By Ben Herr |

Summer Camp Countdown: 2003 (with Steve Reed)

Alright folks, the fun begins now!! Between now and sometime in January (when the summer 2014 theme is revealed), we are going to be revisiting each summer camp theme and going in-depth with that theme with the help of other summer staffers who worked that summer. We’ll talk anything and everything: the theme title, the associated Bible verse, the logo, the skits from that summer, ways that theme impacted campers (and staff!), and much more!

We’re starting at 2003. That year, the theme was “Lights, Camera, Action!” (stylized “lightscameraction”). The associated theme verse was Matthew 5:13-16, the “salt and light” section of the Sermon on the Mount, coming just after the Beatitudes. From the ESV:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

The summer 2003 staff included one of my personal favorite individuals, a man who had a strong impact on my worldview and outlook on life: Steve Reed. For Steve, 2003 was his fifth and final summer on staff; that year he served as men’s director under summer camp coordinator Jamie Sensenig. The following interview text is a pared-down adaptation of an hour-long conversation I had with Steve, who currently resides in Arizona with his wife and daughter, over Skype.

As a disclaimer, we’d like to note that the “salt challenge” discussed in this interview is a variant of the saltine cracker challenge or the cinnamon challenge (documented here). From a health standpoint, it is worth noting that swallowing salt straight and not vomiting it can lead to kidney damage. Do not attempt!

Patrick: Let’s start basic; what all do you remember about summer 2003?

Steve: We all remember how much Jamie [the Summer Camp Director] was into movies, that he studied film in college. The theme wasn’t just a great theme; it was a reminder of who was running camp at the time. It was the perfect theme for Jamie.

That year was the best year of camp that I ever got to be a part of. It was like one of those movies where … you know, you got this ridiculous cast. Everyone was a mega-star. That’s how I felt about the staff that year. Everyone was a “Black Rock star” in their own right, an individual character that was indispensable to what was happening. It’s hard to put into words. It’s like we made Oceans 12 or something.

Patrick: What about the infamous ‘salt challenge’ that you coordinated?

Steve: I had done the salt challenge when I was at college, Colorado Christian University. My RA / Discipleship group leader led us on this little adventure, went over the verse, and then had us all swallow a handful of salt. It was probably the worst experience of my life up to that point!

The reason I passed it on? Well … there was Brian Strauss. This guy loved salt. We’d sit together at the staff table at Oakwood Dining Hall, and he would put salt on absolutely everything. So I remembered the salt challenge, and we had “salt of the earth” as our theme verse, and I thought, in a sort of devious way, ‘hey, how can I torture Brian Strauss?’

Patrick: You always had that beautiful, adversarial relationship with him.

Steve: I absolutely love Brian Strauss. He was someone that would do anything you asked him to do. The fact that we would ask him to do the salt challenge is probably a reflection of my poor character. His willingness to go along with this insanity really helped.

But then, once he did it that first week of summer, other staff members started stepping up, volunteering so that we could have a salt challenge demonstration on Thursday nights every week that summer. I didn’t expect it to catch on.

Patrick: So what was the teaching behind this?

Steve: The challenge seems tangential at first. We have people attempting to swallow a handful of salt, to horrible reactions: burning eyes, dry mouth, vomiting, what you’d expect in attempting to swallow salt straight.

What we were trying to communicate was the desire that our lives would be of some strong, noticeable substance that doesn’t blend in with the world. It isn’t like anything else; when they interact with it, they know it’s something quite distinct. That’s the Christian life.

My desire was to get that message to campers, and even afterwards when I worked with the Outdoor Education program – there are many campers that, like me, grew up “churched.” They live in a Christian world. And when we get used to that, and we get comfortable, we start associating Christianity with niceties. And we forget: are people noticing our faith? Do we forget that there’s a whole world out there that’s starving for love, people desperate to see something good and distinct and of Christ’s character?

Patrick: That does tie back to the theme pretty well.

Steve: Yeah, it’s the whole Shakespearian “all the world’s a stage.” What are we going to show the world? We showed salt and light. The salt challenge had shock value, sure, but the main teaching was that we were something powerful and distinct that the world needs to find.

The interesting thing about that is that … over the years, that’s something I’ve had to struggle through: is my life meaningful and distinctive? Is my relationship with Christ visible to the world?

Patrick: Are there moments since that summer when you had to come back to these verses as a reminder?

Steve: When I worked at an orphanage in Nepal, I thought to myself, “this is very different from the life I expected.” I was really excited for the work that was going on over there. I don’t think most people expected me to be doing something like that, but really, that whole experience was only something that could’ve come from God.

These days? I’ve got a day job, like many Americans. We call it 40 hours a week, but it can get to be 60 hours a week. I have to think about things like retirement planning, mortgage payments, my daughter in preschool. All these common things in life … when I was young, I looked at other people in those situations and I’d say to myself, “why don’t they just give everything to Good Will and walk around without shoes and love people? That’s distinctive, that’s something different?”

I used to view the salt and light message in a very exterior way. Now with my current life, my family life, I ask “what is distinctive about me?” There has to be something distinctive about the manner in which you live, regardless of what it is that you’re doing. Whatever situation God’s put you in, how are you living and acting in that situation? You use what’s given to you for His glory. But yes, I see this message not just in an exterior way anymore: it’s a heart issue. You show people that you care for them, the people around you, whether they’re my neighbors in Arizona or in Nepal.

And it’s not just in my job. I’m still hangin’ out with teens on Sunday nights at my church. I get to do a week every summer doing something akin to a summer camp experience with them.

Patrick: So summing it up, the distinction we’re talking about is…?

Steve: It’s not giving away all your possessions per se. It’s not being an overseas missionary, though that calling is certainly valid. I’ve done that, and I’ve done the day job thing. The distinction is Love.

People are asking, “Why are we here, and why am I hurting so bad?” This world is starving for the love of Christ, to know that there’s a God that wants a relationship with them. Whether it’s across the world or down the street, it’s the same desire. And as salt and light, we help bring that to them.

Patrick: Final question. Is Severe Ted [Steve’s band] still active?

Steve: We’re on hiatus right now. I had some stuff at work where my hours are changing every week, so we can’t practice, and I’m nervous to set a show date for fear that I could even make them. As soon as I have a set schedule again, I think we’ll get back together.

It’s a good outlet for me artistically.

Thanks again to Steve for talking to us about summer 2003 and what has happened in his life since then.

Were you a summer camper (or on staff) in 2003? Feel free to share any memories about that summer, related to the theme or not, in the comments below!

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