Sunset Lake Welcomes International Campers

October 25, 2016 | David Yeagley

It was Julie’s first time at camp. She had traveled from China, halfway around the world, to attend a week at Sunset Lake Camp in Wilkeson. She was one of nearly 100 students who attended the camp as a part of a cultural exchange program sponsored in part by the Washington International Student Experience (WISE) program.

For Julie, the experience was overwhelming. She seldom smiled and showed little emotion. For most of the week, she never spoke more than a single word of English at a time. Her counselor wondered if anything was getting through.

But slowly the morning worships, the classes and activities, the evening drama based on the story of the Prodigal Son, and the theme song that spoke of a loving heavenly Father began to sink in. At the end of the Friday night program, the campers gathered by the lake to reflect on the week and float lighted candles on the water as a symbol of their commitment to Christ.

As Julie’s cabin began to talk and share how God was working in their lives, her counselor saw tears in Julie’s eyes. She put her arm around her and drew her close.

Then, through her tears, Julie smiled and spoke the first complete sentence her counselor had heard all week: “I am happy.”

Those three simple words speak powerfully of the effect a week of camp can have on a child regardless of their culture or background.

The story of Sunset Lake Camp’s international involvement began in 2011 when they were contacted by an exchange program out of Chicago wanting to bring students from Taiwan to camp. Over the next five years, one or two groups came per season. WISE brought a group from China in 2015.

This summer the two exchange programs combined for a total of five separate groups. “Our students loved their cabin counselors,” says Lynda Kim, one of the WISE directors. “They went home talking about how friendly and nice everyone was.”

Sunset Lake has always had a mission focus, impacting campers from across western Washington with the gospel. Now the staff have expanded that reach, planting seeds in the lives of international students and sending them home to places the camp could never go.

This summer, as each week came to a close, campers were given the opportunity to express what God had done for them by repeating a single sentence: “My name is _____, and I was found this week.” Each Saturday night, there were cheers as these campers from across the globe stood to their feet, shouted their name and then, in broken English, declared they had been found by God.

What difference will it make? Heaven knows.