Authenticity. Teens need to know you really care….

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That’s been one of the most important messages we have given to our leaders and teens for years now. Teens need authenticity. They also have a cunning ability to know when something, especially someone, is not authentic.

There’s another important factor. Teens need to know you really care about them before they are really willing to let you impart into their lives.

2023 Katzir Summer Camp Report – A test of my authenticity.

This camp was hard. That’s me being authentic. Don’t get me wrong, though – God moved in a lot of lives. It was also fun in many aspects. But the overall atmosphere of the camp, especially for our leadership team, was challenging. I messed up some things with the planning and scheduling of the camp. Add to that, it was a difficult location to deal with. It was a 10-minute walk to the dining hall each way—3 times a day. And then long walks to our meeting hall – in the scorching desert heat. My shoes were melting 🥴. Add in a few difficult teens, and it made for a difficult time for everyone, teens and leaders.

A few hours before I was supposed to share Wednesday evening, I had to send two teens home. I was frustrated. I felt empty spiritually, and I only had a portion of my message ready. Instead of preparing for sharing that evening, I had to deal with discipline and, teens who weren’t cooperating with the leaders, and leaders who were frustrated (understandably so). I couldn’t prepare. I would sit and find myself totally empty. Lacking any enthusiasm or desire to teach that day.

As I was speaking to a leader, I began to just weep. My family had paid a dear price this year with me traveling to raise funds for Katzir and Fields of Wheat. I’ve been gone for long portions of time from my family. My wife and kids feel it. I found myself asking God if the price my family pays, and the families of our other leaders pay, is even worth it. “Lord, why am I even here?” I was asking over and over. I had to pray with a few other leaders (Eitan included) to try and sort out what I felt and how to proceed that evening.

Letting them know that “We’re all the same in our moments of weakness”

My sense for that evening was that I needed to be authentic. Everyone had been struggling in the camp those few days. The atmosphere felt “weird”. Like there was a lot of spiritual warfare around everyone. I had a message prepared from a few years back on the same topic I planned to share, but I felt it wasn’t authentic. Like the teens would be able to tell that I was teaching something but that my heart wasn’t really there. And so I didn’t. I did the opposite.

I shared with them what I had experienced that day – that I felt empty, frustrated with the Lord, not sure why I was there, and that in that moment, I needed God in my weakness. I shared with them that I truly love them and am proud of them, and the only reason any of us are there is to see them experience God’s love for them, and apart from them experiencing God’s heart, I had nothing to offer them. I shared that we are all the same – we all have moments of weakness, of frustration, of conflict. That we all need God in the same way, and apart from Him, we have nothing.

I shared Revelation 3:16 with them – that He is knocking on the door, and whoever opens the door, He will feast with them. He knows our hidden places (the message of the Sermon on the Mount, which we had studied and discussed all week), and he wants to come in and dwell in those hidden places that no one sees. I don’t see that scripture as primarily about salvation, by the way. It’s about a constant invitation to have the Lord enter into the hidden places of our hearts. The response of the youth was amazing. The ministry time went on for about an hour as teens wept and prayed with each other and with leaders. The Holy Spirit really moved.

It really IS worth it all!

The Holy Spirit moved in other meetings as well. A speaker named Sarah shared her story of experiencing sexual abuse as a child—and her journey of forgiveness and freedom. The response to her vulnerable message was incredible that evening and even the following day. We heard deeply touching testimonies of some of the teens afterward. And in the end, hearing that always makes it all worth it.

Time and space fail me to list all the highlights of the camp. We all did laser tag together, took a midnight hike in the desert, held a workshop on the Jewish-Arab conflict and how they can respond as teenagers to God’s heart for our Arab neighbors. In what’s become an annual custom, we separated the boys and girls to talk frankly about sexuality as both a gift and a temptation—what it means to relate to the opposite sex with a pure heart. They asked many honest, important questions…and thanked us for the opportunity.

Some heartfelt testimonies:

• The Lord really touched my heart, and I decided to get baptized after the camp
• After Sarah spoke about forgiveness and her testimony of forgiving unforgivable things, I was able to forgive my dad after many years of living with bitterness and anger towards him. It felt like a huge weight came off my heart for the first time. (Please pray for this young woman.)
• I deal with a lot of health issues and anxiety which even causes me to pass out, things got worse this year, and I had to spend a lot of time in the hospital. I wasn’t sure about coming to Katzir. I felt far from God, I felt guilty, and I had not heard him speak to me in a long time. During the camp, and as I prayed with one of the leaders, I felt like I broke through a barrier. I heard God speak to me for the first time in a long time. I felt encouraged, and the perspective I had about my life changed. I felt so full of joy, and all the anxiety and fear I had been living with disappeared. I returned to the Lord and feel transformed.
• I had been dealing with a lot of anxiety and even suicidal thoughts. I felt like I had hit a wall, like there was a barrier in my life blocking me from getting near to Him, just a sense of guilt and condemnation. As I prayed with a leader, those walls fell, and I felt like there were no barriers anymore. God spoke to me in a fresh way after a long time, which encouraged me.
• I felt very lonely. One evening during the worship, I just cried and prayed. The next day, I began to connect and make some new friends, which really blessed me.
Thank you for your prayers over our camp. It wasn’t easy, but none of the testimonies and the things the Lord did during this summer camp would have happened without your prayers and generosity.
Joel Jelski
On behalf of the whole team
Please Help us Reach Our Goal of $144,00
$68,000 raised
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