Camp of the Hills gives dramatic retelling of Jesus’ last hours

At the end of the Camp of the Hills program, the counselors portray the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Youth witnessed the last hours of Jesus' life, his death and burial before returning to their cabins to discuss the man and his story. But just as Jesus' story doesn't end with his death, the students experienced the resurrection the following morning and the hope it brings. The camp counselors who took part in the crucifixion portion of the re-enactment include Tim Kirby (left), Luke Dotson as Jesus, Tamar Aquino, Joseph Austin and Tony Hefner. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

SMITHWICK — When most youth camps begin to wind down, the kids and counselors take a celebratory approach with songs, fun and food. While youth and counselors at Camp of the Hills enjoy the same, they also take a journey through a part of one of the world’s most venerable stories.

Each Thursday evening during camp, the youth see how Jesus lived his final days on Earth.“It really helps drive the message home about what this entire week is about,” said Michael Thames, the camp’s development director.

Camp of the Hills, 1552 CR 344, started about 22 years ago to allow at-risk kids or those from low-income families experience summer camp. The camp relies on donations and volunteers to provide the services and unique experiences for campers ages 8-18.

The youth, many who come from inner cities, enjoy all the typical camping experiences such as swimming, canoeing, skits, singing and sports. But each Thursday evening after dinner, the staff takes them on a walk that’s far from fun and frivolity.

“You guys are going to witness a story, not a full story, but a very important part,” counselor Vince Green told the youth gathered on the floor in front of him in the dining facility Aug. 1. “It’s the last few hours of Jesus’ life. And the best way you can get prepared (for the story) is by preparing our own hearts.”

Roman guards Josh Marsh (left), Cody Brumly and Vince Green knock Jesus, portrayed by Luke Dotson, to the ground during a dramatic re-enactment of Jesus' last hours. Camp of the Hills counselors hold the program each Thursday evening while camp is in session to show the youth how much Jesus loves them and what he endured for them. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
Roman guards Josh Marsh (left), Cody Brumly and Vince Green knock Jesus, portrayed by Luke Dotson, to the ground during a dramatic re-enactment of Jesus’ last hours. Camp of the Hills counselors hold the program each Thursday evening while camp is in session to show the youth how much Jesus loves them and what he endured for them. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Green held one hand up in a fist and the other palm open. Then, he explained how the fist is hard and unchangeable, while the open palm is soft and can bend and change.

“If your heart is like (a fist) and this sweet, awesome, tender story is like (an open hand), then the story isn’t going to do anything to your heart,” Green continued. “But if you open your hand, they mesh together. So you have to have a soft heart to listen to this story.”

The crowd walked down a path to a rock structure where several counselors portrayed Jesus and his disciples during the Last Supper.

Then, the story unfolded.

At various stations along the camp property, the counselors acted out Jesus’ last hours. Not always easy to watch, the Roman guards (played by counselors) at one point lashed out at Jesus (portrayed by counselor Luke Dotson), knocking him to the ground.

At the end of the Camp of the Hills program, the counselors portray the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Youth witnessed the last hours of Jesus' life, his death and burial before returning to their cabins to discuss the man and his story. But just as Jesus' story doesn't end with his death, the students experienced the resurrection the following morning and the hope it brings. The camp counselors who took part in the crucifixion portion of the re-enactment include Tim Kirby (left), Luke Dotson as Jesus, Tamar Aquino, Joseph Austin and Tony Hefner. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
At the end of the Camp of the Hills program, the counselors portray the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Youth witnessed the last hours of Jesus’ life, his death and burial before returning to their cabins to discuss the man and his story. But just as Jesus’ story doesn’t end with his death, the students experienced the resurrection the following morning and the hope it brings. The camp counselors who took part in the crucifixion portion of the re-enactment include Tim Kirby (left), Luke Dotson as Jesus, Tamar Aquino, Joseph Austin and Tony Hefner. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

“We want the kids to see just how much Jesus loves them and what he went through for them,” Thames said after the re-enactment.

The group followed along as the priests and guards took Jesus before Pontius Pilate. During the drama, Pontius Pilate told the spectators he could find no fault in Jesus but gave them the choice between freeing Jesus or the criminal Barrabas.

The crowd chanted, “Barrabas, Barrabas, free Barrabas.”

With that, the guards pushed Jesus on.

The re-enactors and spectators moved to a dirt road between the camp’s pond and swimming hole. The youth watched as the guards taunted and mocked Jesus as he carried his cross, falling several times along they way.

The drama ended as the campers gathered in seats below a steep hill. On top of the hill, two men hung from a cross. Then, the cries of Jesus rang out as the guards “nailed” him to his cross and hoisted it up.

After Jesus’ death, two men carried his body, placed it in a tomb located halfway down the hill and rolled a rock in front of it.

The drama ended there as the campers and counselors dispersed back to their cabins. Thames assured the visitors the lesson, however, wouldn’t.

“They’ll go back to their cabins and talk about Jesus and what they’ve seen tonight,” he said. “Then, they’ll get up in the morning to a resurrection program. Tonight was an opportunity to show them a part of Jesus’ story and what he did for all of us.”

Go to www.campofthehills.org for more information about Camp of the Hills.

daniel@thepicayune.com