How Summer Camp Changed My Life and Gave Me a Second Family

May 31, 2017

Max Bridge is a high schooler in the South Bronx who has been involved with Mont Lawn City Camp—an affiliate of Hope for New York. Max has attended Mont Lawn Camp, a summer camp for at-risk youth in New York City, since he was six years old. 

Below, he shares his story of how God worked through his counselors at Mont Lawn to help him see his relationship with Jesus in a new way—and how that has changed his life.

I was raised by my mom, who played the role of my father and my mother for me and my four brothers. We weren’t the wealthiest family, but we also weren’t the most needy. Growing up, I saw a lot of good and a lot of bad, which was really overwhelming. There’s so much negativity in the South Bronx. A lot of people barely make it to 16.

I used to be the kid who sat in the back of class not talking to anyone. I wouldn’t even take my hood off in school. I would just walk around, by myself, lonely. I was angry. I was depressed.

My family went to church when we were all younger, but things changed when my brothers were introduced to drugs and alcohol. I’m grateful that God didn’t let me take that road. I can now see how even before I really started following Him, He had my back.

Still, my relationship with God was weird. When I prayed, it felt like I was just talking to myself. It felt crazy. Then my grandparents died. That’s when I lost hope in Jesus.

The day before my grandmother died, I prayed for her. When she died, it felt like God hadn’t answered my prayers. Everyone was telling me there’s this God that we pray to and He answers all prayers, but when I prayed for my grandmother, He didn’t answer. I felt so empty. And then my grandfather went into a depression and died five years later. Their deaths really hit me. I was fueled by anger and depression. I blamed Jesus for their deaths. I blamed Him for other problems I was going through. I saw everything and everyone around me as negative.

That summer, I went to Mont Lawn Camp, a summer camp that I’d gone to since I was a little kid. But, the way the counselors talked about God hit me in a new way and really stuck with me. I learned that God doesn’t always answer our prayers immediately, and that sometimes He doesn’t give you what you want, but He will give you what you need. I was able to see that God really does have a plan for me. My mentors there helped me build that relationship I had always been seeking and gave me a better chance to find what I had been looking for.

I started praying everyday, and praying became more comfortable. Reading the Bible got more comfortable. I started seeking help from Jesus, and I started to build confidence. He helped me channel my anger into something better. I play basketball for my school. I stopped being the kid who sat in the back and didn’t talk to anyone.

In the past couple years of following Jesus, He has changed the way I view things. He’s changed my attitude towards people, towards life, in a positive way. He’s given me a sense of security. And as I’ve grown in my relationship with Him, I can see the ways that He’s had my back all along.

And that’s been one of the really cool parts about growing up in the South Bronx, being part of Mont Lawn City Camp, which is the year-round version of summer camp here in the city. They’ve been family to me—that’s how I view everyone there. I call everybody there my brother and my sister. Everyone there genuinely cares for one another, and they’ve shown me that, as Christians, we are called to love each other.

Now, I’m a mentor-in-training to another kid, a nine year old. He gets me, and I get him. I love this kid to death. My job is to pass down to him whatever I learn. So I’m just gathering knowledge, reading God’s Word, and trying to convey that to my mentee to help him grow in his relationship with God.

As for me, I’m ready for whatever God gives me, and I know He has a plan for me.