Stories From Camp
Mist rising off the water catches the first rays of the light from the morning sun. Birds call and laughter echoes across the lake. These are the sounds of summer, the sounds of camp.
Every summer more people are touched by camp ministries than by any other outreach effort the Adventist Church has in the Pacific Northwest. The following stories are just a mere drop in the ocean of experiences countless children, young people and adults have each year at our Adventist youth camps.
Crying in the Rain
Wednesday night, at the conclusion of the Sunset Lake Camp campfire program in western Washington, the boys’ director came up to the director in a panic. “One of my guys just ran out of the gym into the woods," he said.
Those are the last words a camp director wants hear at the end of cold, rainy day. David Yeagley ran out of the gym and caught up with the boy sitting on the first bench of the prayer path. Two other staff members were already huddled next to him trying to comfort him as the boy sobbed uncontrollably.
Yeagley squeezed next to him on the bench, half under the cover of the awning and half getting soaked in the rain. Over and over the young boy sobbed, “It’s no use. I’m just a failure. God would never love someone like me.”
For the next 45 minutes Yeagley told the boy of a God who loved him just the way he was and chose him to be His precious child.
Throughout the next two days, the camp's social work intern met with the boy to help him sort through everything he was feeling. Then Saturday morning at breakfast line call, the same boy came running up to Yeagley, “Pastor Dave, guess what I did last night?” He didn’t even wait for Yeagley to respond before blurting out, “I gave my heart to Jesus.”
From hopeless to hopeful. From worthless to valued child of the King. That is the power of camp.
The last morning of camp had arrived for Camp Paxson in Montana. The typical craziness of that last day at camp was in progress.
Breakfast was over, and now came the mad rush to get all of the campers on the bus to head home. Things were going as usual: counting and recounting campers, making sure all of those campers had all of their gear and, of course, saying goodbyes. Those were always hard.
Just as everyone was saying goodbye, word began to spread that one of the campers was trying to take a bat home — not the baseball variety, the rat-with-wings variety.
Perhaps a bit of explanation is good here. Camp Paxson is home to way too many bats. Up until recently, when bat houses were built around camp, many of the bats lived in the bathrooms. It was common to see them hanging from the dark corners of the logs in the ceiling or flying above you. Needless to say, bathroom breaks and showers were an adventure at times.
Well, back to what started all of this — the boy who wanted to take a bat home. Batboy was one of Casey’s kids, a group of kids that Casey Higgins, pastor, and his Helena Church would sponsor each year. For many of these kids, the week at Camp Paxson was one of the best weeks of their lives.
As I arrived at the bus that Sunday morning, Batboy was receiving a pat-down from the bus driver, Ray Wheeling. Apparently, Ray had heard rumors of a bat on the bus and had quickly narrowed the list of potential carriers to one.
To be sure, Batboy was highly disappointed he wasn’t leaving camp with a bat, but he left smiling. He left thankful he had come. And he was leaving with something. He left with memories of Camp Paxson and more than just of the bats. He left with friends he had met. He left with thoughts of water skiing, water toys, archery — a week of learning and fun. Most importantly though, he left knowing Jesus in a way he hadn’t before. You see, he and every camper had a great week of fun activities, but they also had a week where every morning and evening were times to get to know Jesus.
My Spiritual Haven
Meghan (not her real name) had been coming to Sunset Lake Camp since she was 8 years old. Now 17, this was her last summer as a camper. Over the years, the camp director had watched her struggle with the challenges life threw at her.
She didn’t come from a Christian home, her family was a wreck, and she struggled with her identity. Meghan tried to ease the pain of it all with boyfriends and harmful substances. To the casual observer she was a troubled young woman.
But there was more to Meghan than met the eye. On Friday morning, she pulled the camp director aside at the dining hall. “I loved coming to camp for all these years,” she said. “I love the people, the acceptance I feel and the grace I have experienced. Camp has always been my one week to be spiritual, but now that I won’t be coming back to camp, I realize I need Jesus more than one week out of my year. I need Him all the time.”
Meghan paused, trying unsuccessfully to keep her emotions in check. “I want to be baptized,” she pleaded.
“For a moment I felt like Phillip in the Ethiopian chariot watching God at work,” says David Yeagley. That is the power of camp.
A New Chapter
"Is there someone here ready to do a baptism?" The question was asked by one of two women that were accompanying two teen girls. The four were campers at the Forest Service campground across the lake and had just paddle boarded over to Big Lake Youth Camp located in central Oregon.
Several years earlier, this group of friends had been in a tubing accident while camping privately across the lake from Big Lake Youth Camp in central Oregon. Their tube had been pulled too close to the shore, and the three people on the tube had been thrown onto rocks before tumbling back into the water.
An off-duty police officer who was boating nearby responded to the accident and helped transport them to Big Lake Youth Camp for assistance. Big Lake's medical team jumped into action, providing care and encouragement to the family members while waiting for emergency responders. Ultimately, ambulances and a helicopter transported the patients to hospitals. Miraculously, they all survived.
Now years later, on a hot weekend in August, 2020, the families involved in the accident had returned to Big Lake. This time they came for a different reason. Instead of tubing, they came to support the decision a daughter had made at summer camp the year before.
Before long, the entire family paddled across the lake and joined in the celebration of the teen being baptized. What had started out as a near tragedy became a beautiful new chapter of this family’s faith journey.
A Year to Remember
More than 100 masked faces stared at each other as the reality of what they were accomplishing set in. They were in the middle of a pandemic, yet the Camp MiVoden staff in Idaho had trained, cleaned and put all sorts of new precautions in place. Now campers were arriving!
Would all of the effort be worth it? Or would they, at a moment’s notice, be closed by the health department? The MiVoden team jumped into the 2020 summer running youth camps, ultimate camps and family camps. Their hard work and team spirit paid off.
One of the ultimate camps that ran was the three-week DiscipleTrek camp. DiscipleTrek is a camp for teenagers who want to take the next step on their spiritual journey. Over the three weeks, they dig deeper into what they believe, learn how to share their faith, build community and engage in all the fun that a regular camp week has to offer as well.
The DiscipleTrek group was small this year — only eight campers attended —but the journey was still rich. In a year when so much had changed and so many were isolated, campers kept expressing how much it meant that camp was still there for them. The key for many of them was that they had lost connection this year — with each other and with God.
During DiscipleTrek, these kids were able to find community again. They found a family. They were able to enjoy being with people again, as well as reconnecting with God. For those three weeks, the campers and staff felt like life was back to what it should be: face-to-face connection, no barriers to relationship and believers coming together to worship.
One of the campers, Sarah (not her real name), said that, while she was unsure about spending three weeks at camp with the same people, it turned out to be exactly what she needed. She had been struggling with knowing where God was leading her through the year. While she knew she was in a time of growth and learning to trust God, it was still frustrating. In talking with the DiscipleTrek staff, hearing the spiritual journeys of the staff and other campers, and being able to take three weeks to just focus on her relationship with God, Sarah found the encouragement, relatability and restoration her heart had been needing.
The Very Finest
We are blessed in the Pacific Northwest to have the finest camp traditions, camp directors and inspirational properties available. Every year thousands of lives come face to face with our Creator. Our North Pacific Union Conference Adventist youth camps create a lasting impact on young lives.
Rob Lang, the NPUC youth and young adult ministries director, says, “I recently opened a file jam packed with thank-you notes and letters from parents and grandparents." There are too many to share all of them, but here are a few:
A mother writes, “Ever since my 13-year-old son got back from camp, he is insisting that we pray before each meal and that we go to church as a family. He has actually influenced his father to go to church! He also wants to be baptized next summer at camp. I don’t know how to say thank you enough!”
Another note reads, “Over the past few years, I have noticed the spiritual growth that happens at camp. It is hard to describe, but I think this is my best explanation: As plant fertilizer is for my garden, so summer camp is for my children’s faith in God. Thank you so much!”