Southern Virginia Launches High Adventure ‘Zion’s Camp’

Sixty young men and women recently attended Southern Virginia University’s new summer camp titled “Zion’s Camp: High Adventure Mission Prep” — a six-day program designed to prepare youth for full-time missionary service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I’ve been planning on serving a mission all my life, but I didn’t feel very prepared,” said Benjamin Wright, who traveled from New Jersey to attend the camp. “This camp was a perfect opportunity to learn the things I needed.”

A camp development committee headed by Bruce Olsen — who previously served as the president of the Massachusetts Boston Mission and as managing director of public affairs for the Church — designed Zion’s Camp to help youth ages 16–18 live a missionary schedule, work one-on-one with an assigned companion, study under the supervision of returned missionary counselors and teach missionary lessons. The camp also included zone conferences, a trip to Appomattox Va., and a high-adventure ropes course.

Michael Raab, a participant from Richmond, Va., said that he attended Zion’s Camp because he plans to serve a mission “in less than a year now” so he “wanted an extra experience.”

The camp development committee included a number of returned missionaries as well as prospective missionaries — three of whom received mission calls while planning for the camp.

“The students developed the ideas,” Olsen said. “I put together a rough schedule.”

While planning for the camp, Olsen asked the returned missionaries in the committee what would have been beneficial to them in preparing for their own missionary service.

“Everything was geared toward helping them achieve something on their mission,” said associate program director Justin Winslow, who served in the Church’s Mexico Oaxaca Mission. “I felt blindsided coming into the mission field because I thought it would be all fun and games. I thought that every time someone said ‘no’ when I knocked on their door, it would be a good, funny story. I especially didn’t think I would have any sort of difficulties with my companions. That’s something I tried to prepare youth for in Zion’s Camp.”

Olsen said that “the key to success” for the camp was the guidance of returned missionary counselors. The counselors lived in the same housing units, oversaw companionships, directed studies and discussions of zone conferences, and gave training from their own experiences.

“[Missionary work] obviously changed [our counselors] too, when they helped people learn about the gospel,” said McKaylan Singletary. “It made them happy, and it made the people they were teaching happy.”

Singletary said that after attending the camp and seeing the example of her counselors, she is now considering serving a mission.

On the final morning of the camp, participants taught gospel lessons to members of the community.

“They’ve really gotten into Preach My Gospel and learned how to study from it, learned how to prepare lessons and give them,” Olsen said. “Several of them have definite friends they wanted to go home and work with. They’re not afraid to jump in and answer gospel questions.”