27 Jun Where Everything Changed
It was summer break and 17-year old AJ was busy at his seasonal job, working the cash register at a car dealership. Approaching his senior year of high school, AJ’s top priority was definitely not God. “It wasn’t a factor. Really, God was just non-existent,” AJ says. “Your money, your job. Those things were important.” It was easy to tell those were his priorities in the way he interacted with people, describing himself as having been quick to get angry and quick to judge. “I was very prejudice towards people,” he says, “I didn’t like people. I didn’t like the community. I was all about AJ and all about success.”
Success was so much at the forefront of AJ’s mind that he planned to eventually attend medical school after graduating, despite having no passion for medicine or science. “It just seemed appealing to me because it seemed like a safe job and like a very high-praise job,” says AJ.
So when AJ’s friends invited him to take a week off of work to go to Grace Church’s summer camp where he knew God would be talked about a lot, it took some convincing. AJ says, “They showed me a video of what camp was like. They were like, ‘You should come to camp, You should come, you should come.'” Eventually, he made a decision. “I was like, eh, all right. I’ll go to camp. It wasn’t because I wanted to go to a Christian camp or anything,” he says, “I just showed up because of my friends.”
When he arrived at Grace Church to take the bus to camp on the first day, he was disappointed to learn he had made a mistake during the payment process. “Technically, I don’t think I paid for my spot at camp,” says AJ, “I was really irritated.” Fortunately, someone had donated enough money to pay for AJ. “[It] was awesome. [The students director] was like, ‘You know what? You’re going to camp. Get on that bus.’ So I still went,” he says. Little did that sponsor know that paying for AJ’s camp fees would pave the way for his entire life to change.
After a couple hours of driving, their bus pulled through the bumpy, rocky road in the woods that opens up to the big camp grounds, and came to a stop in the parking lot. AJ and his friends poured off the bus. “We’re all looking at the scope of camp. It’s this wide open, hilly area where they have everything for you,” says AJ, “Everyone’s just pumped, getting excited for camp.” Over the course of the week, AJ quickly found the camp experience surpassing his expectations. “It was probably one of the best times of my life, just having fun,” he says.
But more importantly, AJ began to notice a change in himself. “Sitting in worship and sitting in teaching and being mentored by the counselors, seeing how welcoming the community was to me who believed not the same things that they did, that was amazing.”
He continues, “After that whole week, it just clicked. I remember crying, sitting there in tears, overwhelmed realizing all the wrong in my life. I was thinking, ‘How does God still love me even though I’m doing all this?’ That moment, I realized I’m going to take that next step. I have no idea where this God thing is going to take me, but I definitely want to see the next step of it.”
AJ decided to follow Jesus, and the teen who once described himself as judgmental and skeptical, found himself a very different person. “That’s where everything changed, was at camp,” he says, “Now I do have a heart for all people and I show grace. I’m not quick to judge. I’m not quick to get angry. It’s just a lot of love because of God—because of what He put in my heart. The big change is my heart.”
Since summer camp, the appeal of pursuing a distinguished career in medicine just for the sake of the accolades and job security has faded. Now, 20-year-old AJ is so passionate about serving the community, he is hoping to one day plant a church in Massachusetts. Meantime, he is still so passionate about camp that he is taking time out of his summer schedule to serve as a camp counselor, just like other counselors did in the past for him. When talking about the impact made by the sponsor who paid his way to camp three years ago, he nods confidently. “Camp is a possibility to come and know and follow Jesus,” he says, “Just to know if someone didn’t pay for my [spot], I wouldn’t have been here right now. I wouldn’t know and follow Christ—completely worth it.”
Want to help life change happen for a student hoping to go to summer camp? Sponsor one here, today!