JAM™ Camp Produces a Good Sport

By Lori Arnold — 19 July 2024

As a Detroit teen, C.J. Roberson was determined to use sports to prove his mettle. Outperforming his peers was just as significant as the gold medals he received. But, after attending a Christian-based camp at 16, his relationship with Jesus proved to be the ultimate prize.

At the time, C.J. was one of 70 boys who participated in the first JAM™ Camp, launched in 2017.

JAM Camp, which stands for Jesus, Athletics and Manhood, is a joint venture between Athletes in Action® and Cru® Inner City. The annual overnight camp draws teen boys to AIA®’s Xenia, Ohio headquarters, where they are coached on mental acuity challenges, team-building exercises, and leadership development activities, combined with an emphasis on Jesus. After the camps, mentors continue the process through one-on-one discipleship.

Sports camps were not new to C.J., who loved sports, playing basketball, football and running track. JAM Camp, he believed, would stress personal skill development to give him a competitive edge. He was also looking forward to spending time with other athletes.

"I went into it very casually," he said. "I got to spend the nights with my friends and hang out, play basketball every day, learn about God and have a good time."

"The camp really just put everything into perspective of knowing that, at the end of the day, whether I'm on the court or off the court, I have God in my life."

Once there, he realized spiritual growth was just as much a part of the game plan as sports technique. C.J. loved the camp experience so much that he returned the following year. He was drawn to the camp’s emphasis on developing a personal relationship with Jesus.

"The camp really just put everything into perspective of knowing that, at the end of the day, whether I'm on the court or off the court, I have God in my life," he said.

Unlike many JAM campers, C.J. entered camp having known Jesus since the age of 7, thanks to his Christian parents. But the camp experience helped forward the ball of his faith from his parent’s worldview to his own.

"As life goes on, you kind of go through a lot more hurdles and your responsibility grows, so you kind of go through a lot more challenges," C.J. said. "At that (point), I'm striving to be the best athlete I can be in three different sports."

Like many of his peers, C.J. faced the added pressure of school work and distractions of teen life, which could have derailed him. Instead, he said JAM Camp amplified his belief in Jesus.

"It kind of helped me realize that when I'm on the court, when I'm out on the field or off the court. off the field, I've got God in my corner and my relationship built even more through the camp."

"A lot of times, I'm in the moment. I'm just thinking, 'How am I going to beat my competition?’ I'm very competitive."

At the time, C.J. had no idea how much the camp would impact his future goals.

"A lot of times, I'm in the moment," he said. "I'm just thinking, 'How am I going to beat my competition?’ I'm very competitive."

C.J. went off to college, earning a degree in sports business with a minor in exercise science, ultimately becoming certified in physical therapy. He now puts his skills and faith to work at a local gym and helps with sports programming with his local YMCA.

Throughout it all, he remained faithful and is now serving his third consecutive year as a JAM Camp counselor.

"Even as a counselor, I feel very impacted — arguably more than as a camper at some moments — because I'm watching them do the same thing that I did as a young teen."

C.J. is expanding his passion through the YMCA’s SportPort program, which takes equipment and staff to local schools to increase physical activity in Detroit’s inner city.

Being a "mentor to many kids across my community is great because I just love seeing kids grow and be the best they can be," he said.

C.J. is grateful for the spiritual and professional training received during JAM Camp.

"At 16 I didn't see that vision," he said. "I didn't see it at that time. But I think God was mirroring what I would be doing. He was showing me. He was opening the doors before I even noticed."

"He was opening the doors before I even noticed."

Jaye Hill, a JAM Camp leader since its inception, said C.J.’s age and program experience make him a vital part of the ministry team.

"The kids look at him a lot differently because he understands it," Hill said. "His relationship with God is most important.

"He developed his relationship on another level, you know, by being a part of JAM."

Unlike most other students enrolled in JAM Camp, C.J. grew up in the church and knew who Jesus was before attending.

"He was always a polite, great young man," Jaye said. "But he gravitated to his own personal relationship with Jesus. JAM Camp was one of the pieces to the puzzle that helped him gain that perspective and know the importance of spending time with God on and off a field or a court."

When he’s not involved with JAM Camp, C.J. is a personal trainer for the YMCA.

"He's done summer programs where he was the lead and he's used some of the principles that he learned from JAM Camp."

Jaye said the faith-based sports program has given the former camper a new perspective as he helps to shape the spiritual growth of the teens. He "fell in love with them because they were able to see God and not C.J."

"We have kids that don't know Jesus get to know Jesus," Jaye said. "Kids that might know Jesus a little bit but understand the relationship and the importance of it even more, and even kids that say that they know God."

•  •  •


Lori ArnoldLori Arnold serves as the senior writer for Cru's inner-city ministry.


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