Bible Camp Reflections
My Summer at Rainbow Trail
As I reflect back on my experiences this summer I realize how difficult it will be to paint a full picture of all I have done. So, lest I try and end up creating a banal “novel”, I will tell a small tale from the summer.
One story that comes to mind comes from my first week of camp. After two weeks of staff training we are set to begin the first week of camp. The campers pick us as their counselors and we begin to settle into the cabin. As we sit down for dinner later that night I strike up a conversation with one of my campers, who we will call “Ben“. Ben is a rather shy boy on first appearance but as our conversation bounces around all the things 12 year old boys are interested in, Ben begins to come out of his shell.
As a counselor it is my responsibility to ensure that campers who need medications get their medications regularly. The next morning I am informed that Ben has multiple behavioral disorders, including bi-polar and ADD. As a counselor in my first week who is still learning how things function at camp, I brace for how Ben may struggle interacting with the other campers. I spend the next couple of days keeping an eye on Ben in social situations in order to watch for issues dealing with other kids. Ben gets along very well with all the other campers in the cabin and is generally a great kid.
Thursday is hike day for the campers and so the campers and I get all our gear and set out on a nine mile hike. The hike we are undertaking is not an easy hike and I anticipate that some of the campers may complain as we trek up the mountain. As I begin hiking I fall into conversation with Ben. We begin talking about the outdoors and Ben tells me at great length about the hiking trips he has been on with his grandparents and his scout troop. I tell him about my experiences hiking in scouts and with family. In no time we are at the top of the ridge, where we rest for a couple of hours. As we begin our descent down, I get into a conversation with Ben again. At first we discuss lighter matters and joke around but as we hike further the conversation turns to deeper things. Ben tells me he is bi-polar and that he has ADD. He tells me about his experiences getting in fights and arguments with other kids when he was younger and reveals just how difficult it is to cope and overcome these disorders. He tells me about how he has had trouble making friends over the years.
After this the conversation turns a major corner. After a little while of walking along Ben says to me, “I know now that there is nothing solved through fighting, fighting is stupid, I only use my words now”. He finished by saying, “Everything can be solved by talking”. While these may seem like obvious ideas to many of us, I was floored when I heard them.
I was never more proud of a camper all summer than when I heard Ben say these things because I knew of the years of struggle he had gone through to get to this point. Bipolar disorder and ADD are two disorders that affect a person’s ability to interact with others. To hear Ben speak these fundamental human truths, after hearing all he has overcome was one of the most powerful things I experienced all summer.
The litany of experiences and interactions I have to choose from is vast and difficult to narrow down. The thread that ties them together is that each anecdote brings out the shared goodness in humanity that is in all of us. I really came to realize that each person has something to contribute to this world, however humble that contribution may be.
I would like to thank St. Olaf and the Lilly program for making it possible for me to work at Rainbow Trail this past summer. It was truly a summer of growth for me personally but, more importantly, an opportunity to strengthen and learn more about my faith. I have an immense amount of respect and appreciation for all the work the CEL at St. Olaf does. You provide an invaluable resource for students like myself. Thank you!
If I never knew what full was, I wouldn't be able to understand empty. If I hadn't been cold, I wouldn't know how to recognize warmth. This summer I was in Holden Village, a place that I have heard best described as mountain resort/hippy commune/church camp. I ran the village ice cream bar, where I
worked with a crew of volunteers that changed from day to day. Managing a production that runs entirely on volunteers was not an easy task, but it was a fun one. However valuable the skills I learned on the job are, the most important learning that I did took place off the books.
I generally like to think myself as a levelheaded, reasonable, independent individual. I'm on my fourth year living away from home, going into my sophomore year of college, and I've learned how to take care of myself. I still do have one very bad habit. Whenever I encounter a problem that I don't understand, or assume is bigger than my capability to handle it, I tend to pretend it isn't there. I make it invisible and force it from my mind. This can happen occasionally when I don't look at an assignment because I'm afraid of what kind of time commitment it will ask of me; I would rather not know and just suffer in the wee hours of the morning when I'm finally forced to do it. On a homework scale it's usually manageable, and I know myself well enough to recognize when I'm avoiding a difficult task. It only becomes a problem when it takes place on a large scale—like not looking at my loans, or sitting down and seriously thinking about my major. These problems I stuff in the recesses of my mind until I've blown them into a giant murky shadow that I would rather not encounter. These problems accumulate over years. If I were smarter I would sit down and take a good hard look at them until I could cut them down into more manageable sizes. But I don't—I learn how to forget about them. I had been doing this all year, and hadn't realized it until I got to Holden.
Holden Village is a balm for the tired mind. Surrounded by a dynamic, yet understanding community is like coming home after a vacation that dragged on a bit too long. In Holden I was given respite from the mad pace of the school year, but challenged in an intellectually stimulating environment. Into the course of the summer, I realized that being in this place was helping me encounter the shadows of my problems. I was taking them apart without realizing it. Over the past year I had slowly accrued a load of stress about how I was going to be able to pay for college. I had also begun to formulate dreams about what I wanted to be doing in life, but I didn't know how to reach them. This summer, by being immersed in a lively and loving community, I was able to steady my fears enough to look my life in the face. I was able to square up and say, "Here I am. Here are my dreams. How can I make this happen?" Getting to this point took a frustrating amount of time and courage. But Holden offered both of those things in copious amounts, so I've come up with a semblance of a plan. I'm meeting with different departments, mapping out some of my ideas to make them feasible. I'm working to make it possible for me to complete a major in Chinese and also enter into the nursing program and take a fifth year. I'm ready to take charge of my future. I've still got my flexibility, but I know that if I don't make decisions for myself now, my hand will be forced. I'm going to pay for this education that I'm getting, and I'm going to put it to work.
Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp
“Was this summer’s experience valuable and how did it relate to your sense of vocation?” The first half of this question is one of the easiest questions I’ve had to answer in a long time. My answer is an emphatic “yes, spending the summer as a camp counselor at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp was an extremely valuable experience!” It was an experience that I believe actually deserves to be described as invaluable. The challenge for me now is to put into words an invaluable and overwhelming summer of experiences. Since returning from camp I have been asked many times by friends and professors how my summer was. Usually the smile says it all, but now it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to share with readers the reasons and memories behind the smile, and the ways in which camp shaped my sense of vocation.
I’d like to begin by sharing a quote from St. Francis of Assisi that is on the back of all of our staff shirts this year. It reads, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” This quote shows the most fundamental way in which working as a camp counselor related to my sense of vocation. Preaching the Gospel at all times with one’s actions is a vocation that cuts across specific jobs and academic backgrounds. Though this may seem like an obvious statement, it is one that I believe deserves attention and further exploration. One does not major in “Christian Love”, nor check the classifieds for the select few openings in “loving thy neighbor.” To put it in St. Olaf terms, the class “Preparing for Lives of Worth and Service 121” does not exist, and yet “Preparing students for lives of worth and service” is inscribed in the academic handbook as one of the central focuses of the institution. But how then do I learn vocation? Where do I apply to have a vocation? My answer is that I need only to look at the back of my staff t-shirt. My answer is that I learn about vocation everywhere, that I let all of my classes and experiences contribute to my sense of vocation. My answer is not that I never apply for a vocation, but that I always apply vocation to wherever I work.
There are two examples from my summer that I think relate to applying vocation to a task, rather than seeking a specific task that is somehow vocational in nature. Counselors at Flathead do a variety of different jobs throughout the summer, and these jobs change on a weekly basis. One Friday afternoon, after the campers from that week had left, my “work project” assignment was to go kayaking. I was going to lead a kayaking trip the next week, so it was my “job” to go out on the lake on a beautiful and sunny Friday afternoon and kayak. A few weeks later I was on grounds crew, and by 9 a.m. the sewer system was completely backed up. It was now my job to help clean-up and to dig in the dirt to get to a clogged and full sewer tank. The contrast between these two jobs is not exactly subtle, but it is important. What is most important, and what I believe ties these two tasks together, is that I wore the same t-shirt at the beginning of both weeks. It is why I smiled when I was kayaking, and it is why, believe it or not, I smiled when I was digging out a sewer tank. A sense of vocation was something I brought with me to both of these tasks, and it was grounded in something outside of these tasks. It was and is grounded in the people working next to me, and in the two short sentences on the back of that t-shirt. And it’s why as I’m writing this now, I’m still smiling.
A Summer in the Mountains
Weeks before our first campers would drive into sight on the unkempt Boulder Road, my fellow counselors and I had spent hours rehearsing and preparing for what a summer teaching God’s story might hold in store. It was essential that I’d be ready to meet any and all situations that might arise while campers were under my charge. What I didn’t realize was that no matter how much I was learning about how to lead bible study and regardless of how well I could navigate the surrounding Absorka-Beartooth Mountains; my biggest discovery would come from watching those around me.
This vocation exploration, contrary to what I’d imagined, left me feeling lost in a forest of potential options. I left home last May hoping to hone in on my true calling based on this Christikon, mountaintop experience. But what I found was something completely reversed. My once seemingly desperate search for answers to where I might be headed over the course of the next few years wasn’t narrowed. In fact, it now seems that hundreds of new doors have opened.
What doors, you might ask? Since my first moments at St. Olaf, I’ve pursued a profession in the medical field. For some time now, my focus has been on going to physical therapy school- or something similar. Pieces of me, however, don’t lend themselves to this trade. Characteristically I’m shy and need a nudge when introduced into a new environment. Spending a summer at camp was going to give me great practice at the personal interactions from which physical therapists build patients trust, and thus their career off of. While I grew socially beyond what I previously considered tangible, the learning curve didn’t stop there.
Not only did I quickly become comfortable with new people, but I learned to take the role of a leader. Heading up backpacks in mountainous terrain was a daunting task at first thought. At times, groups of eight to twelve people would be under my authority. Frankly, there were instances when I thought that woods would get the best of me. But in the end, I learned an altered love of nature. For twenty years I’ve called Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes my backyard and craved the high country minimally. Just weeks after returning home, I long to roam amongst the rocky peaks and trout-ridden brooks once more. Working as a guide in the backcountry, teaching others of its beauty sounds almost irresistible.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most religious person at St. Olaf. Making it to church on Sunday morning doesn’t always rank above getting homework done or even catching the end of a Vikings game. Hearing this statement would make it hard to believe that I’d ever consider working within the church. Being around 5 soon-to-be pastors and youth director each week made it obvious that being a leader in the church doesn’t always mean teaching conformation or preaching sermons to congregations. It can mean something as simple as exposing troubled youth to the saving grace of God by way of exploring his creation.
Leaving Christikon this summer brought to a close the best experience of my entire life. Cliché, but true. As I continue into my third year of college, many of the lessons and people I met this summer remain close to my heart. I truly am not sure where to go next; but that frankly doesn’t bother me right now. Not because I’m apathetic or lazy- but because I’ve seen how wonderful life can turn out regardless of the career path I choose. It’s unreasonable to think we can remain indecisive in all aspects of daily life. There are times and places where it is indeed necessary to limit the size and scope of the choices that we need to make. But keeping our minds open to change and allowing a plethora of new options to infiltrate our conscience can be a life changing experience. It was for me.
Was this summer’s experience valuable and how did it relate to your sense of vocation?
This past summer, I had the privilege to lead teenage youth on wilderness adventure trips in northern Minnesota through YMCA Camp Menogyn. I led youth from a variety of backgrounds, but the most memorable trips were those spent with the youth who had never experienced life outside of a city. These groups helped me gain a humble delight of the world around as well as a more direct sense of vocation for my future.
“I’ve never seen that before,” mumbled one of my campers between bites of his dinner. The sun had just dropped behind the tree-lined horizon in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and I was looking around for some strange event that this camper was witnessing for the first time. Not seeing anything spectacular, I questioned him, “Never seen what before?”
“I’ve never actually watched the sun go away like that,” the fifteen-year-old camper responded. The camper’s separation to the natural cycles of the planet shocked me. Being present for so many campers’ first time interactions with the wild world has grounded my view of the natural things around me. Constant stimulation and surroundings tend to numb our senses as humans. Living in the city for a long time, one stops noticing the incessant hum of traffic or the amazing architecture of a sky scraper. Vis-à-vis, life in the woods tends to dull one’s senses to the call of the loon or amazing night star-scape. Thanks to my campers, my sense of amazement of the world did not falter, but only grew stronger. In between counting shooting stars and diving peregrine falcons, I also had a lot of time to reflect on my life.
This summer helped me to explore my interests in vocation by allowing me to live in a natural area free of power lines and roads while having ample time to think about my future goals. Going into the summer, I was coming off a long semester of switching degrees left and right. Starting as a pre-med student, I finally landed on being a political science and environmental studies major. The switch was like pushing the restart button on my search for vocation. But, after learning the history of the preservation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, my interest in attending law school to learn more about the use of natural resources was increased. Also, living in a wild area so free of direct influence from humans, yet still suffering the effects of global warming influenced my strengthening dedication to attend law school.
This summer was valuable to me personally and professionally. I changed as a person due to the teenage boys I guided around, taking on their childish awe of the world around them. My job at camp also gave me the professional experience that has allowed me to want to commit my life to serving the beautiful planet we inhabit.
Before I came to St. Olaf I spent my entire life in East Africa. Moving to St. Olaf and the USA was, to say the least, a bit of an adjustment. During the summers I usually go to Tanzania, giving me some time with family, and a chance to be at home. However, after much deliberation, I decided to spend this past summer working at Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp in Amery, Wisconsin. This decision would of course limit the time I could spend in Tanzania and at home during the summer. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive.
Arriving at Camp WAPO I quickly found a strong community of counselors and staff, with a similar outlook on life to my own. It is a powerful experience to be surrounded by people with similar passions, hopes and beliefs in life. I was able to engage in intense discussions of faith, philosophy and theology on a regular basis with a number of other counselors, exploring significant questions together. The memories and friendships built up around Camp WAPO will last long into the future.
Working with campers each week taught me a great deal about myself. One of the more difficult parts of working with middle school girls was trying to balance a sense of authority when needed and being a friend and mentor at other times. I was significantly struck by the number of girls at camp who had experienced personally or indirectly some sort of abuse. I am currently in training to become a SARN advocate on St. Olaf campus and am working towards being a resource in the future, to these girls, and so many like them that have experienced some kind of abuse. Both SARN and the experiences at camp this summer relate to my interest in working in public health in the future, possibly with women’s health.
Looking back at my time at Camp WAPO, it exceeded my expectations in so many ways. I found an unforgettable community of counselors, I was challenged with a new sense of responsibility and a renewed desire to be a resource for young women in need.
Every time I have worn my WAPO sweatshirt around St. Olaf campus, I have had someone come up to me and say, “Hey! I went there!” establishing a connection around this incredible place I was so fortunate to spend my summer. Camp WAPO’s connections spread far and around the globe even back to Tanzania, where my neighbors know the camp’s executive director. Making the decision to stay and work at WAPO this summer may have kept me from spending time at home in Tanzania, but it allowed me to find a fabulous community, a renewed passion for women’s health and a new home, for the first time, in the USA. Where do I plan on spending next summer? Lake Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp Inc.
Bats and mice and squirrels: Oh my! Bats frequented Friendship dining hall as did mouse poop on the tables. One day during staff training I walked my empty tray up to the dish window after a meal only to be hit with a large blur of fur as a loose squirrel jumped out and off my leg. The cabins, complete with critters, were in such a state that I seriously contemplated sleeping in my car or escaping to a Super 8. I can still too easily flash back to the night I called my mom, blinded by tears, on the verge of quitting. I will not be returning to Camp Onomia ever again.
Despite the many less than stellar aspects of camp, my time there was still an invaluable experience. I learned skills, which I am already applying in my various roles of vocation and calling: junior counselor, social work major, and aspiring therapist for college students. At both my interview for camp counselor and junior counselor, I openly admitted that my strength was working with younger children – infants through early elementary. However, as a social work major who loved my human development class and who wants to eventually counsel college youth, I wanted to push my comfort level and learn how to lead and work with older youth – those in middle school, high school, and young adults. I saw camp as the perfect warm-up for being a JC. Most weeks I led or co-led a small group of girls ranging in ages from first to 8th grade, with the occasional weeks of doing maintenance work, serving food in the kitchen, or playing with toddlers in the nursery.
While I recognized my own leadership growth throughout the summer, it wasn’t until leading my first corridor meeting as a St. Olaf junior counselor that I realized how confident I had become as a leader. Normally, being in front of a room full of freshmen close to my age would be painfully intimidating. However, I found myself sitting amongst them during week one and speaking with poise and comfort, well accustomed to leading group discussions and facilitating meetings. Several of my fellow JC staff members, including my roommate, were also camp counselors this summer. After chatting together after our first corridor meetings, we discovered that the sense of preparedness and confidence from our summer camp experiences was mutual. This was likely my one and only summer I could afford to be a camp counselor. While the run-down, critter-infested camp environment is not something to reminisce about, the friendships and skills I gained from interacting with fellow staff members and campers are blessings I will always cherish and hope to never forget.
Quote from my summer journal entry dated July 9, 2008:
“…I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this. I mean, right now I am sitting in a meadow of flowers, we have found a perfect campsite, I am listening to a charming, bubbling stream that sounds pretty fast due to the snow melt, underneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I love it. I even figured out what the smell of camp is: pine and dirt. And the smell on trail is damp grass, stinky feet, and old Ramen noodles. This is great…”
Initially, I had planned on writing this reflection while I was still in the midst of summer; while I was currently “working” (a term I say loosely, because I still can’t believe that I got paid to do what I did this summer). But I suppose this journal entry will have to suffice. In a nutshell, it was my fourth week out on trail with nine 9th grade girls. To say the least, it was quite an interesting week!
This past summer I had the fortunate sense to return to the camp I had previously worked at last summer: Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp. Situated in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southwestern Colorado, it is by far the most beautiful place that I have ever been.
Rather than returning as a main-site counselor, I got to be part of the Compass Points Guide Team, a.k.a. a backpack guide—which meant we took mostly high school church youth groups on overnight backpacking trips in the San Isabella National Forest. We were also lucky enough to do service projects, go rock climbing, and white-water rafting. While this summer was probably one of the most adventure-filled and physically demanding summers that I have ever experienced, it was also an extraordinary time where I learned an incredible amount about kids, people, God, and what it means to be challenged, challenge others, and overcome adversity.
When you are on trail, it is easy to see God. Hiking in the middle of nowhere, gazing at pristine mountain views, it is simply natural to see God’s craftsmanship. When you carry everything you need for five days on your back, barriers within groups are broken down. The lack of ipods and cell phones do not matter because you have people to talk with and get to know. Not only do you see God in the scenery, but you see him through each other as well. It was truly a blessing to witness youth groups come together and bond over the course of six days.
One of my favorite groups from this summer was the Junior High Open. Instead of coming to camp with an established youth group, these kids showed up not knowing any of the other campers in the group. Not only were they unattached, they were also the youngest age group that we take out on trail. Without fail, we experienced every awkward and glorious nomenclature that goes along with being in middle school: we had five seventh grade boys and one eighth grade girl who was about a foot taller and two years more mature than all of us.
But the week was incredible! Though shaky in some places, we were able to peak a mountain on the second day and on our last night we did a night hike by headlamp. It was cool; but they were even cooler. For me, they represented the entire summer; the ability and challenge to come together as a group, see the good in others, and ask tough questions about God that they hadn’t before. Though they were very different people, they respected each other, and we ended up having some surprisingly deep bible studies and devotions. It is safe to say that we had a few “mountain-top” experiences, though not all of them were on mountains.
This summer I felt strengthened and found myself becoming more of a leader and problem solver. More importantly, I felt renewed in life and in my faith, especially in the transition form summer to the hectic school year. It’s easy to find God in the mountains, but what about the real “wilderness?” the one of every-day life? This summer helped solidify that I believe I am called to work with kids and share Jesus’ message with them; a message of love. I am thankful for the Lilly Bible Camp stipend for enabling me to return to camp. I encourage others who are considering camp to go for it! You will find yourself serving others and being served as well. I have so many stories, too many in fact, that I cannot begin to describe my full summer experience on paper; but it certainly was a radical one!
One of my favorite camp songs was from Psalm 121, I love the beauty of the words:
I lift my eyes up to the mountains
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from You
Maker of heaven, creator of the earth.
Oh how I need You Lord
You are my only hope
You’re my only prayer
So I will wait for You
To come and rescue me
To come and give me life.
Growing up in a wholesome household with nurturing parents has its disadvantages. One gets fed up with "wholesomeness." One of the consequences of my upbringing was a disenchantment with concepts like fulfillment, calling, and vocation. Hearing my parents´ hopes for my future, whatever that might be, elicited eye-rolling and weariness rather than an attitude of gratitude. I never really had confidence that I´d find an avenue of service that would bring me satisfaction, some niche that called on my specific skills. However, in working in outdoor ministry, I´ve discovered vocation to be a reality that exists beyond rhetoric.
The summer of 2008 found me serving as program coordinator at Camp Lutherwood Ministries in the wilds of Oregon. Lutherwood is the only Lutheran camp in the state of Oregon and is located somewhere between Eugene and the middle of nowhere. The camp features a rockwall, a variety of low ropes courses, a creek, endless hiking trails, a mudpit, and a brand-spankin´-new outdoor swimming pool. Though relatively small, Lutherwood draws campers from across the state and beyond.
Working at Camp Lutherwood is an opportunity for me to share some of the love that I felt growing up with kids who don´t necessarily feel loved at home. Love is key. Our purpose as a camp staff is to let our campers know that they are loved. God has an incredible love for those kids from which they can never be separated. Try as we might to explain, the significance of that love kind of bounces off a fifth grader.
So, not only do we tell them, we show them that that they are loved. We listen to their stories, we admire their drawings, we gasp with them at the coldness of the water, and marvel with them at the intricacies of a crawdad´s face. Together we delight in the smell of food roasting in the coals of a campfire and together we laugh when our feast falls in the dirt. We pretend that there´s a sasquatch up the trail and jump when someone steps on a stick. Together we stand in a chirping field and gape at the stars. We ask question upon question, and so do they, and we don´t expect to find all the answers. We share our faiths with our campers; we pray with them and for them. They listen intently to our passions and our dreams, and we to their dilemmas and fears. We share tales of our adventures over meals together. We sweat together, and challenge each other -- climb mountains together.
All this and more. We call it relational ministry, and it is the best way I know to share the love of God with a child. I´ve seen it change lives.
One evening, after a full day of creek-walking and rock-climbing, my coworker and I were building a fire in preparation for our vespers service. Adding another layer to our log cabin, she turned to me and said, "I can´t imagine another job where I could work as hard and long as I do now, and still find myself willing to work harder. How is it possible to be so fulfilled amidst such a crazy workload?"
I felt the same way, but I couldn´t answer her question. Working at camp can be exhausting, but only physically. I´ve never found myself more spiritually and emotionally renewed than when I´m at camp. It could be the relentless joy that permeates Camp Lutherwood or it could be my faith in the importance of the work we do. I can´t pin down quite what it is, but something about camp has got me reckoning that vocation exists, and more than that, that I have one. Outdoor ministry just sort of clicks with me -- Bonheoffer style. I´ve no idea how far outdoor ministry will take me, but not knowing the road ahead makes for more of an adventure.
This summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to work another summer at Camp Onomia, a smaller Lutheran Bible camp located in the middle of Minnesota. Having worked there the previous summer, I kind of knew what to expect when to the daily routine and such. However, different from the first year when I arrived knowing nobody, this year I was one of the few returning members, which automatically put me in a leadership position. The first year, of course I was a leader for the campers, but now I was also a leader among the staff, which was cool, but slightly scary as well! I've never been one for leadership positions, such as student body president or a leader of a school group. Usually, I'm the one who stays in the background, waiting for instructions, and I then follow out those instructions without hesitation. Now, though, I was the one giving those instructions and it was so cool! I really embraced my leadership position, especially the first week of the summer when I was put in charge of the day camp group.
It was a little nerve-wracking being in charge because it was a new church for my camp, so we had to impress them, and it was also the first week of the summer, meaning none of us had really had much experience working with the Bible study, it was still pretty new to us. Nevertheless, our day camp group excelled with our campers. They were an energetic group and I think we handled it to the best of our abilities, and most importantly, the kids had fun! (So did we, of course!)
Overall, I think the most important thing I took away from working at Camp Onomia is confidence in myself. At camp, I feel like I can really be loud, crazy self that loves working with kids and other staff members while teaching about God at the same time. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with my cousin this summer and he definitely noticed the difference in my personality. I love how comfortable I feel at camp, and how open I can be among others. Being able to work the second summer really helped to reinforce the things I learned about myself the first summer, and now I feel like I am much more talkative in class, much more open to new situations, and more comfortable with meeting new people. It makes me realize that in the future I can be a leader in whatever I decide to do, whether it’s working with kids or with other adults.
I really appreciate receiving the Lilly Program’s Bible Camp Stipend because it really made it possible for me to work a second summer at one of my favorite places in the world! Without this second summer, I don’t know if I could say that I would have the leadership skills that I learned. So really, thank you very much for choosing me as one of the recipients!
In 4th grade I asked my mom to register me for summer Bible camp in Colorado. I had an amazing time that first camp week and I proceeded to return to camp for four more summers. Five states and five years later I was at St Olaf College deciding how I would gainfully employ myself for the summer. My mom suggested working at Camp Metigoshe in North Dakota. I had never heard of Metigoshe, but soon I had applied, given a phone interview, and received a contract in the mail. Being a camper, I had dreamed of becoming a counselor. Here I was with the opportunity and so I sent in the signed contract.
Sending in that contract was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made. Being a camper was fun, but being a counselor was infinitely more rewarding. For the first time in my life, I entered into a vibrant, semi- isolated, community of 45 college kids, whose only commonality was the love of summer Bible camp. Each counselor was unique, and in the “real” world, we probably would not all be friends. At Metigoshe, though, we were bonded. When you spend 24 hours a day for three months with the same people, you get to know them very well, and you get to love them very much.
In the same way every staff member was near to my heart, each camper was an incredible blessing. Through the various types of programs offered at Metigoshe, I had the privilege of leading a wide range of camp experiences. I got to know kids ranging in age from kindergarten through senior year in high school, adults with developmental disabilities, children from the Dunseith reservation, parents, and grandparents. Every person, no matter where she is from or what his background, has a plethora of gifts to offer the world. Realizing this universal potential has helped open my eyes and view everyone I meet in the same light; that is, “This person is a member of God’s creation, and they have the ability of unlimited good works.”
During spring break when the Lilly Foundation asked the participants of Ole Spring Relief 3 to answer questions, I had a difficult time with understanding the word vocation. But at Metigoshe, through the culmination of having 45 new best friends, knowing that everyone in this world is valuable, and developing my opinions on social justice issues through staff Bible studies, I got it. This Rob Bell quote states what I model my idea of vocation from, “For Jesus this new kind of life in him is not about escaping this world but about making it a better place, here and now. The goal for Jesus isn’t to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here.” My vocation is not just for my future, is not just a part of my career. My vocation is how I choose to live my life, here and in coming years, acting and influencing all I can to help others and make this world a brighter, better place.
Sugar Creek Bible Camp, Ferryville, WI
I will attempt to sum up my summer experience at Sugar Creek Bible Camp: Was it the patience I learned, waiting for 3rd graders to get their backpacks packed, listening to them insist that they didn’t need a jacket for that night’s campfire? Was it the persistence I found when I was extraordinarily tired, frustrated that there were (heaven forbid) counselors that had more ability than I did? Was it when I refused to complain about my exhaustion and my lack of motivation and decided to pray instead? Was it the intimate, multiple-hour conversations with other counselors, where I found the strength to share issues on my heart that I have never been able to share before? Was it the celebration in my soul that I felt when I sang at worship—seeing that indeed others were moved as I was? That I, Beth Reynolds, was indeed a messenger of the Lord’s message, and was succeeding in relaying that message? Was it when I could finally let go of my stage fright and trust God that God had given me a vocal gift and presented this opportunity to sing at all-camp worship? I find that I cannot condense my experience even to one word—there were high and low parts to this summer that, together, made it such an amazing, growth-filled summer.
The growth that I experienced this summer heavily influenced my understanding of my vocation, not to mention a greater understanding of myself and of my life. My Sugar Creek Bible Camp experience changed my sense of vocation as I have begun to recognize the biggest challenges in my vocation and confirm my need to work in close interdependence with other people.
This summer, I discovered that motivating myself to have the energy and initiative to carry out my vocational goals is extremely difficult. One of the most wonderful yet difficult parts of camp is that I was doing a job that was based on my personal faith. Camp is the easiest place to grow my faith—it was my very job to be connected with my creator so that I could be an authentic vessel of God’s message to campers. How awesome is that—in a way, it was my job to diligently tend to my personal relationship with God. As a counselor, my job was ultimately much easier if I incorporate God into every bit of my life at camp—personally as well as with campers. As great as this is, it is also extremely challenging. To keep up this relationship with God all the time is difficult beyond words. The temptation to complain and wallow in my exhaustion rather than pray about problems was, at times, very strong. For example, I can remember one Thursday, the day before campers were to go home. It was time for me to take my daily hour-long break, which I was very grateful to have—my impatience with my 3rd grade campers had been building throughout the day and I had lately been feeling exceptionally insufficient as a counselor. I had no desire to pray and ask God to help me through this, I was upset and just wanted to be alone. This was one time when it was quite a challenge to motivate myself that this was my job at Sugar Creek—to talk to God, even if I didn’t want to. This summer’s camp experience considerably opened my eyes and gave me a glimpse of what it really means to live out this vocational mission statement. I have begun to learn what these words really mean when they are put into action, and it is really hard, but totally worth it.
One of the main things I discovered this summer was the importance of working in interdependence with others. I worked alongside or underneath other counselors all summer long. It was tempting for me either to take complete control over group activities or to completely let go and not take leadership initiative. Finding a balance between these two extremes has always been difficult for me, and this summer I got the opportunity to work on it. During training we were told that no one could be “super counselor,” and I noticed this every single week. As a cabin counselor, I depended heavily on the kitchen staff and on the support staff to provide food, new ideas, problem troubleshooting, and new energy to my cabin group. When I was on support staff, I could see that there was a need to help other cabin counselors and to lead all-camp worships, and I had the ability to fulfill these roles. Because I didn’t have specific campers to watch out for when I was on support staff, I was a lot more relaxed and energetic around the campers. Reflecting back on my camp experience, I can see the need for complementary roles and talents among a staff, and how these different gifts work beautifully together in their interdependence.
Because of this summer, I know that I want to work closely with and among people for the rest of my life. As difficult and frustrating as it can be at times to depend on others or not be able to “run the show” by myself, the spiritual connection and the self-esteem boost I receive from working closely with others is a mind-blowing reward. This summer helped me to appreciate challenges even more— challenges and difficulties are incredibly necessary and offer the opportunity for unimaginable growth. And it is awesome to see that transformation within myself because of the difficulties I endured as a camp counselor. I am incredibly grateful to the Lily Grant Bible camp stipend for easing my camp experience financially, and I am so glad that others can share in this stipend gift as well.
North Central Camp Cherith
The stars glistened in the clear, night sky as I gradually wandered back to my cabin my last night at North Central Camp Cherith. Every night this past summer I would take advantage of the few quiet minutes on my walk back to my cabin to reflect on the struggles and joys that I confronted that day. While I am interested in pursuing a career in public health I didn’t feel led to work at a health-care related job or internship this past summer, but instead I felt called to work at North Central Camp Cherith in Frazee, Minnesota.
A few weeks after accepting a camp counselor position at North Central, the director contacted me and asked if I would be willing to fill a higher leadership role this summer, the division director for middle school girls. As a division director I was not only responsible for around thirty girls each week, but also for the girls’ counselors, as well as meeting daily with other administrative staff at camp. While I was a little anxious about the greater responsibility that this position would entail, I began to begun excited for the opportunities this new position could bring.
Instead of the typical challenges a camp counselor faces each day, I was approached with issues ranging from discipline problems to gossiping middle-school girls, and mediating conflicts between the staff under my supervision. The various challenges I dealt with this summer helped me to understand my strength as a leader in administrative positions and my desire to use these leadership skills in my future career.
This past summer was full of unexpected opportunities. From my promotion to a higher position at camp to the late night calls from a counselor having problems with a camper, I learned how to thrive on change and take on unexpected responsibilities. I am thankful that the Lilly Foundation allowed me to fill a need at North Central Camp Cherith this summer. I am confident that my experience as a division director gave me insight into myself that many health-care jobs could not have. My memories from camp this summer continue help me to see how the gifts I have been given and the needs of others can work together to become a vocation that is of service to others.
I am a planner. I am relaxed only when I know what is coming; unfortunately for me, life isn’t something I can plan out. Going into the summer, I was positive of what I wanted to do with my life – I wanted to become an elementary teacher. Having worked with elementary aged children in both school and camp settings, I knew that I enjoyed working with them. My plan was to spend the summer working with them again at North Central Camp Cherith. However, things didn’t quite work out the way I had planned.
I was contacted shortly before camp began and asked if I would consider working with high school campers for the entirety of the summer. After considering it, I denied the offer, confident that I didn’t need much experience with older age groups because I already knew I wanted to work with elementary aged children. However, once I arrived at camp, I discovered that we were short on staff for middle and high school campers. I knew that my purpose at camp was not to simply fulfill my desires. Instead, I was there to help and serve in any capacity I was able. I volunteered myself to work with any age group.
Out of the five weeks of camp, I spent two working with high school campers, one with middle school campers, and two with elementary campers. I was very hesitant going into working with the older age groups, as I did not believe that working with them would be aiding me in my future career goals. However, I was completely surprised. I found that I actually preferred to work with older students in a relaxed camp environment. Late night games, serious talks about faith and life, and correspondence that has extended throughout the year are not things that ever happened with my younger campers. The weeks I spent with the older campers were my favorite weeks of camp I’ve had.
I also learned something else. I initially didn’t think I needed to work with other age groups when I knew I wanted to eventually teach elementary aged students. However, by working with older campers, I realized how confident I am in my desire to teach elementary students. While I loved working with older campers in a camp setting, my passion is still for elementary students in the classroom. Without taking the risk of working with a new age group, I would have never known this. I can now enter grad school to get a Masters of Arts in Elementary Education much more confident than I was before this summer.
In the end, the summer was nothing like I had planned. Like usual, however, the things that didn’t go as I had planned actually taught me something and made me realize that a life planned out really well is a life that does not lend itself to changes and learning experiences. The Lilly Grant stipend I received allowed me to work at camp this summer, which allowed me to gain experience working with a variety of age groups and allowed me to discern more clearly my future plans.
Luke Dueffert, Christikon
Sugar Creek Bible Camp, Ferryville, WI