Western Deaf Camp Meeting Celebrates 40 Years

December 11, 2017 | Esther Doss

The annual Western Deaf Camp Meeting was held July 9–16, 2017, at Milo Adventist Academy in Days Creek, Ore. This was an exciting event because this was the 40th anniversary of this camp meeting. This camp meeting was nearly historic with a large attendance of 143 people. Only one other year saw more people. People came from all over the United States including Iowa, Virginia, Maryland, Arkansas, Texas, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. 

A good number of individuals have attended for many years and cherish countless special memories they've made. Some of these memories include meeting their spouses-to-be, weddings, baptisms and even a special burial service. Sharing these and other recollections often brings laughter or deep reflection.

The theme this year centered on the 1888 General Conference message with speakers Alan Meis from Michigan, Paul Kelly from New York, David Trexler from Maryland, and George Belser from Washington. In addition, a hands-on cooking class provided practical instructions in healthy living and tasty samples.

The camp meeting is not just for the adults. A very active and interesting children’s class keeps the children busy all day every day.

This year, an evening program of skits was held. These skits mostly focused on the theme of drawing close to Jesus and serving Him. Participants worked in skit teams and practiced throughout the week in a variety of places where they were often seen laughing as they bonded. 

The gym came to life as the traditional game of volleyball was played. While the score was kept, the focus was not on winning but just playing and having a great time. 

In keeping with yearly traditions, a group of nearly 70 adventurous souls hit the Rogue River for a fun rafting trip. They had having fun racing, playing with water battles, or just lounging on the river and enjoying the sights. 

Keeping with the custom of the camp meeting, Friday evening was focused on the Lord’s Supper. This time has always been treated as the most important event during the camp meeting. This year, the elders on the platform were accompanied by 12 men, all dressed in biblical-period clothing, portraying the disciples. Each one stood up and introduced themselves and early on often bickered among themselves at the table.

During the message, the speaker often spoke directly to the disciples. He asked if they would be willing to give up everything for Jesus. This question spoke directly to everyone else as well. After the service was finished, many people shared their joyful testimonies, including stories of miracles, to close the evening. 

The highlight of camp meeting each year is the baptism. This year was no exception. Five people were baptized or rebaptized: David Lopez of New Mexico, Julia Sutton of Washington, Valerie Wendel-Filkins of Iowa, Beth Dobson of Virginia and Stephen Hinke of Washington.

A special recognition was given to Sandra Alejo, an active deaf member of the Tabernacle Church in Portland, Ore. She has served in many capacities including as treasurer and has been a large part of organizing this camp meeting. 

Chuck McGehee, another member of the Tabernacle Church, was also recognized for his dedicated service to deaf ministry for many years as a key leader in deaf ministry in Oregon. He has provided leadership for several deaf groups in the Northwest, including the deaf group at Tabernacle. He also directed the Western Deaf Camp Meeting for a number of years and is on the board of Three Angels Deaf Ministries, a supporting ministry. 

The Western Deaf Camp Meeting is put on by the Tabernacle deaf group at the Tabernacle Church. This gathering was started by deaf ministry leaders who had vision and wanted a place for Adventist deaf members to meet and have a focused time for spiritual growth. While the meeting has gained some support and assistance over the years, it has been operated by committed deaf members themselves. 

For the past 40 years, this camp meeting has had a huge impact on the spiritual growth of deaf members across North America. Deaf members do not have many opportunities to get together with brothers and sisters of the faith that use the same language as they do. The Western Deaf Camp Meeting has been a place for deaf members to develop meaningful relationships with fellow believers and an opportunity to study the Bible deeply and answer many gnawing questions, to receive some family counseling, to develop plans and strategies for deaf ministry, and more. In fact, this camp meeting was the first deaf camp meeting in North America. As a result, several other deaf camp meetings sprouted up across the North American Division and around the world.  

Deaf members attending the camp meeting decided they do not want to celebrate any more anniversaries at future camp meeting. Rather, they hope to celebrate God’s mercy and grace together in heaven with ears that hear Jesus’ voice and a voice that will sing His praises for eternity.