Sun-filled days. Splashing water. New adventures. Smiling faces. Changing lives. These memory flashes are small glimpses of what the conference-sponsored, summer-ministry camps provide for Northwest kids.
At camp these kids enjoy an almost unlimited variety of activities and experiences, ranging from water activities to mountaineering, from creative crafts to thoughtful nature lessons and new friendships with Jesus.
Just about everything that happens at camp happens because of the staff members, many of whom are academy- and college-age youth. These young people have found that working at camp is fun, financially rewarding, and a great opportunity for mission service right here in the United States. Each summer offers a momentous spiritual high for the campers and staff.
Douglas Roe, camp ranger for Idaho’s Camp Ida-Haven, says that the biggest challenge of the year is hiring staff members. Many of these young staff members are life-long Adventists who themselves may not yet have discovered their personal Savior. Working at camp, on the front lines of evangelism, sharing lessons, songs, and experiences with the campers, they not only help these younger campers make decisions for Jesus, but they also find Him to be relevant and real in their own lives.
The week at camp creates memories that will last a lifetime. Debbie Reiswig, a staff member of Camp Polaris on Alaska’s Lake Aleknagik, tells the story of a mother who came to see her last summer. She had attended Camp Polaris once as a child, and during that one week she met Jesus. That one week at camp gave her a knowledge and faith that helped her through the many rough spots in her life. She made friends at camp and has kept in contact with them through the years. She feels that without their Adventist Christian perspective she wouldn't have made it through life. She attributes her current success largely to that one week at Camp Polaris.
What is it about a week at camp that makes it so special? Perhaps it’s the incredibly fun adventures, such as rock climbing or mountaineering. Perhaps it’s learning new skills in sports, drama, or videography. Perhaps it’s the dedicated and professional staff. Perhaps it’s all of this and even more! Karen Wesslen, Oregon’s Big Lake Youth Camp administrative assistant, sums it up: “Big Lake makes kids think Christianity is pretty neat.”
“Everyone talks about God all the time at camp in a way that teenagers can relate to,” says camper Matthew Mohr. “It was great. I learned new songs, and our counselor encouraged me and my cabin mates to pray for one another. I had so much fun! I’ve even thought maybe I could be baptized at camp.”
This year Big Lake tried a new experiment: Abba’s Child—a no-fee camp experience for grief recovery. Children ages 8 to 15 who have lost a sibling or a parent to death in the recent past have the opportunity to enjoy seven days of fun with activities designed to promote healing. Additionally, they are able to meet others who are also learning about and dealing with their grief.
Several of the youth camps have set aside weeks where kids with special needs can enjoy a camp experience. Brandon first came to Camp MiVoden, Upper Columbia Conference’s youth camp, at age 10, reports Richard Parker, conference youth director. He is full of energy from the time he hits the floor in the morning till he pulls the covers up at night. He loves basketball, soccer, wrestling, horses—you name it.
A local TV station came to do a story about Camp MiVoden, and Brandon was interviewed. He told the interviewer that the best thing about MiVoden is all the activities he gets to do. The list seems endless: water skiing, knee boarding, zip lining, blobbing, ceramics, sea wasping, horses and “everything else”!
He loves coming back every summer because he meets lots of new friends and learns more about God. Brandon is blind, and he’d say to anyone who is visually impaired, “Don’t be afraid to try something new. Whatever a sighted kid can do, a blind kid can do just as well and sometimes even better!” But the counselors are his favorite part of the camp experience.
Amy Cox, a counselor at Camp Paxson in Montana, was excited. She said that her excitement was not only because it was the end of a school year, but that it centered on children’s laughter, living in a cabin and eating great food at camp.
“Camp Paxson offers visible spiritual guidance for the campers as well as a number of activities that give the campers a chance to have new experiences,” she says. “While working at basketball camp, I saw definite improvement in each camper’s ability. The campers in other activities would also return with newfound skills such as being able to hit the bull’s-eye in archery, crossing the wake in water-skiing and exciting water tube rides. Each of these campers returned not only with a new skill, but also with smiles on their faces.
“While working at Camp Paxson, I saw campers grow in Christ while making friends and creating memories. In my opinion, camp is one of the most positive things that can happen in a child’s life. I know it was in mine.”
Young people are not the only ones the youth camps are designed for. At Sunset Lake Camp in the Washington Conference, family camp continues to be a sold-out event. Families plan part of their yearly vacation time around that week, and some have been doing so for many years.
Several of the youth camps in the Northwest are open throughout the year, hosting church retreats, women’s and men’s conferences, Pathfinder camp outs, school excursions, Bible camps, and many other events. Throughout the summer and from year to year, each camp provides a wealth of experiences and growth for campers, staff members, and for all those involved.