For Sarah Newell, a native of Northern Ireland, summer camp was something that she saw only in European countries such as France or Italy. But at 18, she wanted to see the world and was enthralled by the idea of working a season at an American camp.
“A friend in Belfast knew someone who had worked at Camp Tecumseh eight years before,” says Sarah. “She still had contact and sent my information to them. The next day, someone at Camp Tecumseh reached out to me, and I was hired.”
In 2012 on a hot June day, Sarah arrived in New Jersey to work as a counselor at the Salvation Army’s Camp Tecumseh. “My first thought was, how beautiful the grounds are,” remembers Sarah. “I’ve returned every year since then to be part of the Camp Tecumseh staff. When I arrive in Pittstown, N.J., I say to myself, I’m finally home for the summer.”
As junior staff coordinator, Sarah works with Junior Staff who serve in a variety of roles at camp, helping them to develop them into leaders and show them how they can each contribute toward the ministry of Camp Tecumseh.
“Counselors, who are younger than I was my first year here, have a chance to invest in the lives of children. They can show them that they are loved, even if only for one week of camp,” says Sarah. “The more the staff pours themselves into their roles, the more they will get back.”
Sarah knows this better than anyone. She arrived at Camp Tecumseh without any knowledge of The Salvation Army or any sort of faith. Her father was a Protestant and her mother a catholic. Having grown up in Northern Ireland, Sarah knew the religious divide that the conflict known as the Troubles in Northern Ireland had created and didn’t have any interest in faith or church, until she was impacted by Camp Tecumseh’s ministry.
“I had an open mind when I arrived at Camp Tecumseh. I learned that Jesus loves me, and the Holy Spirit is present in my life at this very moment. I wasn’t an outsider looking in, but rather an active participant in a joyful, relevant ministry that focused on young people.”
Camp Tecumseh ignited and shaped her faith, says Sarah. After her first summer at the camp, she returned to Northern Ireland and became a Christian at Central Belfast Presbyterian Church. She also began undergrad studies in youth work and theology. She credits this decision to the counselors and staff whom she met at Camp Tecumseh.
“They were mentors and surrogate leaders who didn’t just express their faith, but also acted on it every day,” says Sarah. “I wanted to live how they lived and love the Lord like they loved Him.”
“The summer camp experience is one of the most impactful ministries that The Salvation Army has,” says Sarah. “Campers come to Tecumseh from big, bustling places like Trenton or Newark, where they are surrounded by pollution, noise, and very limited green space. Yet, something awakens in a child who sees a silent, starry night sky for the first time; surrounded by God’s creation. We sometimes overlook how nature can impact someone’s faith and spiritual life.”
“When a new camper arrives at Tecumseh, it reminds me of my first day as a counselor. You see them come to life and you see who Christ is calling them to be.”
by Hugo Bravo