Baptisms, water fun highlight Saddleback’s visit
Story by Cooper Nelson
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
The intramural field at Grand Canyon University looked more like a water park Wednesday during “Winter Waterland,” one of several events organized by GCU’s faith-based marketing team for southern California’s Saddleback Church high school summer camp.
As the temperature in Phoenix reached 113 degrees, many campers didn’t seem to mind.
More than 860 teens from Saddleback’s youth program arrived on campus Sunday to attend the church’s annual weeklong camp. This was the first year GCU played host.
Events included twice daily church services, community meals and additional special events orchestrated by faith-based marketing, including a private concert by Christian singer-songwriter Phil Wickham, a talent show and a pool party. A dance party with DJ Promote is scheduled for tonight.
The Winter Waterland – a makeshift water park including carnival-style games, inflatable water slides and attractions and a mechanical shark (like a mechanical bull) – was the highlight on Wednesday. Faith-based marketing staff emphasized creating attractions to keep campers cool. GCU brought four industrial-sized air conditioners to Thunderground at Thunder Alley to create the 50-degree “Chill Zone” and distributed more than 400 ice cream treats from the back of a golf cart converted to an ice cream truck.
Nearly 100 campers also were baptized in the main campus pool on Wednesday morning.
Saddleback Church youth pastor Josh Griffin said his group had been dissatisfied with previous camp locations. The church was forced to turn away hundreds of campers last year at a smaller venue and, in other locations it dealt with noise complaints and was unable to host dances. After changing locations nearly every year, Griffin said they finally found GCU.
“We’re here at GCU for three reasons: The fact that the University’s facilities and environment fit our needs. The love and commitment shown by GCU’s faculty and staff. And the amount of awesome things like the water park and dorms that has made this camp the best ever,” Griffin said.
“GCU talked an incredibly big game and they definitely delivered.”
During the week, about 9,000 water bottles and thousands of tubes of sunscreen were distributed. Campers ate meals in the Student Union and slept in the Saguaro and Camelback residence halls. Events were scheduled throughout the day, and campers also were allowed to experience GCU’s campus during breaks between sessions.
Catherine McHenry, 19, served as one of 150 camp leaders. McHenry, a freshman at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif., attended Saddleback church summer camps throughout high school. She said GCU offered a glimpse of life on a college campus, an important experience for graduating high school seniors looking to attend a faith-based university.
“Last year, the event was at a campground and what’s cool about having it (at GCU), is it encourages (campers) to possibly look at attending a Christian university,” she said. “Having it here gives them a chance to see what that would be like.”
Saddleback has eight churches in southern California and three international locations. The main location in Lake Forest, near Irvine, has nearly 900 students in various youth groups. The church is best known for its founder Pastor Rick Warren, who authored “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?”
GCU formed a relationship with the ministry organization Christ in Youth two years ago through the University’s Christian music tour outreach. CIY brought Saddleback to campus and facilitated many of the camp’s activities. GCU has also sent three teams of student workers around the country to hold smaller-scale events, similar to this week’s camp.
Bret Ceren, GCU’s assistant director of faith-based marketing, said the goal of the camp and other outreach programs is to present the University as a destination for high school seniors.
“We want to promote an affordable education option for high school students in the California area who are looking for a Christian university close to home,” Ceren said.
“We believe (Saddleback’s) DNA is similar to ours, and this camp was an opportunity to have these students on campus for a life-changing experience. It puts them in a position to possibly select our institution.”
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Contact Cooper Nelson at 602.639.7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.