Mena Girgis admits that when he went to All Nations Camp for the first time, he was simply looking for a good time.
As it turns out, the Egyptian-born Girgis found something far more important — a personal relationship with the Lord.
Attending All Nations Camp in Linden, Tennessee, with some of his friends six years ago, Girgis made a profession of faith — and his whole life changed, he said.
“Basically, when I came in, it was me and a couple of my pals and we — I’m just being dead honest — we were just there to have fun,” he said. “My head was really just in the clouds.”
But during the week, Girgis heard something that registered with him: God will never betray us. “And that thought really simmered in my head. So, two days before camp was over, I prayed (the sinner’s prayer).”
Now, as a 19-year old, Girgis’ spiritual journey has come full circle.
He has returned to All Nations Camp, serving as camp counselor at Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center, where he’s hoped to pour into the campers the same way that the leaders poured into him when he was younger.
“(The year when I came to camp for the first time), my backstory wasn’t really that great,” he said. “Bad family, bad history. Just bad everything. I wasn’t really connected to God back then because I was like, ‘If God didn’t give me the good stuff, then why should I trust him?”
But Girgis’ perspective began to change during that week at camp.
He said he learned that “when you follow God, God doesn’t promise you to have amazing things in life. He does promise challenges, but you come out of those challenges to be a better man,” he said.
Although he had no real interest in spiritual things as a boy, Girgis started attending an Arabic Baptist church, where pastor Nathan Awad took an interest in Girgis.
It was Awad who asked Girgis if he would be interested in attending All Nations Camp, and he accepted the offer. It was the first year that the church had sent campers to ANC.
“Mena was a good kid,” Awad said. “Since the very first time that I met with him, I could tell that he was okay with bearing responsibility. And apparently the Lord had been dealing with him in a special way.”
“This was the work of the Holy Spirit,” he added. “(It was apparent) that he was different from the other kids.”
Seeing Girgis make a profession of faith — and then seeing his life transformed — has been rewarding for those who have seen him mature, both physically and spiritually.
‘Call out the called’
William Burton, ethnic church planting specialist and new churches team leader for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, has watched it unfold.
“At camp, we were asking the Lord to call out the called,” said Burton, “and to call out the preachers and the missionaries. And (Girgis) was one of those who answered the invitation that night. He came forward and prayed.
“When he got up from the altar, I put my arm around him and he looked at me and he pointed to the pulpit. And with great determination, he said, ‘One day I’m going to preach in this place.’ ”
Although Girgis isn’t a preacher — not yet, at least — he has certainly embraced his role as a camp counselor. Girgis refers to those in his group as “his boys” and said he has loved every minute of this opportunity.
“It’s amazing, definitely,” he said. “Especially with my boys. I always have fun with them and everything. But I’m also sure to ask them, ‘Okay, so what did you guys learn today?’ ”