It’s been a while since I’ve interviewed someone on this blog, so when Crusaders asked me to write something about the many camps they offer, I was all too happy to oblige in the form of a Q&A with someone who would know best.
High school maths teacher and camp director Andrew Mallam has been leading Crusaders’ holiday camps – known as Cru Camps – since he first led a sailing camp in 2002. I had a quick chat to him about why he spends his school holidays sailing/skiing/riding rollercoasters with a team of young leaders and a cabin full of kids.
Soph: How did you start leading holiday camps?
Andrew: A friend from church was directing a sailing camp back in 2002, while I was at uni. He asked me to come and lead and I said yes. I’ve led on over twenty five camps since, including skiing camps, beach camps, study camps and ‘Destination Queensland’, which involves six days touring the theme parks on the Gold Coast. I enjoy them; it’s one of the many reasons I changed careers from working in entertainment, audio and lighting to being a maths teacher with lots of holidays up my sleeve.
Soph: Who attends these camps?
Andrew: All ages – I’ve led on camps with year four kids, all the way up to kids doing their HSC who sign up for study camps. These are Christian holiday camps, but we get kids from all sorts of different backgrounds: some who have no religious background or some who have been to church every week of their lives.
Soph: So what does a typical day on camp look like?
Andrew: At most of the activity-based camps, we get up in the morning, have breakfast and then we’ll have a Christian talk in the morning and hear about something from the Bible – perhaps spend some time in discussion groups talking about what we’ve learnt. Then we get into the activities for the day, be it sailing or abseiling or skiing. Then lunch, more fun activities, afternoon tea, more activities, dinner, more activities … you get the picture.
Soph: What do the kids get out of it?
Andrew: They have lots of fun, to start with. They often meet new friends. Some kids will come on camp with an existing group of friends and they’ll meet heaps of other kids. Some come on camp by themselves and it’s really nice to see them make some friends. I think the kids who come on their own deal with it different ways. Some kids know they’ll make friends and it won’t be a problem. Then there are other kids who are a little bit more tentative, or their parents will have a quiet word to you beforehand, asking you to look out for their son or daughter.
Soph: So how do you look after those kids?
Andrew: We (the camp leaders) catch up with the kids during the day and at mealtimes; we’ll make sure that there are leaders sitting on the tables with each kid, so we can keep up with them, make sure they’re happy, slotting in well and making friends.
You’ve got to work hard at getting to know a largish group of kids. While the smaller camps have around twenty kids, the larger camps have up to fifty. Some of the HSC study camps are enormous with over one hundred kids. Because it’s such a large group of people in a relatively short amount of time, you’ve got to make sure you get to know people so you can really understand where they’re coming from and look after them well. It’s rare, in my experience, to have a kid come away from a camp without more friends than they started with. One of the good things about camp is that you’re really living in a community for those six days. It’s a unique thing: sharing a period of time with the same group of people.
Soph: Tell me about the Christian teaching that happens on camp.
Andrew: I think it really gets to life’s big questions: why are we here? Who is God? What is our relationship to Him? Is He just there, or is He involved in our lives? The kids can spend a few days actually reading the Bible and asking questions that leaders, who are Christians, are happy to answer. For kids who know that stuff already, it’s great to see them delve deeper and really get to know God more. It can be a really life-changing thing for some of these kids.
Soph: What if a kid disagrees with what the Bible teaches?
Andrew: We present to them what we see of God in the Bible and we encourage them to think through what the Bible says about Him. Lots of kids who come on camps have strong beliefs other than Christianity and we always respect their beliefs and often will have great discussions with those kids. Everyone is free to say what they think; they are free to disagree and we certainly respect that.
Soph: What are some memorable moments as a leader?
Some of the things that really stick in my mind are when you have those kind of ‘breakthrough’ moments with kids. The kid who is pretty scared of abseiling and you finally see them go over the edge and climb down that wall – those are exciting moments. On a ski camp this year, one girl really wasn’t sure about skiing as she had never been before. She was on the gentlest of slopes but didn’t want to go down; she had her pole stuck in front of her and was essentially walking her poles down the mountain. We spent a long time helping her and seeing her pull her poles out of the snow and actually move under gravity’s force, for just a moment, was exciting. And after that, she actually got into it a bit and started to enjoy something she thought she never might.
Soph: And what do you get out of it as a camp director?
Andrew: Camps are hard work, but they’re great fun to do as well. At the end of the camp you’re absolutely exhausted, but it’s great to get to know a bunch of kids, see them enjoy the week with each other and see them learn more about God. It’s a fantastic feeling, to be part of a week that some kids have been deeply impacted by.