It’s hard to know where to start when writing about my experience as a camper at PYC. Any fond memories can be over-shadowed by negative and bad experiences endured at this camp. It is to my understanding that the youth camps are held simply to further brainwash young and impressionable youth, and although I have some great memories, this fact will always remain in the back of my mind.
Parents Must Sign a Form
After a short discussion with the so-called “minister,” and without hesitation, my parents decided I was going to be attending the Philadelphia Youth Camp. Every parent is required to sign a form before their child is allowed to set foot on campus, stating they will not sue the Philadelphia Church of God in the unlikely (or should that be likely?) event of a misfortunate accident.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by what I felt were some truly wonderful people, as well as a few self-righteous individuals who seemed to believe they were superior to others. I quickly got the impression there were very few people that were genuinely interested in really getting to know me. Most appear to be very intolerant of other people’s faults and seem to love nothing more then to gossip and criticize others at every possible moment, while in the meantime, the holier-than-thou minister would continually harp on how it is “God’s camp.” But from the moment I arrived, I began to realize this camp was nothing about meeting new friends, learning about Jesus’ love for us, playing team sports, etc. In reality it’s more like a combination between a mind controlling boot camp and a popularity contest.
Every camper is made to awaken at 5:00 a.m. each morning. We’d all tidy the dorm before breakfast in preparation for the daily “dorm inspection” by the minister. Everyone would quickly throw their clothing, and the majority of their belongings, into their suitcase in an attempt to have what is considered the “neatest” dorm. I had a feeling that the minister was really looking for candy to “confiscate” and anything else deemed “inappropriate” by the PCG. The inadequate amount of food that is severed is probably as a result of the reduction of money budgeted for this camp, so sneaking into food or candy is not uncommon to combat this shortcoming. There were a lot of rules revolving around portion sizes at meal times and the ministry would always keep a very close watch on this.
There was one time when I had a very personal problem and a couple of campers and staff were snickering and discussing it without my knowledge. I later found out and felt betrayed, and at the conclusion of camp I went home in tears, feeling very humiliated. What surprised me the most, though, was the number of campers and staff who appeared to be holding a grudge against one another. Why they can’t simply discuss their problems with the other person and quickly sort their issues out is beyond me. Instead they opted to ignore the person, or say unkind remarks behind their back in an obvious and spiteful attempt to get others on their side. Some disagreements between campers even ended in physical violence. It’s no wonder. In one case a camper left half way through camp. This camper didn’t get kicked out; they simply had enough, packed up and left. (I believe they were being bullied by fellow campers.) On another occasion there was a punch-up between two male campers over such a petty issue. Every year this sort of unchristian like behaviour was becoming all too common. Many seem to favour force and aggression rather than peaceful means of settling disputes. From what I witnessed, you’d expect it to be called anything but “Gods camp.” This sort of animosity between members is not only common at PYC, but is also in the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) as a whole, as many would know.
Positive Attitude Required
During the activities each day, which began at 9:00 a.m. and finished at 5:00 p.m., we all had to appear “happy” and have a “positive attitude” at all times. Every camper was rooting for their dorm and encouraged one another, as we were constantly instructed to do, which all seemed a little too forced and fake in my opinion. Female campers were made to participate in water sports even if it was “that time of the month” (which obviously for girls in their early teens would be an awkward and unpleasant experience to say the least). I felt sorry for those who were of different races when it came to dancing, as they were not allowed to dance with the rest of us. Every year there were those who fainted or sustained an injury or sickness of some sort. Anyone who was becoming tired was made to continue almost to the point of exhaustion. One time when a theft occurred of an item belonging to a minister’s son, for instance, all hell broke loose, but when someone needed medical attention, the ministry didn’t seem to have a care in the world. The daily schedule was highly structured so there was rarely free time to socialize with fellow campers from other dorms, or time to use the phone to call home, which in most cases wasn’t permitted, and not without the minister’s approval.
Dinner time was at 6:00 p.m. We all marched like soldiers, chanting military type songs on the way to the dining hall. Each dorm had their turn to help with preparing the dining hall or cleaning it afterwards. However, there were those who would hide-out in the bathroom to avoid doing their duties. It is somewhat surprising that the ministry never caught on, considering they like to watch the campers and staff very closely and have to know exactly what’s going on at all times. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if I was attending a summer camp, or had signed up to appear on Big Brother (which, not surprisingly, they totally condemn). The rules were so strict it was almost like having fun was not permitted. It’s as if kids just weren’t allowed to be kids. It was all about being “teachable,” “submissive” and upholding the “Philadelphia Standard.” Our main focus was to be on our preparation and training to become Princes and Princesses in the “World Tomorrow.” But what really got me was how we were told we are to “grow to become perfect like Jesus Christ. He set the example of perfection–the goal we should strive for. PYC is a steeping stone to attaining this goal.” It made me feel like no matter how hard I try, I can never measure up or be good enough in God’s eyes. Talk about trying to diminish children’s self-esteem and self-worth. Parents in the PCG should seriously think twice before sending their teenage children to an emotionally and spiritually abusive camp.
Kept an Eye on Us
Lights went out at 10:30 p.m. During this time, there was a bit of chatter, which was to be expected, and the occasional nasty remark made between campers while the counsellors were out gossiping in the dining hall before they went to bed at 11:00 p.m. or later. I know for a fact that the counsellors were instructed by the minister to “keep an eye” on certain campers who were considered “rebellious” and to report anything they have, or may have, done. It wouldn’t surprise me if they also listen in on conversations between campers, so anything you say can be misquoted and then used against you, usually during one of the “Bible studies” at a later date.
During the awards night, it looked like I was going to have to rise to new heights of boredom when it got me wondering how the ministry choose the “camper of the session.” I mean, this award could be called any number of names, the following come to mind: “most teachable teen,” “mind-controlled camper of the session,” “minister’s favourite camper”–the list could be endless.
Ministers Needed Control & Power
I disliked every moment of the ministers’ constant yelling during the mind erasing sermons I’d have to endure on the Sabbath during camp. I tried my best to stay awake just to hear my favourite words: “In conclusion, brethren.” The “Bible studies” didn’t fair much better. They were more about passing judgment and installing fear than actually studying the Bible and were basically designed to frighten teens out of leaving the PCG in fear of what might happen if they go out into “the world” where we were told we would be out on our own with Satan and totally miserable. The minister would also discuss such trivial topics as music, jewelry, dating rules, skirt and hair lengths and anything else deemed important at the time. It basically gave the minister an excuse to criticize and judge people without mentioning names (although it was made easy to guess) and to make one feel guilty or “worldly.” If the minister didn’t like your hairstyle, for example, he’d make sure you knew exactly what he thought of it. There were just so many preposterous comments made. To them, it’s all about being in control and having the ultimate power over member’s lives and minds. They’d rant about “the Great Tribulation” and the “Place of Safety.” Could you imagine spending 3 l/2 years in a cave in Adullam (formerly Petra) with that HWA worshipper, Gerry? It’d be like living in a retirement home. Flurry is nothing more then a money grabbing, family destroying, false Prophet.
No Longer Attending
Fortunately for me, the best part about camp is the fact that I became aware of this and am no longer attending the PCG. No longer do I have to live my live in fear of my mistakes. Throughout PYC, we were taught that you have to physically do things in order for God to accept you, whether that is attending services every Sabbath, tithing, praying “X” amount of times a day, etc. We were constantly bombarded with negative thoughts and opinions about “the world.” There was never, ever positive news. I now believe salvation is free to those that trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. I really feel sorry for the teens that lack the critical thinking skills required to see though the mind manipulation and deception. It is my greatest fear that some attending this camp will go on to become baptized members too fearful and mind-controlled to leave, and will live miserable lives never knowing the truth. Organizations such as the Philadelphia Church of God are for the weak in faith and should be avoided at all costs along with their so-called youth camps.
Update 2021: The name of the camp is now known as Philadelphia Church of God Summer Educational Program or SEP.
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