The Value of Inclusive Christian Camping

The Encourager

My journey with inclusive Christian camping began in Australia back in late 2007. I had finished school and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Eventually my Mum saw an ad seeking cooks for a local Christian campsite – no experience needed. I enjoyed cooking, so, I applied. A week or so later I went in for an interview and hours later I was offered the job!

Every Autumn and Spring this campsite ran Camp David: a 5-day camp for adults with intellectual disabilities. I hadn’t worked with people with disabilities before, so I felt quite nervous before the first camp… and then I met the campers. By the end of the week, I was in love with all of them and saw what a blessing that camp was for both them and the camp helpers. Camp David became a highlight of my year!

I worked at that campsite for 5 years in various roles. Over that time I learnt the need for people with disabilities to experience the benefits of camp: the connections, the fellowship, and adventure-based activities; activities they would rarely do in everyday life.

In 2011 an opportunity arose that would change my life forever: Christian Venues Association Australia (CVA) and Christian Camping New Zealand (CCNZ), alongside Christian Camping International Canada (CCI/Canada) planned a 2 week study tour of 26 campsites in Canada. Part of the tour included Campfire Circle. Campfire Circle (formally Camp Ooch) provides camps for children and families affected by childhood cancer. Their facilities include all the typical camp activities that you would expect to see, but with some extraordinary additions, including a hospital wing so kids could receive chemotherapy during camp. But the one thing that stood out most to me was seeing this multi-levelled high ropes course with a wheelchair ramp towering over us leading right up to the start of the first level, some 10m above the ground! All the obstacles on that level were accessible to wheelchair users. Since then I have dreamed of seeing something similar in Australia and now New Zealand.

One member of our group invited me to come to New Zealand to visit a large weekend camp for people with disabilities: Elevate National Camp. Did I mention that the trip to Canada was life changing? Well not only did I meet the famous Di Willis, get introduced to the amazing work of Elevate (then CMWDT), celebrate their 30th anniversary and became enamoured by Totara Springs Christian Centre. That weekend was also when I first met my now-husband, Mark – talk about God’s blessings!

In 2013 I moved to New Zealand to work at Totara Springs Christian Centre as an activity instructor and host (which involved hosting Elevate’s Joy Ministries camp and co-hosting National Camp). In 2019 I completed my degree in Occupational Therapy (OT) through Otago Polytechnic (of which I enrolled in largely due to a very lengthy and persuasive discussion about OT with Kirsty Armitage at a previous National Camp). Although I no longer work at a camp, I’ve stayed heavily connected to the ministry through my husband (those who have been to National camp might remember him as ‘Mork’), who continues to work full-time in Christian camping, now in Nelson.

Over the years I’ve seen and heard many stories about the impact that camp has on people. Opportunities to be challenged and try new things increased campers’ self-confidence. The intense nature and intentional community of camp created deep and meaningful relationships. Camp provided people with the opportunity to re-connect with nature, break away from routines and offered rest and rejuvenation. Christian camps are places where people learn about and draw closer to God in a way that very few other types of ministries can provide. However, I’ve also become aware that people with disabilities are missing out on these amazing life-changing opportunities.

As you may know, approximately 24% of New Zealand’s population has a disability ( However, this is not often reflected in our Christian camps or churches. Although this is not an issue isolated to Christian communities (demonstrated by the findings that children with disabilities are less likely to participate in any social event) (, it should be seen as a red flag alerting us as Christians to a very real concern: people are missing out on hearing the gospel and fellowship.

In 2020 I enrolled in a masters of Occupational Therapy and proceeded onto my thesis. Delving into the literature, reading about the importance of healthy risk-taking and adventure, learning of the benefits of including young people with disabilities within mainstream social activities, and God’s desire for the church to be one body, has strengthened my conviction on the value of inclusive Christian camping. Offering the option of attending a camp including peers with and without disabilities not only provides the above benefits of camp, but also helps facilitate genuine relationships and develops a sense of normalcy for young people in interacting and making friends with people who are not like themselves. This helps decrease the ‘us and them’ divide that historical segregation has contributed to. This in turn will mean these young people, when adults, will have greater influence upon our world, transforming Christian communities until inclusion is the norm which, hopefully, will then transform churches and Christian organisations into places of belonging for all God’s children, regardless of abilities.

Throughout this journey, I can see God’s grace and guidance, leading me to where I am now. I am so thankful and privileged to now be working with Elevate where my life experiences and academic learning can be used to support and advance God’s kingdom on earth. I am excited to be a part of the new Nelson family camp, which we are opening up to all families affected by disabilities, be that a child, sibling, spouse or parent. I am also excited to potentially work with Christian campsites across the country to help encourage, train and support them to become more inclusive. I pray for more opportunities to run even more camps – maybe a week long summer family camp? Or a youth/young adults adventure camp? – Of course, none of this can happen without God’s grace and provision and volunteers and it will be certainly taking one step at a time, but I know that God has given me this passion for a reason and I’m trusting in Him to show me the way: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105.


Siobhán Jansen works for Elevate as the Training & Seminar Coordinator and the Family Camp Coordinator. If you would like more information on our camps or you/your church would like more information on becoming more inclusive, please visit You can read Siobhán’s blog on inclusive Christian camping at www.siobhanjansen.wixsite. com/mysite.



Image of the cover of the encourager magazine issue 173 March 2022


Want to read the full magazine? Click here to read the current and previous issues or to sign up to get future issues delivered digitally to your mailbox or posted a hard copy!