Living the Life

We exchanged the ocean for a lake.  Cactus for trees.  Sunshine for liquid sunshine (at times).  Flip flops for tennies.  Pit toilets and outdoor showers for indoor plumbing and electricity.  Orange shirts for green shirts.  Sand volleyball, basketball by the sea, kayaks, and inner-tubes for a rifle range, archery, climbing walls, grass, gaga pits, and carpet ball. 

Family Camp at Campus by the Sea for Family Camp at Camp Berea on Newfound Lake.

Though very different, it’s actually very much the same.

The same incredible staff.  The same kind of enthusiastic families, who come wanting to hear from God, wanting their families to be reinforced, wanting to maximize the potential of this unique “vacation with a purpose.”  The same theme, curriculum, and crafts. The same commitment from the facilities’ crew to meeting the needs of the campers in an "above and beyond" sort of way.  The same awareness that change will happen not because of what we do, but because of what God does.

We arrived at Camp Berea on Saturday, August 6, committed to overcoming jet lag in order to energetically serve the Home Improvement Ministries (H.I.M.) Family Camp 1 which launched that evening.  A record 22 staff (all but three who had served together all summer at CBS) flew in from all over to make family camp happen.  Joined by a half dozen “locals,” we jelled quickly and were off and running, ready to do what we could do to meet the needs of our 250 campers.

Six days later, as we wrapped up our amazing week together and took an all-camp photo, we agreed that God had met us in ways which exceeded our expectations.  Some made the decision to follow Christ.  Some were baptized. Some experienced a new vision of hope for their marriage. Some made decisions to renounce ungodly behavior. It was a powerful week.

Richard and Donna Dahlstrom, from Bethany Community Church in Seattle, served as our resource couple for both weeks of family camp.  Richard “hit it out of the park” with his teaching.  Equally important, both Donna and Richard endeared themselves to all of us by becoming one of us.  They were available, approachable, authentic, and “fully in” all that family camp has to offer. Richard's teaching was nothing short of brilliant and both his and Donna’s lives lent credibility to the message.  Their love for Jesus and their commitment to “justice, mercy, and a humble walk with God” couldn't be missed.  The request for their return was seemingly unanimous.

Very dignified for the banquet, Richard and Donna Dahlstrom looked the speaker part . . .

. . . but don't be fooled.  They were terrors during “finger blasters” and held nothing back.

Family Camp is so much more than any one element.  Yes, we are very committed to spiritual growth on all levels, but we’re also committed to providing an intergenerational context for families to have a blast together.  Our game show night provides one of the contexts for family fun, and this year’s game, “Gender Defender,” has been described by many as the best game show ever. Borrowing ideas from “Minute to Win It,” our game show team did a phenomenal job of putting together a fast moving and engaging evening of family fun that involved many contestants.  Kory Kraning, Taylor Tebay, Kady Broman, and Whitnee Sherman made it happen on stage, while Brian Dietz emceed from the sound booth and co-hosts “Bob and Vanna” kept it moving.  It is safe to say that fun was had by all.

David and Vincent Swaim are pitted against Michelle and Angelina Swaim in “Paper Dragon.”

Steve and Liz Lane go head to head in “A Bit Dicey.”

Avonne and Kendra Jarvis succeed in pitching a bigger “Temper Tantrum” than Skip and Patrick Jarvis by giving it their all.

Julie Macrae practices “Face the Cookie” just in case we do this contest again next year.

The “Gender Defender” team:  Vanna, Kady, Whitnee, Taylor, Kory, and “Bob” (aka “the wig”)

Morning devotions are another important element of family camp and Paul’s creative genius combined with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made all four devotions very poignant and full of impact.  It continues to be true that “kids say the darndest things.” That and Paul’s gift of being very quick on his feet contributed to moments of hilarity that punctuated spiritual truth during every devotion.

During this devotion, four children were asked to “pick their parent’s nose” which poked through a hole in the sheet.  Though most of the children didn’t “know” their parent’s “nose,” Paul assured them that the Good Shepherd “knows” them individually.

Worship is another great element of family camp and Kory Kraning and Brian Dietz (and a talented team of musicians and vocalists) did a great job of leading us twice a day in worship. The ever popular “Butterfly Song” and “I am Somebody”  never lacked enthusiasm, no matter how many times sung.  It’s such a picture of the body of Christ to see the generations gathered in worship, with parents singing “kids” songs and kids singing hymns.  Love it.

The children crowd the stage to sing some of their favorites.

Many life-changing decisions are made at camp, and within this safe community, each summer several campers ask to be baptized.  During family camp 1, we did 6 baptisms in Newfound Lake in a very meaningful service witnessed by many of the campers.  Moments like these add such depth to our whole experience.

The Grieci family, Jake, and Liz were all baptized during the first family camp.

Most of the family camp community witnessed the baptisms and celebrated the decisions made.

What makes family camp the kind of experience that many families say is the highlight of their year?  What makes it work?  The obvious answer is God, and truly we know beyond a shadow of doubt that without the power and presence of God, family camp would be fun but not eternally impacting.  But God uses all the elements mentioned to accomplish His purposes, and He does it largely through our staff.

And this staff has managed to dig deep and make these campers feel like it’s week one again. They ignored jet lag, overlooked some sniffles, didn’t let the rain dampen their enthusiasm, and gave it their all.  Paul and I have been deeply moved by the depth of maturity and selflessness consistently displayed by this team.  We’ve never worked with an “easier” group and that has been gift to us.

The staff enjoy a “boatload” of lunch during our “day-off” between camps.

Claudia, Danielle, and Kady are triumphant after successfully canoeing around the lake and never tipping.

Ice cream all around. Yum!

Dunkin Donuts indoctrination was successful: many converts.

As the 2011 family camp season draws to a close, we are more deeply passionate about these weeks than we’ve ever been.  God uses the uniqueness of family camp in such potent ways to renew, to recharge, and to recreate.  We are aware of how seminal family camp has been in the shaping of our family life and are overwhelmed with gratitude for the privilege of directing this program 35 years running.

After family camp, a single mom wrote:  “I want to thank you for another incredible experience at family camp.  We look forward to camp all year and we’re never disappointed. From the moment we arrived, we felt completely cared for. The stress begins to melt away immediately. And God faithfully met each one in our family through your wonderful staff and incredible program.  We’re already counting the days ’til we return.”

As I write, I’m flying to California—before family camp 2 in New England ends.   Julie and Derek’s wedding is this Sunday, August 21, so my higher calling is to be with my baby daughter during her final days as Julie Friesen.  Derek flew in from Uganda on July 30, just in time to experience our last 24 hours of family camp at CBS, and they’ve spent the last 2 weeks working around Julie's internship, packing, planning, and preparing.  I can’t wait to join the fun!  Paul will wrap up camp and join us Friday.

So our “never a dull moment” life continues . . . and we’re so thankful to be “living life to the full.”