Teen in an Emotional JAM Reaches Out

By Lori Arnold — 24 May 2024

Titus was beside himself, rage welling up deep within his soul. Instead of acting out of his pain, the teenager picked up his phone, searching for an ongoing text thread with his spiritual brothers, a group of boys who attended a sports camp last summer.

"I'm angry. Please pray for me," he typed. Titus went on to share that one of his friends was killed and he wasn't coping well.

Jaye Hill, who coordinates the annual JAM Camp, attributes Titus' grief response to a bi-monthly discipleship program created to maintain the momentum from last summer's camp, a partnership between Athletes in Action® and its sister ministry, Cru® Inner City.

"You had different young men, as well as men, who were on the chat, praying as well as giving scriptural references where Titus can live out with God so he can be at peace and not in anger," Hill said.

JAM Camp, which stands for Jesus, Athletics and Manhood, is held every summer at the Xenia, Ohio headquarters of AIA®. In addition to sports clinics, camp mentors instill biblical disciplines to train high school boys to be intentional Christ-followers.

Among those recently praying with Titus was Eli, a fellow camper who, after three years of attending JAM, experienced a new reality during a worship service that morphed into a five-hour praise session.

"His 'aha!' moment was recognizing and realizing that God is in the room every time he was in a room."

"The program got changed," Hill said. "God did His work. JAM camp is a real thing. It's a real thing. It was God doing his thing. We're a conduit."

Eli responded to that conduit.

"His 'aha!' moment was recognizing and realizing that God is in the room every time he was in a room," Hill said. "He really felt His presence during that worship set."

Immediately following that experience, Eli became more involved in praying for his peers, walking from teen to teen and seeking God on their behalf.

After camp concluded, Eli, Titus and the others remained in close contact thanks to the ongoing discipleship program Hill hosts at his Detroit home. The gathering draws about a dozen local boys while another dozen or so participate from other states using Zoom.

"I don't have a big home," Hill said. "It's just God doing His thing. We utilize the home He gave us to allow kids to be able to express themselves as well as growing their faith. It's just been an impact on them because they have another way of being held accountable for their faith."

As a result of the JAM discipleship program, Eli continued to grow spiritually, recently reaching out to Hill to apologize for not keeping up with his daily devotionals.

"He said, 'Hey, Coach, I just fell behind and I let other things become important,'" Hill recalled. "He recognized that there's no plan or anything that he can do without spending time with the Father to understand the true plan that the Father has for him."

Hill said the discipleship program helps underscore the foundational lessons they were taught during their camp lab sessions, among them the importance of carrying the principles they learned on the field to their everyday life off the field, "making sure that they would have the ability to display Christ no matter the situation."

While the camp experience focuses on skills and performance training for football, basketball and other sports, camp mentors also work with the teens in spiritual and leadership development throughout the week.

Last year, for instance, a handful of teens woke at 5:30 each morning to attend preparation sessions for the day's activities, including prayer walking the field before their peers arrived for practices.

"I invited the young leaders to be a part of that (leadership) table so they can see it, they can hear it, they can understand it and one day they'll lead it. It's bringing them a different perspective of being involved in seeing, "OK, these are the conversations, this is how we conduct a meeting. This is what we're doing. This is our getting prepared for the day."

"So, they walked with me as I'm dealing with the frustration of losing a father."

Hill said his desire for their weekly discipleship meetings is to create a connectedness that promotes a passion for spiritual growth, plus practical help for daily living as they face difficult issues throughout the year. That includes the mentors' willingness to involve teens in all aspects of their lives as they journey the post-camp discipleship path together.

"My dad passed away; so they all knew that," Hill said. "So, they walked with me as I'm dealing with the frustration of losing a father. At the same time, they're able to see "OK, these are things you do and you don't do. This is what we need to do as we sit at the feet of the Father."

As much as the young men are learning, their mentors are also growing as they invest ongoing time with the teens while modeling the characteristics of Christ. Hill said he would love to see more adults experience the life-altering transformation that comes through JAM Camp participation.

"We all know God says go make disciples, but who's really spending time with kids?" Hill asked. "Not just in a small group or Bible study but outside of church where you go to their football and their basketball games or you go to their play or you go to their recital or you go to their musical. Who's really doing that? Again, you involve them in your life at the same time. What would be really valuable is if you bring your talent and your time together."

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Lori ArnoldLori Arnold serves as the senior writer for Cru's inner-city ministry.


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