After student's tragic death, Kamp Love was born

Kamp Love brings together large groups of students to enjoy traditional camping experiences but also worship God.

Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos courtesy of Aiden Sundin and Katie Potter
GCU News Bureau 

After his best friend, Jarod Lovekamp, died during a camping trip in 2020, Austin Rockwell thought he’d never be able to enjoy camping again.

Jarod Lovekamp (left) and Austin Rockwell

Especially since so much of the pair's friendship revolved around outdoor adventures and the promotion of Rockwell’s new camp ministry experiment – Camp Lope.

But his desire to pay tribute to his friend outweighed his hesitation to return to the great outdoors. Shortly after Lovekamp’s passing, Camp Lope took on a new name to commemorate the late Colangelo College of Business student.

Thus, Kamp Love was born.

“It was the beginning of what would have been my senior year and a lot of just really hard times – losing your best friend, someone you hoped to graduate with, you hoped to know their future spouse and have your kids know each other,” said Rockwell, a senior finishing classes for his degree in biblical studies. “He was just one of those friends, an amazing individual.

“It was like, ‘Man, what’s life going to look like now?’”

Originally, he had hoped some of his younger friends would keep the camp going, but a recurring message convinced him to continue his work on the project.

About 50 students attended the first Camp Lope trip.

“It felt like the Lord asked me, ‘Dream big for Kamp Love,’” he said.

And Rockwell listened.

Now in its second year, Kamp Love has become a force. The nonprofit has staged seven camping events, trained more than 250 student volunteers and served about 2,000 college students.

This month, those students even hosted their first trip with attendees from outside the Grand Canyon University community, inviting students from Liberty University.

It’s come a long way from Camp Lope’s first trip, which hosted about nearly 50 of Rockwell’s closest friends.

Hundreds of students attended the most recent Kamp Love trip earlier this semester.

With each camping trip, students have the opportunity to participate in traditional camping experiences, such as building a campfire and make s’mores, but also worship God, play games and experience workshops that celebrate the Gospel.

“Something that I’m really passionate about is equipping students in their gifts and passions that Jesus has given them to make disciples,” Rockwell said. “We call that the eternal loop of discipleship.”

As part of this year’s lineup of workshops, students learn more about the Gospel in fields ranging from medical and business to media and fine arts. For each workshop, Rockwell tries to bring in people from that particular area of study who have positively impacted his life in the hope they can have a similar impact on others.

When it came to slotting the fine arts workshop, Rockwell’s GCU acting instructor, Michael Kary, came to mind.

College of Arts and Media professor Michael Kary worked with students during the Fine Arts workshop.

“He made a really profound impact on my life,” he said.

In addition to Kary, the College of Arts and Media’s Parables, a theatre troupe with a goal of spreading the Gospel, was invited to a Kamp Love trip earlier this semester at Lost Canyon.

“I was trying to think of ways we could bless the students of Kamp Love but also bring in the amazing things that GCU is doing,” Rockwell said. “I reached out when we first started Kamp Love to see if he could come perform and it didn’t work out, but I had followed up again because it was really important to me to try to get that, and Parables is really powerful.”

For as excited as Rockwell was to have Parables join the weekend festivities, Kary was equally excited.

“Austin is a former student of mine and I always knew he was a leader, but to see him orchestrating this super high energy, super impactful weekend of God-focused study, worship and praise was very encouraging,” he said. “To see him perform as a peer was amazing.

“It’s exactly what we strive for as instructors – to get our students ready to take positions like these. And to see them do it so successfully is really heartwarming.”

Parables used the trip to debut a new show “God with Us,” which Kary describes as “a contemporary take on the Jesus story.”

GCU's traveling theatre troupe, Parables, performed during the trip.

Although Parables was unable to stay for the entire weekend, members such as Daniella Brown still got to experience the Kamp Love magic firsthand. They participated in camp activities, ate with other campers and attended gatherings and services.

It was an experience Brown said is best described as “warm.”

“It’s a very welcoming and comforting place,” she said. “There was a lot of love for what we had to offer.”

Through the work of Kamp Love, Rockwell and his team are leaving an impact on hundreds of students each trip in addition to celebrating the life Lovekamp lived and the thing he loved most – the Gospel.

Traci and Rick Lovekamp are still active members of the Kamp Love community.

“As we work on Kamp Love, we say that a lot of what we do is to honor the life and death of Jarod but also glorify the life and death of Jesus,” Rockwell said.

What makes it even more special is that Lovekamp’s parents, Rick and Traci Lovekamp, have been by Rockwell’s side every step of the way. He named them the recipients of the “Heroes of Kamp Love” award this year.

“Jarod was a young man full of righteous faith and made a big impact on GCU’s campus, and Kamp Love is Jarod’s legacy. But it’s also his parents’ legacy,” Rockwell said. “Them having an opportunity to be a part of that has been really special.”

After completing his degree, Rockwell plans to work full time on the continued growth of Kamp Love, with hopes of expanding to offer events to every university in the country.

Much like the camp itself, Lovekamp’s legacy will continue to grow with each life changed along the way.

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Open letter to GCU community regarding death of Jarod Lovekamp

GCU Today: Acts of faith: Parables takes Gospel to local schools


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