I Must Stop Blinking!

Three short weeks ago we were wrapping up our 7th week at Campus by the Sea and today I'm 4 days in to recovering from my ventral hernia repair surgery, which took place Tuesday, two days after we got all of our New England family camp staff to the airport, ending our nine-week-straight-out-ministry-packed summer. I must stop blinking!!

If ever we have been more aware of God's gracious and generous hand of provision and protection upon us, I'm not sure when it would be. Arriving in New England on Sunday, Aug. 3, after red-eying it out from California just hours after wrapping up Family Camp 6 at CBS, we were concerned: about health, strength, integrating the supplemental staff who would be joining our very cohesive pre-existing team, the weather (something we never worry about at CBS!), etc.  

We prayed.  And prayed.  That God would supernaturally meet us . . . and He did. In spades.

Both weeks at Berea were exceptional. Beginning and ending with the staff, who became a team very quickly and served tirelessly and cheerfully.  We all agreed that it would help no one to talk about how tired we were, so at our first staff meeting that Sunday afternoon, we collectively pronounced, "We're tired!" and decided that was all that needed to be said. Naps during the first two afternoons and observed bedtime helped close the gap, and thankfully we all made it.        

We can't really say enough about the delight of working with this group of "cream of the crop" kids. They served well, modeled Christlike character, invested in the campers, honored the community, and had a blast together. Pulling together the "right" staff is always a challenge and God provided for all of the needs, some of which we didn't know we had until we had them!

Staff team for HIM/Berea Family Camp Week 1
Staff team for HIM/Berea Family Camp Week 2

Ashoke and Stephanie Bachew from Trinidad were our resource couple for the two weeks.  Ashoke's testimony—of coming to Christ from his Hindu background when 14 short term missionaries from Michigan did a Backyard Bible Club in his town forty-six years ago—was inspiring.  Only 7 children came to those meetings, but all met Christ and the six young men all went in to full time ministry (including Ashoke and his brother Kiki) and the young woman served in the education department of the Trinidad government and is credited with introducing Religious Instruction (RI) into the schools.  What incredible fruit!

Ashoke and Stephanie Bachew joined us from Trinidad for our two weeks of family camp at Berea.

Ashoke's story-telling teaching style was real, down-to-earth, honest, and passionate, reflecting the depth of his heart for the Lord.  Stephanie sang a solo at each session which was ministry in itself. They made themselves available throughout the weeks and many campers took advantage of meeting with them individually. They served well and were so appreciated. They were accompanied by their son Joshua, who took delight in serving whenever and wherever he could.

There were many unforgettable moments during the two weeks of family camp. During camp 1, eight youths were baptized and each articulated their faith journey with clarity and boldness. Four adults chose to be baptized during the second camp in the presence of a community they've come to know and love.

Newfound Lake provided the perfect setting for baptism for these eight . . .

. . .  and during week 2, these four adults.

On the last day of each camp, Paul honored Bill and Ruth Campbell.  "Salt of the earth" servants for Christ, these two are deeply loved by all who come to Berea.  Ruth's domain is the camp store, where selling merchandise is second to reinforcing Bible verse memorization.  Ruth rewards any camper who recites verses from scripture with "Berea Bucks,” currency honored in the store. She is loved by all.  Bill superintends the rifle range, besides maintaining the grounds, washing dishes, serving in the buffet line, or doing whatever else is needed.  They are rare gems who are exchanging "retirement" for full-on Kingdom work and are such an inspiration! From each family camp, Guy Steele made a banner for family campers to sign and express appreciation to the Campbells for all they do for and mean to family camps. It's always such a delight to honor such well-deserving partners.

Bill Campbell accepts the signed banner from Paul during our closing session.

Berea Family Camp traditions are so beloved.  The all family "finger blasters" battle is always a favorite. Inter-generational and all-out, the gym is the scene of unmitigated enthusiasm, competition, and laughter as the (mostly) harmless "finger blasters" are aimed at the opposition. The rules are ignored as are “hits," but everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, has a blast. Paul and I had our annual "shoot-out" each week and we both walked away with a win. Which makes it a "win-win." 

The staff have their own finger-blasters battle after the campers have cleared out . . .
one of the many perks of being on staff here.  :)

Another beloved tradition is having worship and s'mores at the fire ring.   Following the game night, this is such a highlight of each week. Perhaps it's being in the great outdoors, in the cool crisp night air, with the expanse of the heavens providing the backdrop...but worship is always so robust, heartfelt, and joyful in this venue.  And interacting with family campers serving s'mores is a blast. Love this night!!

MaryAnn Bastedo, Melissa Kovacs, and Josh Bachew join me in serving s'mores at this station . . . 
. . . while Shelby Krueger, Jessica Hopkins, Naomi Frey, and Elissa Johnson
keep customers happy at the other station.

The amphitheater was packed for our outdoor worship evening and
perfect weather enhanced the whole experience.

Long after most campers had left the amphitheater, Kelsey O'Keeffe, Kayla Krogh, and Scott Johnston kept the singing going with this little crew of siblings and cousins.  Endless worship!!!

Speaking of worship, throughout both weeks, it was stirring and unifying. Paul Gandy did a great job leading a whole new team at Berea; they didn't miss a beat from the opening session to the last. I love this picture of some of our almost 70 junior high and high schoolers during week 1's closing session.  

The final worship set for week 1.  I love this shot of some of the
70 junior/senior highers at camp this week.  They were tight!

Paul Gandy, Kelsey O'Keeffe, Dakota Baker, and James Yardley lead worship for both camps.  During camp 2, they were joined by Glen and Zachary Powell.  Worship was inspired.

Another highlight for most is being honored by a creative skit if your birthday or anniversary happens to land during family camp.  Directed by staffer Rachel Weeks (who did an incredible job all summer producing skits), this "attack of the ninjas" skit was wildly popular.  She never lacked for willing "actors and actresses" from the staff team to pull off these unique and personalized tributes.

The ninjas await their cue for the birthday skit.

All summer we pray for protection and safety, both physically and spiritually. And for 39 summers, we've been spared any really serious, life-threatening incidents. This summer could've changed all that when during the second week of camp at Berea, one of our campers had an accident doing a back flip at Sculptured Rocks.  Only the hand of God protected him from either death or a paralyzing injury, and after an ambulance ride and hospital visit, he walked away with stitches in the back of his head.  I almost didn't include this account, but God used this "near miss" dramatically in the life of family camp 2, so it would be an omission to not mention it.  Everyone was affected:  the forty or so campers who witnessed the accident (and who all, in some way, became a part of the rescue effort) and everyone else who became a part of the prayer/support team in the aftermath.  When he returned to camp with a relatively minor injury, no one believed it was due to anything less than the intervention of God Himself, who spared us incalculable  trauma and sorrow.  The impact was felt by all.  Person after person testified at the banquet about how God had met them through this near tragedy.  We have not stopped giving thanks to the Lord for this incredible expression of His grace and mercy.

Family camps are a lot of work, for sure, but there are moments of renewal and refreshment along the way.  These are a few glimpses into staff life "outside of the classroom."

Each week, the staff had an audience with Pastor Ashoke,
who taught on full surrender and relationships.

A trip to Sculptured Rocks was fun and cold as each brave staff
jumped into the frigid snow melt pooling river.

Twice-daily staff meetings were punctuated with occasional treats. 
This basket of candy bars from Kelly Plosker brought smiles to all.

Creative rain gear (modeled by Jessica Hopkins and Shelby Dreves) was in order on Wednesday of camp 2 when a huge thunderstorm visited the area from early morning ’til late night.  

Our California staff were amazed that even with such a deluge,
life goes on as though nothing were happening.

In place of the daily Scar hike at CBS, this staff takes a daily 4-mile roundtrip hike
to the lighthouse, followed by a refreshing swim in the lake.

This is it.  Final night . . . after 9 full weeks for most, and 2 for some,
we join arms in the gym to celebrate the faithfulness of God.

And the next morning, after an all-camp photo, we sing "We love you campers, oh yes we do!"
to our loved, departing family campers.

After all that, we spent Saturday, August 16, in Boston, touring and eating and enjoying all that is good in Christian community, before we went in many different directions very early the next morning. And just like that, I blinked, and the summer of 2014 ended.

One last hug before the team began to disperse.  So much love.  Such full hearts.

So there you have it.  A very quick peek into a hall of fame summer.  A summer full of grace, hope, learning, service, pleasure, growth, encouragement, exhaustion, renewal, and community.

Among the many lessons I'll take with me, one will be "do not blink."