God changes lives at Zona Camp

By Chelsea Bush, Photos by Nancy Patton, Lainee Pegelow and Mackenzie Fugatt | Jul 10, 2024

For the past 21 years, Arizona churches have sent leaders along with middle and high school students to Zona Camp. While locations and people have shifted over the years, one consistency of Zona is how the Lord uses it to change lives.

Chad Murrell, lead pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Scottsdale and Zona Camp director, celebrates the fact that Zona impacts the lives of students, many of whom then serve the Lord in Arizona.

“Zona, it could be argued, is one of the more effective means of students getting to know Jesus and answering a call to ministry in the state of Arizona,” Murrell said. “This year, we had dozens of youth ministers and volunteers who previously came to know Christ at Zona Camp.”

This year, Zona Camp took place June 24-28 at California Baptist University in Riverside. Zona is a unique camp that includes various tracks for students, including the Zona experience — the traditional camp schedule; a missions focus through the Mission Life track; a worship focus through the Worship Catalyst track; and leadership development through Impact Leadership Training.

This year’s camp theme was Unfinished, based on Philippians 1:6: “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” More than 1,100 individuals attended this year, one of the largest groups Zona has hosted in its 21 years.

Zona is staffed by the Crew, college-aged Christian Challenge students and Christian Challenge staff. This year 43 Crew members from Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Tennessee served the students at Zona by facilitating small groups, running games and activities, and doing much of the hard work at camp.

This year’s worship band, Becoming Bristol, helped Zona attendees enter into worship every morning and evening. Afterward, camp speaker Chris Hilken challenged the students to ask themselves difficult questions and to be willing to seek answers. Hilken spoke to students about Jesus, about God’s goodness, and about God’s purpose for their lives. Each evening, students had the chance to respond to God’s work in their lives.

More than 30% of the students who attended Zona this year made some type of spiritual decision. Those decisions included salvation, rededicating their lives to Christ, answering the call to ministry, and asking for prayer.

Those attending Zona demonstrated their heart for missions by giving a $10,570 offering for the International Mission Board’s Paris team to use for outreach during and after the Olympics. The Paris team — which includes IMB missionaries Caleb and Tricianne Spacht from Arizona, who are no strangers to Zona Camp — is targeting church planting in the city of Paris because of the need for gospel-preaching churches.

During Zona, the Lord worked in the lives of students, but God also impacted those who served. Several Zona Crew members previously attended Zona as middle or high school students. Crew member Emily Edgar, who attends Arizona State University in Tempe, is one example.

Growing up, Edgar enjoyed the way Zona helped her focus on the Lord. This year — her first time serving on the Crew — Edgar was amazed to realize that before camp began, Zona Crew prayed over the name of every student and church volunteer, asking the Lord to impact each person who attended.

Through her time serving at Zona, Edgar saw the Lord work in and through her and her fellow crew members.

“It’s been cool to see the Lord work not only in students’ lives but in our lives as Crew,” she said.

Edgar and her fellow Crew members were trained to share the gospel and to interact with students who were struggling. This training equipped them to serve the Lord by sharing the gospel and praying with students hundreds of times throughout the week.

Throughout the year, the Zona Admin Team works to make sure Zona runs smoothly. They meet regularly to discuss details and to pray for the Lord to work in the hearts of those who attend Zona each summer.

“The biggest celebration every year at Zona is life transformation,” said Admin Team member Andrew Marchbanks, executive pastor at First Southern Baptist Church at Sahuaro Ranch in Glendale. “Students were saved, grew in their walks with God, and were called to ministry. There was confession and repentance from sin, and so many teenagers left changed by an encounter with Jesus.”

This year at Zona Camp, God answered prayers by impacting the lives of those who attended, and God will continue to use Zona Camp to impact the lives of Arizona students and ministry leaders for years to come.

Chelsea Bush, a freelance writer living in Phoenix, is a member of Foothills Baptist Church, Phoenix.

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