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This essay offers lament as a way to address the underrepresentation of minorities in Christian camp ministries in the United States. I propose that diversity may be deficient at majority camps when they function as white spaces, a socio-cultural phenomenon that tends to alienate People of Color. To address this, I contextualize the discipline of lament, a theoretical framework proposed by reconciliation theologians Emanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Using examples from Christian camping, Christian lament can tackle cultural disparities by unlearning the alienating tendencies of speed, distance, and innocence by learning reconciliatory practices of pilgrimage, relocation, and public confession. Muhia Karianjahi is assistant professor of outdoor and adventure leadership at Wheaton College and global initiatives manager at the college’s HoneyRock Center for Leadership Development.


Christian camping has been described as “the most effective means to reach the most receptive hearts.”1 Christian Camping International (CCI), a global network of regional and national associations of camp practitioners, tracks how every year the discipleship journeys of millions of young people from diverse cultures around the world are impacted by the hands-on transformational, educational ministry of Christian camping.2 In the United States, however, minority populations remain underrepresented at camps,3 incongruous with the country’s rapidly shifting demographic landscape.

This essay explores why pursuing ethnic and cultural diversity, though desired by camp professionals, is elusive to many. I argue that camp ministries in the United States are bridled by historical, structural, and relational factors that make them function as White Spaces—a socio-cultural phenomenon that alienates most minorities. One godly way to confront these factors with truth-searching, accountability, and recompense, I propose, is through the discipline of lament (Joel 1:13–14). I expand on “the discipline of lament” a reconciliation model offered by theologians Emanuel Katongole and ChrisRice. This discipline involves unlearning alienating dispositions and temptations by learning practices that unveil and remediate them, and foster unity. Lament, they write, involves unlearning impulses they call speed, distance, and innocence by learning practices of pilgrimage, relocation, and public confession.4 Finally, I propose practical hand holds for this unlearning and learning in pursuit of reconciliation, justice, and unity in Christian camping in the United States.

The Power of Camp

Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA), a resource organization that networks Christian camps in the United States, defines Christian camping as “[a]n experience within a temporary community using the outdoor setting and trained leaders to meet spiritual objectives.”5 In their “Power of Camp” campaign, CCCA outlines four factors which among others, make camp ministry so impactful.6 First, in the temporary community of camp, youth and children have the space to consider life transforming decisions away from the distractions of everyday life. A temporary community is a sociological phenomenon in which a group of people come together for a defined period with a common purpose and clear rules of engagement, often in a location separate from normal, everyday life.7 Second, camp provides opportunities for healthy play and discovery in the context of God’s Creation. Though outdoor activities range from twenty-four-hour immersion wilderness trips to a simple game of “catch” in between teaching sessions indoors, getting outside is ubiquitous to the idea of “camp” around the world. The outdoors are known to inherently offer both generative and palliative benefits to the healthy development of youth and children.8 Moreover, God’s very Word is taught by his Creation which “pours forth speech” (Psalm 19).

Third, shared experiences at camp stimulate deep, positive, peer friendships, some to last a lifetime. Camp offers young people opportunities to belong and matter, and to succeed among peers in meaningful enterprises.9 Although parents carry the primary responsibility of raising their young in the faith (Deuteronomy 6:7; Proverbs 22:6), peer friendships at camp powerfully and positively mediate this parental influence.10 Finally, caring, non-family adults at camp are available for life-on-life mentoring and modeling for extended periods of time.11

Camp As White Spaces

Christian camping in the United States does, however, have a glaring soft underbelly—the underrepresentation of non-White participants. Over the last two decades, only an average of 21–22% of campers at CCCA member facilities have identified as People of Color.12 In the wider national landscape, approximately 75% of Americans ages six and over who participated in “outdoor recreation”13 at least once during the 2020 pandemic season were White.14 This contrasts with the trend towards more ethnic diversity in the overall United States population.15 More than half (52.7%) of Americans under the age of 18 now identify as People of Color.16 This is the key age bracket targeted by camps.17 People of Color are clearly underrepresented at camps compared to national demographics. It is no wonder that the United States outdoor recreation and education world is said to function as “White Spaces.”18

The language of “White Spaces,” conceptualized in ideologies of race and culture,19 is worth some deeper reflection. Conversations around race and ethnicity in the United States are often contentious, no less among Christians.20 Terms such as “race,” and the use of “White,” “Black,” or other colors to refer to people of different ethnicities, skin tones, and cultures are, however, unavoidable when discussing diversity.

I enter this conversation as a kenyan living in northern Wisconsin, a region that is predominantly White. Though born and raised in a large, cosmopolitan city in East Africa where I attended school, worked, worshipped, and lived with people of different ethnicities and skin tones, I have found race dynamics in the United States to be confoundingly complex, nuanced, subjective and often divisive. I affirm the unity of believers from different ethnicities and cultures as a core tenet of our faith (Matthew 28:18–20; John 17:20–23, Romans 3:29–30; Colossians 3:11). At the same time, I hold that God intentionally created different cultures and ethnicities from one man, Adam, so that our knowledge and worship of God would be enriched through diversity in his kingdom (Genesis 11:8; Acts 17:26–27; Revelation 7:9). All people are human by race, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–28), equally loved, and valued (Genesis 12:3; John 3:16).

I therefore concur with the view that the idea of “different races” is problematic, and that it originated from hegemonic biological falsehoods about inherent attributes of different ethnicities and cultures.21 However, racial identities over time became real and consequential in a racialized society.22 Moreover, I have learned that whether implicitly or explicitly, race language places people groups in a hierarchy,23 and that White culture is assumed to be the normal baseline against which all other ethnic identities are evaluated.24 Consequently, the majority of White people can ignore how this privileges them over others.25 This normalization of White culture at the expense of diversity is, I propose, one of the most significant barriers to diversity in Christian camping in the United States, perpetuating its ministry contexts as White Spaces. This matters to ministry because a people group asserting itself to the exclusion of others leads to a malnourishment of cultural gifts conferred to nurture the diverse body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12–27).

It is important to acknowledge claims that majority White people may sometimes experience expressions of racial exclusion and animus in some contexts.26 However, being the dominant population, it is often much easier for them to find places to retreat to for reprieve in the wider American society. For People of Color, on the other hand, navigating dominant White Spaces often means setting aside their own cultural frameworks and subordinating their identities. In the overall camp and outdoor world, therefore, there is an “emotional, mental, and sometimes physical labor People of Color must expend as they attempt to navigate White space. The burden of this labor is compulsory for non-White individuals.”27 In other words, White Spaces may have People of Color present, but to survive, they must conform to cultural norms they do not identify with, and which may even be alienating and disparaging to them.28

One of the ways minorities attempt to cope with the resultant fatigue is by finding smaller groupings of people who might share similar experiences among whom they can be themselves for short periods of time. Recently, some institutions have recognized this need, and created “affinity groups” to cater to the networking and support of underrepresented groups.29 Such provision is sometimes misunderstood to be a form of “reverse racism,” demonstrating lack of awareness of the psychological stress minorities experience navigating White Spaces. Resistance to such efforts may be because they expose White Privilege, bringing to light what is often conveniently invisible.30 This need for psychological safety may be one explanation why 5% of CCCA member camps are dominated by minority cultures.31 Minority camps, by being sensitive to their norms and needs, cater for People of Color in ways that majority White camps struggle to do.32

This raises a question for some: should it be okay for White dominated camps to remain as they are, to continue meeting the cultural needs of their almost monocultural constituents, as long as the motivation is not prejudice?33 This argument ignores the fact that most camps are already predominantly White by default, and such thinking further propagates White Spaces that do not promote kingdom diversity.

To be sure, monocultural camps of any race risk having limited critical self-knowledge and curiosity to understand in ways different from their cultural habitus.34 Theologian Irwyn Ince calls out such exclusivist solidarity as “ghettoization of humanity,” which he defines as rebellion to God’s direct command to be united in diversity.35 Pursuing ethnic diversity reflects his glory as a collective of his image bearers, and is mandated (Genesis 1:28, 11:8–9, 12: 1–3; Matthew 28:19), exemplified (Acts 2:8–12, 6:5, 10:34–35) and celebrated (Acts 17:26–27; Revelation 7:9) in the Scriptures. Minority camps, though not ideal, nevertheless offer opportunities for populations in the United States that would otherwise have minimal access to Christian camping.


“So, where do we begin,” asks Gregg Hunter, CEO of CCCA,36 if we want to foster diversity at Christian camps and shed monocultural laziness? Christian pastors, theologians, and educators point to lament as a biblical contribution to race conversations in the US.37 Lament is generally understood to be a verbal expression of disappointment, sorrow, regret, or any variety of mournful responses to overwhelming circumstances, actions, or events. Biblical lament directs these expressions towards God, fully expecting him to respond (Psalm 38:15). Denise Ackermann, a White South African theologian who wrestles with the historical pain inflicted by decades of apartheid and its consequences years after its abolition, writes that lament

. . . is both communal and individual, public and private, and it is the language of both suffering victim as well as of penitent people. It speaks with political, social, and religious voices. It calls God to account and at the same time calls upon God for relief. It accuses and it praises. It complains and confesses. Lament is never an end in itself. It is undergirded by the hope that God not only can but that God will hear the cries of the suffering and the penitent and will act with mercy and compassion.38

Lament dominates the books of Job and as much as a third of the Psalms.39 In Lamentations, a mournful Jeremiah voices the raw, uninhibited cries of a hurting people (Lamentations 1:1–7; 2:9–13). He boldly complains to God, seemingly blaming him for allowing and even causing the pain (Lamentations 1:10–17, 19–22; 2:1–8; 3:43–51). Biblical lament underscores trust in a compassionate Father whose love embraces the sometimes-barbed cries of his children in distress (Psalm 75:9; Jeremiah 20:14–15). Jeremiah models lament of the penitent, accepts culpability, and repents for the rebelliousness of his people (1:8–9, 18; 2:14; 3:27–42). Instructively, Jeremiah was not directly complicit in this disobedience—he actively resisted it—yet he readily identifies with communal guilt. Finally, Jeremiah’s laments epitomize hope in the unwavering character of God whom he trusts will bring relief (Lamentations 3:26). Jeremiah, Job, David, and our Lord Jesus Christ all demonstrate how suffering and lament are inseparable from the whole Christian story.

Yet lament is often missing from the mainstream American faith narrative.40 One reason may be the dominant culture of triumphalism and celebration that favors socio-economic power. To be fair, this privilege may be hard-earned, powered by a high value for Americans to pull themselves up by their bootstraps,41 and the belief that people are solely responsible for their destiny. The celebrative culture of majority White Evangelical churches is similarly epitomized by worship styles that overwhelmingly express themes of praise and individual victory, leaving little room for loss, helplessness, regret, and lament.42 Christian camps, as an offshoot of these churches, reflect this culture.

Over the past half century, however, this mostly unquestioned self-sufficiency has encountered increasing waves of racial tensions, economic downturns, climate disasters, political polarization, domestic terrorism, pandemics, and wars that threaten global order. Lament is regaining consideration in a society that increasingly recognizes it is not immune to growing global vulnerabilities.43 The language of lament has especially surfaced in the last decade as Christian leaders wrestle with renewed societal outcries over unaddressed racial injustices and the church’s historical complicity, the resurgence of White supremacy ideologies, and attention to police and civilian brutality against minorities in the United States.44

Yet lament still encounters ambivalence, analysis paralysis, resistance and fatigue. Among Christians passionate for justice and equity, skeptics might consider lament too passive. Pastor and author Daniel Hill narrates a young White church leader’s frustration: “We’ve been talking about centuries of oppression. . . and all you want me to do is lament?”45 Ambivalence might arise from those circumspect of acting inappropriately or offensively on the one hand, or of ceding too much on the other. To minorities, White people lamenting racial injustices without addressing root causes may come across as cultural appropriation—the theft of a practice by one in power, who then profits from its misuse;46 in this case for optics. Lament has been part of the culture of oppressed people in the United States for generations. For many African Americans, for example, euphonic blues and spirituals provided the only form of resistance to dehumanizing injustices during slavery and later Jim Crow.47 Some in circumstances of privilege may thus be reluctant to delve into lament as a “new” response to marginalization for fear that it might come across as patronizing.

Lament as Unlearning and Learning

How then might lament appropriately address a lack of diversity in Christian camping? Each camp ministry has a unique contextual story of origins, history, location, facilities, staff, stakeholders, and camper reach. Organizationally, each camp also has a collective culture which implicitly or explicitly encompasses its values, assumptions, expectations, and definitions. Those within may be unaware of the implications of this culture until they have reason to step back and reflect on it, or they are forced to do so through intentional frameworks or models.48

“The discipline of lament,” a vision cast by Emanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, offers a practical model to unlearn cultural impulses that undermine diversity by learning practices that confront and mitigate those inclinations.49 They suggest that lament begins with unlearning temptations of speed, distance, and innocence—which they call “enemies of lament”—by learning pilgrimage, relocation, and public confession—the discipline of lament.50

Speed, they explain, is the urge to either impatiently fix perceived wrongs for quick results, or to entirely avoid them without addressing root causes. Pilgrimage is a metaphor for unlearning speed by embarking on a truth-seeking journey to expose spurious assumptions and superficial solutions. Distance, they continue, keeps the suffering of others at an arm’s length. In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side” of the road to maintain distance from their injured countryman (Luke 10:30–37). Relocation, is a way of unlearning distance by making changes and course corrections to become present and engaged. The “despised Samaritan” in the parable interrupted his journey, a relocation that allowed him to care for the injured man. Katongole and Rice continue that innocence discounts and denies responsibility. Public confession as a remedy for innocence is overtly taking sides with those who suffer. This was the cry of Nehemiah who, though living in incredible privilege far away, confessed the sins of his forefathers and joined their struggle to restore Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:6–7).

Unlearning through active learning is the essence of experiential learning, which is at the heart of camp and outdoor ministry. It is not a linear, once-through process. Rather, to be transformative, unlearning and learning takes the form of praxis; cycles of action (the experience) and critical reflection in inseparable and adaptive interplay.51 Transformative learning confronts existing assumptions or frames of reference with encounters (experiences, conversations, or even active recalling) which when critically examined, “make them more inclusive, discriminating, reflective, open, and emotionally able to change.”52 In our faith context, unlearning and learning is profoundly spiritual and echoes conviction, repentance and regeneration (Romans 12:1–2, Galatians 5:19–22). It is the communal work of formation in iterative, dialogical cycles of action and reflection inspired by the Christian Story.53 Pilgrimage, relocation, and public confession are a practical framework for this transformative work to foment diversity in Christian camping.


Pilgrimage is a truth-seeking journey that wrestles with existing schema by exposing the learner to inconsistencies in their ways of being. Pilgrimage opposes the momentum of deeply rooted assumptions and counters speed, a temptation that encapsulates triumphalist culture. As the starting point of lament, it is a pivotal step towards conviction and is also the most likely to meet the greatest inertia of self-sufficiency. Pilgrimage thus requires the most attention, as it provides impetus for relocation and public confession.

I propose a pilgrimage that ventures in three directions: backwards, inwards, and outwards. Pilgrimage as a metaphor for lament does not always involve physical travel. Rather, the pilgrim learns to pay attention, to see, listen and feel, to uncover and contemplate in ways that interrupt complacency and challenge the status quo. Journeying backwards, inwards, and outwards offers handholds for separation from pre-liminal slumber, and entry into the transformative liminal space of lament.

Journeying backwards

In the American Christian camp context, journeying backwards explores histories that haunt the experience of People of Color at camp and outdoor spaces today. For instance, violence against Black people during slavery and Jim Crow often involved unprotected exposure to the elements, being strapped to or dangling from trees.54 Terror in the outdoors still lingers in collective memory. Collective memories, though the experience of generations past, are inherited and kept alive by families and communities, and have present day consequences.55

Journeying backwards acknowledges histories of complicity with the savagery of White supremacy.56 White supremacy is the troublesome social construct by which White people entitle themselves with power and dominion over others on the basis of skin color.57 Journeying backwards laments how the American church turned a blind eye and at times actively participated in the lynching of countless Black people during Jim Crow.58 Journeying backwards exposes the pilgrim to their own privilege, and acknowledges why majority White camps and the outdoor world might often be places of desolation rather than consolation in the collective memory of People of Color.

Yet such histories, which many minorities strongly identify with, are often not acknowledged in meaningful ways by Christian camp communities. Missiologist David Leong suggests that race issues are often hounded out of relevance by the prevalent individualistic culture among American Christians. Such mindsets, he writes, funnel ownership and concerns of faith down to individual morality and personal responsibility.59 What happened in the past has no bearing on my holiness today. Cultural intelligence scholar David Livermore caricatures this now-oriented, self-centered, ahistorical bent: “Why should I be making apologies for what my great-great-grandparents did to African Americans?”60 Pilgrimage backwards considers the relevance of communal history to present praxis.61

For many camps, such themes lie in the stories of their physical contexts, often the very land they sit on. At times, camps will acknowledge that original occupants of their territories were Native Americans,62 but come short of telling the stories of their forced or unfair removals.63 Moreover, the very names of some camps betray cultural appropriation, whose harmful aspects include:

. . . (1) nonrecognition (rendering a marginalized group voiceless and ignoring their claim to property [tangible and intangible]), (2) misrecognition (when a marginalized population is subjected to stereotyping, which impacts how others view them), and (3) exploitation (actions taken which benefit the appropriator, while harming the group members who had their ethnic property taken).64

Nonrecognition makes Native Americans invisible to those who do not pay attention to their geographical neighborhoods. For example, Vilas County in Northern Wisconsin boasts over 20 camps. The consequences of its history of structural anomalies are evident at the local jail whose occupants are 50% Native Americans, five times their demographic representation in the county.65 Yet at many of these camps, the only indigenous presence is in monikers, artifacts, and sometimes parodies that are as offensive to Native Americans as the songs demanded by oppressors in Psalm 137. Misrecognition and exploitation abound in Native themed games, activities, and wigwams. Indigenous people are thus alienated at all but a few intentionally sensitive camps. When pilgrimage takes redemptive journeys backwards and unveils the harm of such practices in the present, write Katongole and Rice, speed “meets the wall of history and points to the danger of reconciliation without memory.”66

Journeying Inwards

The inward pilgrimage is truth-seeking that examines dispositions, postures, practices, and ministry paradigms that may present barriers to diversity at individual, organizational, and cultural levels. It is a journey of careful reflection and self-examination enriched by dialogue in community. Introspection may be inspired by issues raised on the journey backwards. Pilgrimage might lead to questions such as those posed by Sam Collier, a minority camp leader:

. . . Where could racism show up in Christian camping? If we believe that there are possibly still some remnants, where could it actually exist? When you think about all the elements of Christian camping — from staffing to finance to worship to preaching to the attendees at your camps — when you look at all those areas, could it be that racism, or systemic oppression that started long ago, can find its way into different areas, in those specific areas that exist within Christian camping?67

Such questions may previously have been overlooked until some encounter—an experience, event, conversation, or memory—triggers internal dissonance, whose meaning remains confounding or obscure. Two educational tools, action learning and collaborative inquiry, may be useful to teams wrestling to unravel such conundrums.

Action learning tackles a corporate challenge by systematically peeling back layers of complexity through dialogue. Conversations are often facilitated by a coach who “holds the space of learning” by providing a framework.68 The question or problem is “owned” by one person, whose peers ask probing and clarifying questions without offering advice. The question might be, for example, “How do we tackle the alienation of minorities during the swim-test, required by regulators in the first two days of camp?” By asking the “owner”—who might be the waterfront activities facilitator, for instance—open ended questions, the group helps sift through the layers down to root, pivotal questions such as “How do we account for socio-cultural differences of campers taking swim tests?” “How do we make room for individual physical needs (such as hair or body types) during swim tests?” The “owner” chooses one of the questions to focus on and invites the group to ask a second round of clarifying questions that might lead to actionable solutions. For example, if they took the first question, possible solutions might include conducting short surveys before camp to uncovercampers’ cultural experiences with water activities, offer opportunities for self- reported swimming abilities, and to ask whether campers are even interested in canoeing and kayaking in non-alienating ways. This might open opportunities for those with similar comfort levels to take the swim test together in smaller groups while also respectfully addressing the concerns of those reluctant to get into the water at all.

Action learning is useful for temporal problem-solving near the frontlines but falls short when tackling systemic challenges. Though peers might learn from one another and gain new perspectives,69 transformation is dependent on extended coaching, facilitation, and follow up to stay the course.70 For self-led teams that might not have access to facilitation, collaborative inquiry may be more appropriate. Participants in collaborative inquiry groups collectively own a question as fully empowered equals with authentic investment in transformation. They collaboratively work their way through rounds of convergence and divergence of meaning associated with cycles of action and reflection. They thus systematically test emergent assumptions and premises they hold over specific issues as they act on outcomes of rounds of dialogue and critical reflection out in the world.71

Inquiry begins with the self-definition of a group that commits to learn together. Institutionally established groups have organizational advantages of structure, support, and accountability. They could be peer groups such as boards, leadership, or program teams. Alternatively, they may be interdisciplinary with representatives from a cross section of organizational staff. For the latter, a redefinition of power must be addressed so that participants can freely engage and challenge one another’s perspectives.72 The group collaboratively identifies a compelling question in which they have vested interest and commit to an organic, emergent process, which might at times be discombobulating.73 The group proceeds with cycles of action and reflection as “extended epistemology which presupposes that meaningful knowledge is rooted in the knowledge makers’ lived experience.”74 Individuals share as honestly as they can about their lived experience with the issue and seek new understanding and nuanced questions from dialogical engagement. They then go and re-engage life contemplatively from new vantage points, open to learning from ordinary to novel experiences. Action may extend beyond incidental experiences to intentional exploration and research. Newly gained perspectives are brought to the next round of group reflection. Learning emerges from these cycles of individual experiences, group reflection to help process experiences, and taking fresh commitments back to the field. My colleagues at a camp in Northern Wisconsin gather regularly throughout the year, and use collaborative inquiry to explore among other challenges, how to foster diversity among summer staff. They also use collaborative inquiry to reflect on feedback from families of minority campers and explore programmatic changes in response.

Journeying Outwards

Journeying outwards comes closest to a traditional “prototypical pilgrimage”— travelling contemplatively to holy sites for the purpose of self-discovery.75 As a discipline of lament, the holy sites are places near and far that may ordinarily be hidden in plain sight. There, encounters with “the Other” germinate new relationships that challenge problematic frames of reference76 that may be deeply held.

As temporary communities, camps are, quite rightly, places of separation from daily life distractions. However, that intentional separation can also isolate from convicting realities which, if encountered and critically examined, might confront complacency. Camp can be justification and refuge from “forgotten communities” and “geographies that are avoided at all costs,”77 places that may sometimes be physically quite close. Journeying outwards dislodges pilgrims from their “not seeing,” and takes them to the proximity of First Nations neighbors, to Black or Latino neighborhoods, and to other places where people look, act, and are different.

Camps in the United States tend to be in areas that are typically White: near small, tourist towns, remote outdoor ranchlands, or properties near wealthy, suburban neighborhoods with prime water frontage or scenic mountain views.78 Campers, however, are seldom drawn from these immediate neighborhoods, but tend to “go away” to camp,79 often passing other facilities along the way to their desired programs. This counters the fallacy that camp demographics necessarily reflect their geographical contexts, which would justify their majority populations. Rather, they reflect marketing preferences and programmatic cultures that target specific demographics. Pilgrimage outwards reaches out beyond those preferences and seeks relationships with diverse communities that better represent the kingdom of God (Acts 2:9–12, Revelations 7:9).

However, the purpose of pilgrimage is not missions, any more than Camino de Santiago pilgrims go to “do ministry” at the cathedral in Galicia. Rather, the outward journey is a truth-seeking pilgrimage to encounter neighbors near or far that resists speed and hypermobility, individualism and triumphalism. The outward journey is patient and humble, takes initiative while remaining tentative. It recalls Job’s friends quietly sitting with him, before they ruined it by presuming to fix him (Job 2:11–3:26). Pilgrimage outwards is aware that mistakes will be made, and is thus willing to listen, learn, and seek forgiveness. It allows time to nurture trust.

Temporary community can also insulate camps from events considered unrelated to programming, perpetuating escape from the messiness of contemporary social issues, news and politics. As the country is jolted awake by cycles of racially motivated violence, for example, many camps complacently carry on with programs and miss opportunities to disciple campers through significant cultural moments. Like the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable (Luke 10:30–37), they allow tunnel vision of a predetermined destination to sabotage modelling Christ-centered civic awareness and social engagement. Journeying outwards chooses to keep a healthy eye on societal interests as opportunities for wholistic spiritual formation. Camp liturgies could include engaging such concerns through hermeneutic discourse and prayer, and when appropriate, allow programming to be interrupted to address issues arising in the wider society (John 17:15).

My workplace in Northern Wisconsin is learning to practice pilgrimage as a starting point for lament. Journeying backwards and inwards, we invite cultural source representatives to walk through the camp with our leaders to help expose artifacts and practices that misrepresent, offend, or alienate minority communities. We are learning that despite being in a predominantly White region, we do have often-unseen Native American neighbors on whose ancentral land our camp sits. We are building relationships with tribal elders, schools, and community centers, learning how to receive and offer hospitality. We are learning to confront speed that resists change, explains away discrepancies, or urges quick, measurable outcomes. We are learning to be good neighbors and friends. Further out, we are building interdependent relationships with two minority camps located in different states. I believe that these camps, which invited us into these relationships, sense a posture of coming in a good way, willing to listen and learn, and an openness to a different way of being—albeit imperfect. They too, are on pilgrimage.


Relocation in this framework is the action-reflection praxis of lament as transformative learning. Relocation unlearns distance by embracing the ambiguous “betwixt and between”80 liminal space of changes or course corrections that can sometimes feel as disruptive as physical displacement. It operationalizes convictions, intentions, practices, and commitments adaptively emerging from pilgrimage. Relocation confronts problematic habits, traditions, and even structural elements of an organization, while maintaining a humble, tentative learning posture.

Yet relocation also requires intentionality and boldness. For example, the inward pilgrimage might lead a camp to determine they need a higher representation of minorities on staff to reflect demographics of their target population. Actualizing this might mean setting desired hiring targets. “You cannot hit a target unless . . . you’re committed to measuring progress,” writes Young Life’s Paul Coty.81 The willingness to act in the context of such accountability can make the difference between platitudes and structural change.

Relocation informed by pilgrimage will look different for organizations. I offer some examples of from my workplace. We are privileged to be in the lush Northwoods of Wisconsin with about a mile of water frontage, a property that offers campers opportunities for transformational experiences in creation. Prompted by pilgrimage, our leaders are rethinking how to sensitively handle activities which though celebrated by the majority outdoor culture, may not have been part of the formative experiences of People of Color.82 For example, urban kids might not have “White skills” such as waterskiing, riflery, archery or horsemanship. We desire to tone down the bravado around such activities and to sensitively introduce them inclusively. The previously mandatory swim-test is now optional, which has allowed some minorities, international staff, and even some White campers, to opt out of water activities without drawing attention. Some artifacts and practices found to be insensitive to minorities—such as the use of tiki torches for nighttime events—have been discontinued or reoriented. Program activities have been adjusted, and others are under review.

As part of a Christian liberal arts university that offers camp programming, training that is informed by scholarship is core to our identity. Relocation has meant that all our leaders and counselors receive significant training in diversity and cultural intelligence. To learn from other cultures, we annually invite international staff (about 10% of all summer staff this year) to serve in various capacities year-round. Diversity is no longer an issue relegated to the margins. It is sanctioned as one of our organization’s strategic initiatives. This gives us capacity to pursue the inefficient messiness of relocation’s action-reflection cycles.

Another shift is our growing awareness that minorities might experience “racial battle fatigue”83 as they navigate what is still a White Space. Whereas we hesitate to create affinity groups of minority campers84 due to the risk of balkanizing ethnic groups in temporary community, we ensure that minority campers are matched with counselors who are either minorities or have proven competence with cross-cultural hospitality. However, international seasonal summer staff who serve in diverse roles are periodically gathered as an affinity group to help with their cross-cultural immersion as newcomers in the country.

Further, formal worship and music have been diversified to include hip-hop, Hispanic, and other multicultural genera, often led by those from representative cultures.85 Flags from nations represented by summer staff (including missionary families) are prominently displayed in our dining hall, and especially celebrated during Pentecost Sunday to highlight the diversity in which the Church was born (Acts 2:5–12). Black history month is celebrated by our gap-year students who research and present visual art to tell stories.

Yet these steps are not definitive. Sometimes, changes need to be abandoned, tweaked, or ramped up in response to continued learning. The action-reflection praxis of relocation pairs with pilgrimage iteratively. Some issues revealed by pilgrimage present existential complexities. For example, what should be done about camps sitting on Aboriginal ancestral lands?86 Removing inappropriate artifacts and activities from camps begins to confront cultural appropriation but is woefully inadequate and can amount to whitewashing history. Should camps shut down and give up their properties as reparations (Numbers 5:5–7)? For some who can track direct historical culpability and known families that were disenfranchised, justice may indeed call for physical relocation or perhaps invitation to joint ownership and leadership. For others who may have purchased land with unclear historical links, there might be other nuanced and mutually beneficial ways of pursuing justice. This might include committing camp re- sources to scholarships, setting aside placements or whole camp sessions for minorities, or actively participating in local, Native-led, redemptive projects. It might involve leveraging privilege and actively advocating for Native American rights with local authorities. Whatever action is finally taken, it should be carefully examined, and adjustments made as learning happens through the practice of relocation.

Public Confession

Public confession as a way of unlearning innocence87 is likely what comes to mind for most people when they think of lament. As an outward post-liminal incorporation rite, it is the overtly verbal and physical/emotional naming of truth and regret. At its best, both the privileged and the marginalized come together to declare an emergent new way of being that restores fellowship. Public confession identifies and remembers wounds, brokenness, and loss, and is thus a subversive interruption of dominant cultural assumptions and insider amnesia.88 Public confession unlearns innocence claimed by speed, distance, individualism, denial, colorblindness, blame and power play.

An example of public confession would be introducing liturgies that lament Native Americans removals. Territory acknowledgement reminds users that the land once belonged to others who continue to bear consequences.89 Cultural appreciation laments this by naming it in consultation with cultural source representatives to avoid inadvertently misrepresenting or presuming.90 Such acknowledgement is not empty chest-beating and self-deprecation as an end to itself. Rather, it reminds camp communities of their privilege at the cost of others, albeit generations removed. Silence constitutes nonrecognition and mis-recognition and says that those bearing the loss and consequences of historical or current structural injustices are forgettable, unimportant, and unworthy of respect.91 Land acknowledgement can create curiosity about the Aboriginal neighbor and how to include them in conversations about land rights and structural injustices.92

Public confession invites accountability. It joins in the work of transformation by confronting ignorance and self-assigned innocence. Public confession embraces the hard work of wrestling with internal and external opposition, pushback, regret, and perhaps even material loss. It acknowledges and honors the humanity of would-be invisible minorities and invites them as allies and partners on the journey, honoring the genius of a multiethnic Imago Dei.

Public confession makes camp practices and spaces more welcoming by incorporating the cultural voices of diverse populations. This might involve offering opportunities to verbally name painful histories or adding diverse worship styles to camp liturgies. Inviting minorities to lead or guide such efforts is key, as it not only guards against appropriation, but also honors and submits to their participation in crafting inclusive narratives.

On discovering offensive spaces and practices, well-intentioned institutions sometimes quietly implement change without fanfare, almost covertly. Whereas removing offensive artifacts, caricatures, activities, and practices is useful, opportunities for confession, healing and education are lost when the process is kept private and quiet. It propagates nonrecognition of the alienated by sweeping the offensive practices or objects under the carpet for the sake of optics. Public confession counters the triumphalist temptation to avoid the discomfort of publicly acknowledging that a wrong that needs righting exists.

The epistemological premise of pilgrimage, relocation and public confession is that lament is not an impotent cry into a void. Rather, it holds together loss, regret, and the hope of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Biblical lament leads to agency even against desperate odds.93


As an African who came into a camp context in a predominantly White region of the United States, I knew right from the start to expect cultural difference. I had worked for over twenty years in outdoor and camp programs in East Africa, fifteen of those pioneering programs in churches and faith-based organizations. Yet I knew that as a guest in a new culture, I would sometimes need to subordinate my expectations to adapt to the context. I knew it would be hard work, but well worth the benefits of navigating kingdom diversity. It is unjust, however, to expect American People of Color to similarly submit to a dominant culture to survive in a ministry context in their own country. I have argued here that Christian camping in the United States predominantly manifests as White Spaces—spaces socialized to normalize White tastes, perceptions, and racial views—at the expense of including People of Color. This contrasts with camp ministry in many other parts of the world, whose diversity is reflected by the global network of CCI.94 In the 64 countries represented by 27 regional and national associations of CCI globally, there is no majority culture. Cultural diversity and unity of the body are essentially paired and celebrated.

My workplace community desires to be hospitable to People of Color, and to reflect kingdom diversity in its ministry to youth and families. My African family appreciates that generosity. However, we sometimes experience the quick fix temptations of speed, choices that create distance, and façades of innocence. This paper has proposed that the journey of lament begins with confronting speed through pilgrimage back to relevant history, inward to critically examine existing practices and dispositions, and outwards to learn from diverse neighbors near and far. Relocation, undoing distance, flows out of pilgrimage as the imperative to change. Some course corrections are obvious and easy to implement, while others require more effort, sometimes carefully navigating the sensitive landscape of diverse stakeholders and painful loss. Some wins come quickly while others might not resolve any time soon. Relocation is praxis, adaptive cycles of action and reflection that frequently interact with pilgrimage.

Camp ministry is essentially educational, and pilgrimage and relocation should be accompanied by the pedagogy of public confession. Lament becomes the visible expression of grieving and regretting divisive gaps in demographics, confessing alienating practices, and incorporating liturgies and interventions that place a high value on kingdom diversity and promote inclusivity. Public confession resists the temptation to claim innocence when things are not right. Public confession does not terminate at grief, but also celebrates wins and worships a gracious God.

Ackermann asks, “can those who are not victims also lament, so to speak, ‘from the other side’?”95 Beneficiaries of privileges that were in part or whole acquired at the cost of other people are sometimes quick to claim their innocence. The injustices preceded their time, they might claim. They might point to People of Color who don’t seem to mind camps or churches or educational institutions or neighborhoods just as they are, and blame those who do. Public confession is difficult because it forces vulnerability by owning up to what is not right in public. For mainline camps, that means accepting how complacency as White Spaces is a major barrier to kingdom diversity in the United States. Though difficult, facing this discomfort and acting on it gives lament efficacy to facilitate desired change.

Cite this article
Muhia Karianjahi, “The Discipline of Lament for Fostering Diversity in Christian Camping”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 53:1 , 45-65


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Muhia Karianjahi

Muhia Karianjahi is assistant professor of outdoor and adventure leadership at Wheaton College and global initiatives manager at the college’s HoneyRock Center for Leadership Development.