They come to camp arriving by twos and threes and then by the mini-van full. They come to camp not knowing exactly what to expect but full of anticipation for exciting adventures with new friends. The campers fill Camp Paxson, in Montana, Sunset Lake in Washington, Camp Polaris in Alaska, and the five other Northwest Adventist camps, with laughter and endless energy. They play, pray, sing, ski, and eat. They do crafts, take activity classes, and worship.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church invests a tremendous amount of resources and people power into the lives of our young people. Is the money we spend worth it? What is the influence on our kids? Are decisions for Jesus still made on the dusty sawdust trails at camp?
Her first experience at camp was in the summer of 1998 at Idaho’s Camp Ida-Haven. At 11, Larkin attended camp for all of the fun opportunities. When she met Shari, her counselor, the love, acceptance, joy of life, and non-threatening sharing of Shari’s faith sparked a hunger for more. Each year Larkin returned to camp to find more examples of a lifestyle she wanted to follow. These staff members would not get “in your face,” but lovingly and excitedly turn her eyes toward Jesus.
Then she met Pastor Paul Jenks, the camp pastor for the week. As they talked, he led her into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Jesus. This only deepened her love for camp and sparked her desire to become one of those awesome people called “staff.”
This summer, Larkin gets to be one of “those people.” She brings a love for people, a desire to show God in a non-threatening way, and the excitement that results when one of life’s goals is met.
Most staff members are young adults and are recruited from the campuses of Adventist colleges and academies. Camp directors look for people who have the ability to work well with children of all ages and interests. The staff believes they have been given front row seats to the greatest show on earth—watching God work in the lives of His kids. These young staff members are Christians with a strong commitment to the Adventist church.
The 2002 Sunset Lake Camp staff gathered at the camp for a New Year’s party. When the celebrating was over, the staff members, in prayer, dedicated themselves to be totally on fire for Christ that year. As a result, 700 campers gave their hearts to Jesus that summer and 26 have been baptized, 13 of them at camp.
Ryan visited the camp website and made the decision to come to Sunset Lake Camp last summer. He lived in a state-funded home for troubled kids and had never known Jesus. He was in daily trouble throughout the week and barely missed being sent home. However, on Sabbath evening, he gave his heart to the Lord. This winter he has been volunteering at the camp, doing the dishes or whatever else needs doing. Craig reports that, “He loves the Lord and plans to spend the rest of his life at camp.”
Carly came to Camp Polaris, near Dillingham, Alaska, for the first time last summer. She was there because a friend had talked her into coming. From the start she challenged everything. She wasn’t from a Christian home, so everything seemed strange to her. She carried herself with a bit of an attitude, but mostly just kept everyone and everything at a distance. As far as the staff could tell nothing was really getting through to her.
It wasn’t until the Sabbath afternoon adventure that Carly’s facade finally cracked. She asked to talk with one of our staff speakers. She shared the pain of her family and her deep desire to give her heart to God. The staff member prayed with Carly and right there she became a different person. She said she actually felt joy!
Carly’s week ended differently than it had begun, but the story doesn’t end there. Because of her experience at camp, she enrolled in an Adventist school hoping to learn more about Jesus.
Camp is a gift that all children should receive, and multiple generations of campers have been blessed by that gift. While camps today are quite different from those of the previous generations, many of the experiences are the same. Each generation has witnessed the magic of glowing campfire embers, and watched as the sparks mingled with the stars in the night sky.
Rick Claridge came to Big Lake as a camper in 1964. He liked it so much he came back again—this time as staff. It’s a love that seems to run in the family. He spent four summers working at camp, and his wife, Betsy, worked three. Now his sons, Jon and Jeremy, are both Big Lake staff.
Rick is proud of that heritage. As he thinks back on his summer camp experiences, he says, “Camp is a spiritual high. It’s where I became certain of my spirituality. It always challenged me to be relevant. . . My wife and I prayed that our boys would have that experience as well. There is nothing more worthwhile than camp. . . It’s life.”
Victoria Olson, 10, was an Adventurer camper at Camp MiVoden. She was impressed by the lakeside baptism of John Anderson, a counselor-in-training. When she got home she told her folks that she wanted to be baptized in Hayden Lake. Later, during Family Camp, with her parents David and Laura watching, her wish came true as she was baptized in those same sparkling waters.
There is a spirit at camp that all can feel and that will live forever in one’s heart. It’s the spirit of fun and friendship that nurtures life as much as the food the campers eat.
Christie Chase and her family had just moved to the Portland, Oregon, area from Florida. Her daughter, Casey, was 11 years old and wanted to go to camp. Christie learned of Big Lake by word of mouth. She asked about camps all over town and the name “Big Lake” came up over and over again.
Christie was thrilled with her daughter’s experience at Big Lake. Casey came back on a spiritual high. “She had a new outlook on her relationship with Jesus and was filled with the Spirit. She was bubbling over with excitement,” says Christie. “At Big Lake she saw that people have a lot of fun and have strong morals too.”
When the next year’s promotional brochure came in the mail, Christie wanted to share the opportunity with others. She held a meeting in her home with the parents of 15 of Casey’s friends, religious and not, boys and girls. Everyone wanted their children to have the experience. That year Casey took 12 friends to camp.
“This year I’d guess even more will come. It’s a chain reaction,” she says. “Every one of those kids will tell other people about it. . . I just had another friend call me about Big Lake.”
Our Northwest youth camps are not just about recreation and fun. There is more to them than just the teaching of skills like archery, horse back riding, or ceramics. It’s nurturing the joy of spiritual discovery in ways that can lead to new knowledge in life-changing ways. At camp, in the quiet and simple teachable moments, there is a Power that builds deep and profound values.
They came. Slowly at first. Nearly a third of all the campers, walking down to the foot of the cross. Not knowing what to expect, but full of anticipation for exciting adventures with their new friend, Jesus, together building a friendship that will last an eternity. •