freedom with Christ and the salvation He offers. We also challenge them to follow Him in baptism and become part of God’s family.

Some free time is provided in the afternoon, after supper, and in the evening. Many Finns like to relax in traditional saunas either before supper or after the evening meeting. There is hardly anything else more enjoyable than a relaxing sauna and a nice swim in a lake on a warm summer night with good company. Many decisions have been made even in a sauna, when the spiritual matters are discussed and prayed for.

On Friday, a baptismal class is organized after lunch, and on Sabbath a special baptismal service by the lake occurs after the Sabbath worship service. On Sabbath afternoon, a nature walk to the nearby mountaintop takes place, and after that a special welcoming service is organized for the newly baptized. Many Adventists who live nearby, or whose friends have been baptized on that day, visit the camp during the Sabbath. The following Sunday morning wraps up the program with special messages intended to encourage the newly baptized and other participants to follow in the steps of Christ by praying, studying His Word, and joining others to give the testimony of His love to the world.

For the benefit of families with children, we also organize child care during the meetings. There are many people who travel from various parts of the country to the camp. For many, this becomes a unique and special time to spend a spiritually uplifting week they will cherish the rest of their lives. Some of them want to return year after year. At times, we also have immigrants or refugees who know very little Finnish, and some of them have found Adventist friends and have been baptized. The atmosphere on campus is very accepting and open for questions, discussions, and spiritual search. Many new friendships are formed, and most important, for many, the friendship with Jesus has become stronger and deeper. We are happy that during the past years we have had a privilege of baptizing about 25 people each year—sometimes less, sometimes more—about 20 to 30 percent of the total annual baptisms in the whole of the country.

We are happy for these people. Most of them still serve the Lord in various parts of the country and join our local churches. Some may not be coming to church regularly, but we do not let that discourage us; the final results of our labor for the salvation of souls will be revealed in God’s kingdom with many surprises. Many who have quietly studied our courses or attended our camps, though we may not see them very often, will be in the kingdom. However, we need to improve in these areas: giving quality support to the newly baptized, and making their way to the local churches smoother when the camp finishes and people return to their homes. We have to make a special effort to help those who may be far from any of the local churches and where they know very few people. Those that have friends in the church are more likely to stay in the church. That is why friendship evangelism becomes important both before and after baptism. Overall, the Bible camps have had a deep and lasting effect on many people’s lives, and we will continue to have these camps in the foreseeable future for the benefit of the growth of God’s kingdom in Finland.

Seven important steps

We recommend Bible camps to other conferences and church groups that are interested in reaping evangelism. Here are seven important steps that need to be taken in order to plan for the Bible camp.

1. Secure the support of the local conference. The conference committee needs to allocate a budget for the event to cover the cost of sponsored tickets for the interests recommended by local pastors or evangelists.

2. Choose a venue. If possible, use an Adventist camp site, which can provide modest accommodation and meals.

3. Send invitations to a select group of Bible school students and advertise camps with a special offer to get a free ticket to attend the camp. You could decide to send the invitations to all those who have finished a Bible course during the last three years.

4. Advertise the camps in the local churches, and invite church members to attend and invite their friends who have shown some interest in the Adventist message. If needed, be prepared to sponsor them with free tickets.

5. Choose about eight pastors or lay evangelists to be speakers during the camp. There should be a ratio of one pastor/lay worker to 8–10 people in order to work most effectively in small groups and on an individual basis. Do not forget that you also need someone to organize music and child care during the camp as well.

6. Plan an intensive six-day program with an evangelistic preaching plan. Also, make sure to leave room for question-and-answer periods, small groups in the afternoon, and special appeals and prayer services in the evenings.

7. Pray and work, and you will see the fruit come in! If you need more information on Bible camps, feel free to contact the writer at aimo.helminen@sdafin.org.

The Bible camps: A personal reflection

By Nikolaus Satelmajer

During the editorial review process, I was intrigued by Aimo Helminen’s article about describing how individuals are brought to a camp for the purpose of Bible study. During a recent trip to Finland, I was able to spend several days with a Bible study group. My visit confirmed that the program described in the article is not only theory but works in a practical manner. It was obvious to me that the individuals who came to the Bible camp were enthusiastic participants in the program. The camp was a success because of the high level of commitment of
individuals who coordinate the camp. This is true both of the ministers who are part of the team and the lay members who take their personal vacation time in order to participate in this event.

A memorable day of the camp was the Sabbath day spent together in study and walking in the beautiful lake country at the camp location. Among the highlights of that Sabbath were the baptismal ceremony and listening to stories of individuals who shared what it meant for them to respond to the invitation of Jesus Christ.

Bible camps are an effective way of presenting the Word of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in the lives of individuals. Many parts of the world would greatly benefit from such camps.

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Aimo Helminen, DMin, is director of the Media7 Bible School located in Helsinki, Finland.

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