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Their Greatest Joy

Published on March 05, 2024

Joshua Cooley

Zak and Trisha Johnson find it difficult to pinpoint their favorite FCA Camp memories.

For many years, the Johnsons have been traveling 3½ hours each summer from Pocatello, Idaho to attend the FCA Northwest Sports Camp at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa. Over that span, they have built many great memories, first as Huddle Leaders and now as Huddle Coordinators. Some memories bring laughs. Others bring tears. But all of them reflect the beautiful—and often zany—nature of camp.

There was the time last summer when a high school camper missed the bus for an off-campus activity. Seeing his ride about 300 yards away, he burst into an all-out sprint, causing a bit of sympathy and a lot of laughter among his other Huddle mates. “I’ll get you a slushy!” one of his friends shouted. Without breaking stride, the boy shot a thumbs-up into the air. (He eventually got a Dunkin’ Donuts smoothie.)

Or take the night when the Johnsons found a Huddle of a dozen boys packed into one small dorm room, excited to sleep like sardines. Then there was the time a boy made his bed look like he was asleep there to fool his Huddle Leader. With the ruse in place, the boy then ... curled up under his bed for the night. (Perhaps this odd sleeping arrangement was because his Huddle Leader enjoyed waking up campers with a squirt gun.)

“When you put middle school and high school kids in a dorm room for axgBtdWpQ week together, crazy stuff happens,” Trisha said. “We hear all sorts of stories.”

Zak and Trisha wouldn’t trade the camp experience for anything. The Boise area residents met at Idaho State University in Pocatello in 2017, when Trisha was a freshman and Zak was a redshirt senior kicker on the football team. The following summer, they both started attending the camp together. They got married in June 2020.

Serving together at camp is one of their greatest joys, largely because it’s a shared ministry experience.

“It’s fun to be able to walk with my wife and help kids and watch her light up and see God shine through her,” Zak said. “That makes me, personally, want to be better—be a better leader and be more active in leading.”

Zak is a civil engineer for the State of Idaho, while Trisha is a counselor at an elementary school in Pocatello. Her experience in social work comes in handy at camp. Each summer, many adolescents arrive carrying heavy life burdens, including divorced families, abuse, mental health issues, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Last summer, according to Trisha, they noticed “a really big surplus of kids who have never even heard of Jesus before.”

“Those are common things that we see that are heartbreaking, but we also have to frame it in the way of, they’re here and they’re safe at camp,” Trisha said. “This is the place where they can hear about the love of the Lord, and for a lot of them, [it’s] for the first time.”

Sometimes, the Johnsons don’t see spiritual fruit in campers’ lives immediately, or at all. But in many cases, they do enjoy a beautiful glimpse of God’s gracious handiwork.

_SZy7IkA“We get to see kids that come into camp for the first time, many from a rough background,” Zak says. “We’re able to pour into them. [Sometimes we] don’t see a big impact, but then this past year, they came [back]. We’ve been able to see an impact of what we’ve poured into [them] the previous year—they’re so much more mature and in tune with God. Even if they are still contemplating accepting Christ, they’re asking good questions.”

Another highlight: After the campers leave each year, staff members stay for one more night to debrief and reflect on all God has done. Often, the group will go to a local pool—or even a waterfall—where staff members get baptized.

“It’s not just the campers that leave impacted, but even these Huddle Leaders who were there thinking that they were there just to serve the kids,” Trisha said. “Instead, they leave with their lives completely changed.”

The Johnsons are already looking forward to summer.

“I think it’s really important to have some sort of mission or something that’s bigger than just ourselves and our marriage, and finding a way to serve the Lord, outside of just building our lives and our family together,” Trisha said. “FCA has been that field for us to be able to go out. We treat FCA Camp every year like our mission field. Out of all those things that we do over the summer, this is what we continue to go back to because it’s our very favorite week of the year. There has never been a year we haven’t left impacted and inspired by what everybody experienced through the Lord.”