Family Camp

Family Camp, Resurrected (Part 2)

Family Camp, Resurrected (Part 2)

With 26 hours between Family Camps 1 and 2, we relaxed with the staff (some great pool time, dinner in Ventura on the beach, and hanging out in a coffee shop in downtown Ojai) and then prepared for the second camp. We were very ready when the campers began arriving at 4 pm on Sunday and we were so happy to welcome them with cold water bottles and ice pops, help them register, and walk them to their “home away from home.” Everyone was checked in by dinner time and we were off and running.

We were so grateful for the reinforcements who joined the staff team for week 2, as a number of our week 1 staff had to return to work. God graciously brought together a phenomenal group for camp 2 and we quickly jelled as a team.

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”

Rocky Mountain High 2

“Be exalted, O Lord, above the heavens . . .”  This photo was taken out of the window of the plane flying from Denver to San Diego. The changing skyscape kept us mesmerized for almost an hour.  It was spectacular.

This August has been different than any other in our married life.  We’ve always done family camps in August, the last 18 of which have been in New England. As we passed the mantle to Camp Berea’s executive director, Nate Parks, at the end of last summer’s camping season, we didn’t know what God would have in store for us. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, He had a great plan (which is still unfolding as I write this) and we are truly grateful for how He has met us during this transitional year.

Usually, as soon as family camps wrap up at CBS, we fly directly to New England to do two more weeks of family camp. 

Not this year.

The decision to turn family camps over to Berea came after much prayer and many conversations. Topping the list of “this is right to do now”: first, we were (rightly) convinced that Nate and his crew were “ready” to assume leadership/responsibility for continuing the tradition as they fully embraced and “got” the ethos of family camp and were committed to continuing that, and second, the cost of flying the staff back to run the family camps was escalating every year, making its financial viability more challenging. We were impressed with Nate’s commitment to “getting it right”—which does not mean “doing it exactly as its always been done”—but he pressed to understand the heart, the purpose, the ethos of family camp by careful observation of every component of family camp as well as spending hours asking us the “whys” of each component. We had complete confidence that family camp under his leadership would be different and the same, and it would be good.

We were thrilled and thankful to hear from some family campers who affirmed that very sentiment. It’s very rewarding to have something you’ve poured yourself into and passed on to continue effectively. All praise is His!!

So, since we weren’t doing family camp in New England, the window we needed for our all-family celebration of our 40th anniversary presented itself. Gabe and Kari hosted a small renewal of our vows ceremony at their home in Santa Clarita the day we left CBS. Attended by a small mix of our families and a few chosen family friends, the “ceremony” was conducted by Pastor John Tebay, who was one of the officiants at our wedding, April 24, 1976. Kari, Lisa, and Julie did a beautiful job of putting together a very memorable celebration. It was very meaningful to repeat the vows we had written 40 years earlier and to realize that they really had shaped the ethos of our married life. God has been so faithful.

Here we are: our entire immediate family. Brandon walked me down the aisle after Ana lead the way as the “flower girl.”  Gabe and Derek each read scripture and everyone else did the hard work of making it all happen. It exceeded our expectations.

My dear mama, almost 87, is the only living parent we have and we are so grateful for her health and mobility which allows her to be present at moments like these.

The siblings able to make it included my sisters, (l-r) Sue Hekman, Melissa Collins, and Lucy Silveira, and Paul’s sibs Carol and Wayne Herbst, Beth Helen Smith, and Wayne and Sandra Clark. It meant so much to us to have them there, just as they were 40 years ago.

Pastor John Tebay (and his wife Grace) have been such significant mentors in our lives for well over 40 years and it was such an honor to have John renew our vows. He is a true man of God and he and Grace have been so instrumental in helping to shape our lives.

These five weren’t present 40 years ago!  :-)  The next generation, by God’s grace, will carry the mantle of truth in the decades to come.

After a few days with Garcias, we flew home to exchange our CBS wardrobe for speaking clothes and to get our hair cut, paper work sorted, and to check on our house before flying 24 hours later to Denver, CO, where we've spent the last three weekends doing a family and marriage series of sermons for Mission Hills Church. (To watch recordings of the sermons, go to the Mission Hills Church website and click on “Watch Now”)  

What a privilege to serve this way! We loved everything about this “gig.” Mission Hills has had a 75-year history of faithfulness to teaching God’s Word which has well-prepared them for this interim period during which time they’ve been without a pastor for almost 2 years. Danny Oertli (married to our niece, Rayna) is the worship leader at Mission Hills and has filled in a lot of gaps during the interim, one of which has been making sure the pulpit was filled. When the decision was made to do a series on family and marriage, he convinced the staff we would be the best candidates (nepotistic connections help), so the invitation was issued.

It was a huge honor and privilege to serve this congregation. All 4 services (a Saturday night and three Sunday mornings) were filled with eager, receptive, responsive people of all ages. We felt that God really met us each weekend, as well as the listeners—many of whom communicated to us just that. After the second weekend, which focused on marriage, one man told me, “This sermon just saved my marriage.”  Well . . . we know the sermon didn’t save his marriage, but we do know that the Holy Spirit did a work in his heart that morning through the sermon and gave him a vision of hope. There is nothing more exciting/gratifying/humbling than feedback like that.

Between weekends, we played. More exhausted emotionally and physically than we’ve been in a long time, it was a gift from heaven to have two 5-day periods “free.” We had some sweet time with the Oertli family celebrating Jack’s 16th birthday, before flying to San Diego between the first two weekends to hang out with my mom.

Jack’s 16th birthday celebration started with brunch at his Aunt Susie’s house. Such a great time!!

Our days in San Diego were perfect. It’s rare that we get to spend more than 2 days with my mom due to our crazy schedule, so this was gift in so many ways. My mom is easy. Never demanding, never complaining about not seeing enough of us, always thankful and appreciative. That makes our times together so precious. Adding delight, Lisa joined us for two days and Lisa makes everything better.

Goers and doers that we are, we convinced Mom to go to “Night Zoo” at the San Diego Zoo Tuesday and our two-hour stay couldn’t have been better. Perfect temp for enjoying the zoo, we (meaning Paul) wheeled her around and we took it all in. Just after sunset, we all took the Skyfari. My mom never ceases to amaze me.

On a roll, we took her to the “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial on the San Diego waterfront the next night. It was truly moving to see her response to this fitting tribute to her generation. Our days together couldn’t have been improved upon. So grateful!

Along with my sister Melissa, we had a great night at the zoo. The bronzed gorilla is no relation.

The “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial includes a bronzed collection of injured veterans being entertained by Bob Hope, with a continuous loop of one of his comedy routines being broadcast. Pretty remarkable.

The iconic farewell (or welcome home) embrace is one we were well familiar with as “Navy Brats." Right at this harbor, my father’s ships made many departures (full of tears) and returns (full of joy). So many memories are evoked by this incredible statue.

Back to Denver we flew after this lovely week with my mom, and after teaching at all four services that weekend, we spent four days at Twin Lakes in a cabin graciously made available to us by our dear friends, Dave and Kathleen. Off the grid in a big way, we anticipated getting a lot of writing done, but our bodies and souls were in greater need of rest and renewal so we gave in to the call of the mountains and lakes and hiked 6–10 miles daily. It was just what we needed. Having never hiked in the Rockies, we got a crash course in the effects of altitude when we hiked Aspen Mountain. Between thin air and a huge thunderstorm materializing out of nowhere (and breaking just as we made it to the lodge at the top), we had a very memorable hike—fortunately, with a happy ending (we are still alive). After four days of such recreating, we made our way back to Denver, refreshed and ready.

Hiking to “Interlaken” along the first lake . . . breathtaking!!

Taken from Independence Pass on our way to Aspen, this photo doesn’t really do justice to the incredible beauty—so use your imagination.

Paul, fully recovered from his brush with altitude sickness on the climb to the top of Aspen, stands on the platform upon which he married Wes and Anna Welker four years ago.

One of the most memorable encounters of our time in Colorado was meeting up with Bob and Jeannie Mannes, now 95 and 92 respectively. Campus by the Sea owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bob and Jeannie, who served as the summer directors of CBS from 1956–1970. Their tenure at CBS came to a close due to Bob’s promotion to Dean of Students at USC, which eliminated his professorial “summers free” schedule. They raised their five children at CBS, summer after summer, and Jeannie said, “All of our children believe that their summers at CBS were life-shaping for them.” We had the sweetest visit with them, comparing notes about people we know in common, and we were most impressed with their sharp-as-tacks memories. It’s so meaningful for us to connect with peers of Paul’s parents who have so much history with CBS. What a happy, blessed reunion!

Jeannie and Bob Mannes were most gracious to receive us for a “down memory lane” visit in their home in Denver.

Our last weekend in Denver was packed with great moments with great people.  Elsa Stanley, one of our all-time favorites from CBS (family-camper-turned-staff-member), recently moved to Ft Morgan, Colorado, for a teaching job and spent Saturday afternoon with us following our visit with Bob and Jeannie. Time is always too short with Elsa, but we packed it in during the window we had. After the Saturday night service, we enjoyed fellowship and food with the Oertlis. And Sunday after church, we were thrilled to be part of a CBS reunion of sorts hosted by Joel and Tiffany Ann Johns. The group was a mix of long-time CBS family campers (including Amity Close Wicks and her family and Stephen McLaughlin and his family), and newer CBS family campers (the Formes family, the Becketts, and the Johns), and the in-betweeners (Laura Long), and the never-been-to-CBS-but-new-to-Colorado (the Kyners). It was a lovely afternoon. We were well fed and hosted and they pulled off a sweet surprise “Happy 40th anniversary” CBS-style skit for us, complete with cake and well wishes. We’re still surprised and deeply touched by their kindness.

Elsa and I had a great time together catching up.

A wonderful group of CBS family campers gathered for food and fellowship in Parker on the Johns’ family ranch.

One more sweet celebration of our 40th. 

We also managed to meet up with our niece Kristi Rottschafer Daggett and her family at a local park in Castle Rock AFTER the Johns’ gathering, and then we made one final stop at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home before heading to the airport for our red-eye home. We truly couldn’t be more thankful for our three weekends in Denver, nor could we be more aware of how significantly God met us.

The Daggetts—Kristi, Tim, Isaac, Maddie, and Joel—met us at a park for a wonderful time of reconnection.

Our final social gathering prior to flying home—bbq and s’mores at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home. Delightful!

Refreshed and renewed, it was such a joy to return to Bedford and be greeted by Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel, who were awaiting our arrival. After a quick breakfast together, Derek and Julie took off for Maine to celebrate their 5th anniversary, leaving the littles with us for three days. They had a great getaway and we had loved every minute with the grands. Parks, stroller walks, playing games, and observing the simple delights of life through the eyes of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old filled the days and “took us back.” Since we were playing “man to man” defense, it was very manageable and “easy.” We’re so thankful for the privilege.

We “rocked it” with Nathan and Rachel for three days while their parents got away. Loved every moment.

Derek and Julie returned Wednesday afternoon, glowing, and after a lovely celebration dinner of steak and artichokes a la Derek, Thursday rolled in and the Johnsons rolled out mid-morning for home and we flew out mid-afternoon for Michigan. Just like that.

So I write from Michigan, where the 2/42 Church second annual family camp (Fr-amily Camp) is underway. We’re honored to partner with this very alive, very vision-driven church again this year and were thankful for a strong launch last night. Next weekend we’ll be back at Campus by the Sea for the third annual Labor Day Family Camp and that will officially close our summer.

In many ways, it’s been the shortest summer . . . and the longest.

The best . . . and the hardest.

Energizing . . . and exhausting.

Hope-giving . . . and discouraging.

That’s kind of how life is, though, isn’t it?  Evil, sin, and hardship will interrupt perfection as long as we’re on the earth, but our great hope, encouragement, and perseverance is fueled by our eternal hope in Jesus. He continues to be faithful and gives us energy, hope, purpose, and vision.

And for that, we give thanks from the depths of our souls and we press on towards His heart.

Whether we’re high in the Rockies or not.

Sunrise behind us as the moon sets before us over the Rockies. Such assurance that He goes before us and behind us, always present, always with us. How comforting! All praise is His.

Summer #41 "Great is Thy Faithfulness!"

Wow!! Seven weeks. Off the grid. Immersed in community. Focused on Christlikeness. Twenty-six program staff. Over 1300 campers. At least a dozen decisions for Christ. 

It’s been quite a summer at Campus by the Sea. 

As we make our way east (very temporarily), we are overwhelmed with joy, awe, and exhaustion. The summer was beyond expectations in terms of ministry, relationships, and staff. Simultaneously there were challenges that were draining and hard. Both the joys and the challenges allowed us to be met by God in very deep and real ways. We know we were prayed for more than we’ve ever been aware of, and the outpouring of love, affirmation, and support for us personally was off the charts. “Great is Thy faithfulness!

We gathered in this sacred cove Monday, June 13, and looked like this:

Our first program staff photo, taken during orientation week.

We were pale-skinned and we had clean feet. Some of us knew each other well, but most of us had limited knowledge of one another.

Seven weeks later, we looked like this:

The night of our last family camp banquet, all dressed up and ready to go.

Darker skin and much darker feet, and deeply connected as a discipling community. So bonded that farewells on Sunday, July 31, were tearful.

It will be impossible to capture all we feel about this staff. Twenty-two of the twenty-six were “veteran” staff, and they brought with them maturity and experience. Twenty-four of the twenty-six grew up as family campers at CBS. They “get it.” They knew how important the staff were to them as they grew up and came with a vision to live up to the high view they had of staff when they were young. They were committed to growing in Christlikeness and to being servant-hearted, unselfish, submissive to authority, and to going above and beyond. They worked hard but they also knew how to have a blast. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience with a staff. What a huge blessing they were!

Our leadership team lead incredibly well and were a large part of the success of this team. Mary Ann Bastedo led the nursery/playyard team and with four years of experience, she handled one of the more challenging areas of camp with wisdom and patience. Shelby Dreves, also serving her 4th year, was the peer director for the elementary team and she knocked it out of the park. Well organized and an extroverted communicator, Shelby garnered the respect of her whole team, who worked together beautifully. Paul and Lyss Gandy provided leadership for the junior/senior high ministry team as well as leading worship and they led both areas with excellence. Worship received off-the-chart ratings all summer and the jr/sr high team received rave reviews. Dave and Vonny Bastedo served in many ways again, from being the “deans of Little Gallagher’s” (the staff cove) to leading the college group to overseeing crafts and the elementary program . . . we couldn’t have done it without them! Lisa Friesen, who joined us for the last four family camps, was an effective mentor for the staff team as well as facilitator for the “young professional” group we had in four of the camps. Everything is better with Lisa around! We are so grateful for this special group of leaders and are hoping they’ll all return in 2017. :)

I did miss the start of family camp 1 due to the arrival of our fifth grandchild, Micah James, who made his grand entrance on Sunday, June 19. What a privilege and joy to be in the OR when all 10#8oz of him was delivered via c-section. As you can see, Brandon and Ana are elated to be joined by Mighty Micah. It’s hard to believe he’s already 6 weeks old!

Brandon and Ana are in love with their new little/big brother Micah James.

Our theme this summer was “Journeying with Jesus” and our studies included four vignettes from the life of Peter: his call, his declaration that “Jesus is the Christ!”, his denial of Jesus, and his mandate to “feed my sheep.” Paul’s giftedness in curriculum development was seen again as he “visioneered” the theme and wrote the studies for the adults, which served as a springboard for our creative teaching staff to adapt the studies for every age in camp. This allows all ages to interact with these stories as our integrated, intergenerational teaching model is fleshed out. Devotionals, the memory verse, and Paul’s Monday night talk all supported the theme, creating cohesiveness throughout the program. We were delighted with how well it all worked out.

The program staff are teaching the new group of campers the memory verse song, which Paul and Lyss Gandy “wrote.” They set 1 Peter 3:15 to music and it tops the charts as one of the best memory verse songs written for CBS ever. 

All six of our speakers—Tim Theule, Brent Eldridge, Chris Grace, Howard Clark, Ray Johnston, and Gary Gaddini—were used by God to bring His word in message to each camp. We were so blessed to have these men of God (and their families), who are faithful to His Word and who walk the talk, serve as teachers and mentors. It is a lavish banquet of teaching all summer and we personally are fortified and encouraged by such quality, God-honoring teaching. Our staff discipleship program includes having each of the speakers address the staff on Thursday nights and they also appreciated their wisdom and giftedness. 

The depth of community experienced by most at family camp is the result of many factors, some tangible and some intangible. At the core is the centrality of the gospel, which is the only truth which could form cohesion among a diverse group of families. Build out from that the secluded nature of CBS (no access except by boat or foot) and being off the “grid” and you have two big contributing factors to the inimitable experience campers have at CBS. It truly is a place like none other and we consider it such a privilege to be able to live out our passion for marriage and families in this unique context.

We “do” life together as community in so many ways! From lazy afternoons on the beach to hiking into Avalon, from adult-only small groups to intergenerational almost everything else, the goodness of community is celebrated. Though Americans have recently identified “isolation and loneliness” as their biggest problem, not many (if any) would identify that as an issue at family camp. In fact introverts find it challenging to find alone time in this almost-always-visually-connected community! We eat together, worship together, learn together, play together, pray together. And if you were fortunate enough to have your birthday or anniversary during your week at camp, you might’ve been serenaded by the "Barbershop Quartet with Olé” and then heard 260 voices sing together to you! This talented group of musicians brought many smiles to our family campers with their performances to mark special occasions. This was just one of the many ways the staff served above and beyond, with cheerful hearts and excellence, and helped to build into community.

Claire Peister, Lyss and Paul Gandy, and Joe Yardley brought down the roof when they performed as a quartet.

As much as we love the family campers and do what we do to serve them, our commitment to the staff and our investment in their growth is an equally important value. We believe that the seven-week “overseas mission trip experience” should be life-changing and life-shaping for them as they serve and live in a Christ-centered discipling community. Though we are only directly responsible for the volunteer program staff (from “hiring” to supervising), the discipleship program is for the entire staff team, which includes the kitchen, grounds, and waterfront teams. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire team, which both worked and played well together. The following photos give some glimpses into summer staff life. 

Our 1st annual "4th of July Old Fashioned Picnic and Games” was held on Sat. July 2 and fun was truly had by all. Pictured here is one of the four teams that competed against one another.

Apparently this team won 1st place—at least in this popular “toss the cheese puff onto the shower-cap-smothered-in-shaving-cream” event.
The annual game show—this year named “The 2016 Gallagher’s Games”—was a huge hit and this dedicated, hard-working team made it look easy week after week. Such a great night of laughter, friendly competition, and intergenerational craziness.

The under-the-stars “square” dance (we don’t actually do any dancing in squares, but line dancing, circle dancing, and swing dancing are enjoyed by all) is always such a huge hit. Pictured here is JoJo Gaddini and Brandon Garcia doing the “Virginia Reel.”
The 4th annual “Ladies Only” tea was held one Saturday afternoon for the staff women. Especially lovely is leaving our staff shirts behind and celebrating the bond of women.

Hiking is one of the favorite activities for many of the staff, who take advantage of the “gym with no walls” which promises challenging workouts with incredibly beautiful scenery. One of the privileges of serving on staff is having the opportunity to do three special, “staff-only” hikes. The following photos reveal the secrets. 

The “shore hike” is the most popular of the staff-only hikes. 38 staff safely navigated this somewhat dangerous hike along the coast between CBS and Avalon. The early morning departure is timed to coincide during the lowest tide to make this doable. It’s a great experience in team building and bonding as staff help staff succeed in getting to Avalon in one piece.

The full moon loop hike is another staff-only hike, and though only 11 took advantage of this opportunity this summer, it was one of the best hikes ever. The clear, bright night made flashlights unnecessary . . . and a few bison made it interesting.

Off this intrepid group goes to enjoy the island in this unique way.
The third staff-only hike is an 8-mile loop from CBS to “Lone Tree.” Named for the “lone tree” which sits atop the tallest ridge seen from camp, this somewhat-challenging hike is the most arduous, but 25 stalwart staff took it on and lived to tell about it. This is taken at the first “stop”: the altar on the far side of Toyon Bay. No sacrifices were made.
Successfully to the top of Lone Tree, sweaty but smiling. The full-sun morning added challenge to the hike.

Every staff member is placed in a small group that meets weekly. The centerpiece of this year’s small groups was Paul David Tripp’s devotional New Morning Mercies. Every staff member was given a copy of this ground-breaking devotional and encouraged to use it daily. During small group, each shared a particularly meaningful devotional from the week before. This is our small group. We loved meeting with them each Monday afternoon. Even more, we all love this devotional and couldn’t more highly recommend it.

There are many more staff-shaping moments and activities, and all are framed by a universal commitment to living honorably together in community. Our “community standards” are clear and, thankfully, are “bought in to” by the staff. That’s part of what makes it work.

One more photo from staff life . . . and without minimizing any of the other herculean efforts expended by many of our staff, I am sharing this photo of Taylor Tebay (5th year staff, elementary PE teacher, all around great guy) with Ryan Beiter. Ryan has come to camp most of his life and this year Taylor served as his "special buddy.” When Taylor asked Ryan’s dad if there was any way he could serve Ryan “above and beyond,” Paul said, “He’s always wanted to go to the cross, but we’ve never figured out a way to get him up there.” Ryan’s ride is a motorized wheelchair, and there are parts of the path to the cross that would be impassable for him. 

So Taylor (with some help from equally servant-hearted Robert Kovacs), determined to get Ryan to the cross for the jr/sr high closing session that is held every Friday night at the cross.

The smile on Ryan’s face the next day told most of the story.
The tears running down his father’s cheeks told the rest of it.

Taylor literally had to carry Ryan on his back up the parts interrupted by steps. And so he did.

The degree of sensitivity and servanthood reflected in this incredible act of love and service speaks volumes about Taylor’s and Robert’s hearts . . . and the joy on Ryan’s face affirmed his delight to be included in this special, but logistically difficult part of camp. Of such is the kingdom of God.

Taylor Tebay and Ryan Beiter share a moment before Ryan boards the boat to return to the mainland.

A few more highlights of the summer before I wrap this up. Family Camp 4 clandestinely organized honoring our 40th anniversary and our 41st summer at CBS and completely surprised us with a thoughtful and beautiful tribute. Photos, notes, painted rocks, and the framed rubber food scrapers with the caption “Scraping since 1976” represented memories collected for four decades. We were so touched and felt so loved. 

This is just part of what they set up in our honor.

This is the crew that orchestrated the tribute given in our honor at the banquet for family camp 4. Such precious friends/family.

Paul was honored to do several baptisms each week. It’s amazing how many of our campers choose to be baptized at CBS, citing it as the place they experience significant spiritual growth. It’s very moving to hear each one verbalize their testimony down on the rocky shore before entering the oftentimes surging sea. The support of the community is felt by all.

Campers surround the “baptismees” to hear the proclamations of faith prior to them entering the waters.

Especially meaningful during camp 6 was the baptism of Sonora Shaffer, who made the decision to follow Christ the day before in her class. She is surrounded by 4 generations in this photo: Rosemary Dougan (great-grandma), Jerry and Eileen Shaffer (grandparents), Jon and Lisa Shaffer (parents), and her four siblings. The heritage. The legacy. The faithfulness of God through the generations. Doesn’t get any better than this!

This is another precious moment. Krista Engle Hart with Daniel, Julie Friesen Johnson with Rachel, and Robyn Chevalier Hall with Benjamin . . . all three moms grew up at camp together, served on staff together, and are continuing the tradition of family camp with the next generation. Rich!!

And these two: Rosemary Dougan and Shirley Lincoln, two women who along with their now-deceased spouses, Garth and Ken, have had a significant shaping impact on CBS history and legacy for decades. What joy to have them continuing as campers . . . each bringing four generations with them to family camp this summer.

And speaking of legacy, Sandy Friesen Clark (back row, second from right), and two of her four siblings, Paul and Beth, were at CBS in 1951 when it all started (well, Beth wouldn’t join the crew for 2 more years). Sixty-five years later, all of Mel and Helen Friesen’s children, in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are walking with Jesus. “I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the faith.” (3 John 4) Blessed!

Though of the Garcia family only Brandon made it to camp this summer due to Micah’s arrival, the rest of the gang did and wonderful memories were made, life-shaping lessons were learned, and many “only God” moments were had. Paul had a vision while doing his early morning hike one day of sending a message to his father, who helped start CBS and sadly died an early death in 1983, “Jesus . . . please let Daddy know that what he started is going strong and is being used by God to change many lives.”
All praise is His!

“Great is Thy Faithfulness!!! 
Morning by morning new mercies I see. 
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. 
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

Endings and Beginnings

The exclamation point was put on the end of the Summer of 2015 with our Labor Day Family Camp. Spanning the past twelve weeks, we ended where we began the season: at Campus by the Sea . . . but managed to travel 8,000 miles and do family camp in two other states in between.

Our 18-year run of family camp in New England officially concluded on August 16 with the family camp closing banquet. This marked our 10th year of running two week-long camps at Berea in Hebron, New Hampshire, and we are so thankful to have ended on the high note of handing over a healthy family camp program to Nate Parks and his crew at Berea, who have a vision and passion for continuing these legacy-building camps.

We are so thankful for Nate (executive director of Berea) and Heidi Parks to whom we have passed the mantle of family camp.

This year, our two weeks at Berea didn’t begin 24 hours after our final camp at CBS like it has the past 3 summers (thank you, Jesus!) which enabled us to accept the request of Paul Gandy and Alyssa Gosselin to perform their wedding in Newport Center, Vermont, the day before camp began. What a joy it was to celebrate with these two, who over the past 3 years have wisely and honorably prepared for their life together. Their wedding was a true celebration of all that is good, and we loved being a part of it.

What a joy to perform the marriage of Paul and Alyssa Gandy in Newport, VT.

We came straight to camp from the wedding, meeting up with a “half staff” from CBS and a whole lot of questioning our own wisdom in deciding to team up with a “half staff” from Berea, along with hopes of a successful transition of family camp from H.I.M. to Berea. It had sounded wise and good last November when we devised the plan, but I’ll admit I had more than a few misgivings as we made the drive to camp. What if our teams didn’t mesh? What if the program would be compromised by having half a staff who knew nothing about what the other half had been doing all summer at CBS? What if . . . ? Many concerns swirled in my head, until several hours later we had our first meeting together.

As it turned out, we loved the “half staff” from Berea and I’m so thankful to say that our teams meshed and the program went off without a hitch. What a huge answer to prayer.

Of course, having the key positions and lead teachers filled by veteran CBS staff made a big difference. Shelby Dreves led the elementary program and Mark Barrett led the jr/sr highers, and their leadership was effective and respected. Ryan and Kelly Plosker knocked it out of the park with the college students.

Two “half staffs” combined to make a powerhouse “whole staff” at Berea. This is the week one staff . . .

. . . and this is the week two staff.
Both weeks were so full of grace and hand-of-God moments.  We know of at least two decisions for Christ during the first week. Fourteen were baptized. Several families who in past summers were hanging on by a thread were in much better places. Some made hard decisions during camp regarding relationships, lifestyle choices, etc. There was no mistaking that the Spirit of God was present and penetrating hearts.

The overwhelming response of family campers was that they were met by God, encouraged by community, and refueled and recharged for the year ahead. What a privilege to be a part of all of this!

Staffer Erik Anderson leads his group of guys.  During the second camp, we had 64 students 4th grade and below . . . and 51 of them were boys. 

Kelsey O’Keeffe, serving for the sixth summer at Berea, finds a creative place for her high school girls’ small group time.

Mark Barrett’s small group circles around one of their guys who decided to follow Jesus as camp wrapped up. They presented him with a Bible and are committed to praying for him. His decision for Christ follows 14 years of his grandmother bringing him to family camp. 
One of the 14 baptisms in Newfound Lake . . .
. . . with some of the witnesses celebrating this meaningful declaration.

Guy Steele, “Mr. Banner Man,” explains the tradition of families making banners as a memorial of their family camp week, as 18 banners, all made by the Glen and Barbara Franks family over the past 18 years, are paraded across the stage.  How cool is that???
We worked hard, and put in lots of hours, but we also played hard and made many great memories together.

Jumping into frigid water at Sculptured Rocks
provided an afternoon of fun.

Daily hikes along the lake front renewed our minds and worked our bodies.  Mark was joined by several other staff guys after this photo was snapped.

Howard Clark, who was our speaker for both camps, holds court with the staff during a riveting Question and Answer session. 

Our final staff photo after the week two banquet. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

In an unprecedented fashion, Paul and I took off moments after this photo was taken because we had to catch a flight from Boston to Detroit a mere 7 hours later.  All I can say is that we felt God’s leading in saying “yes” to the invitation to speak at the inaugural family camp for the 2/42 Church in Ann Arbor, so we did.

We again second-guessed that decision as we arrived home at 1 a.m. to re-pack, and were picked up at 4 a.m. to leave for the airport. But 3 days later, after our final session at the 2/42 Church’s first-ever family camp, we had no doubt.  

Held at SpringHill Camp in Evert, Michigan, we spoke at four sessions: two inter-generationally, and two to adults only. The campers were receptive, engaging, and so appreciative, especially after the sessions on marriage and parenting.

SpringHill is not CBS. :)  Zip lines, blobs, horses, “the gusher,” giant swings, ropes courses, gymnasiums . . . You name it, they had it. Their housing included a plane (re-purposed as a dorm) and 4 railroad cars (on a track), also re-purposed . . . and, a tram service connected the events spread over their 900-acre facility, giving it a distinctly Disneyland-esque feel.  

Standing in line for the zip line at SpringHill camp with the Wong family. We loved it!

SpringHill is a beautiful place!!

In spite of all those wonderful experiences (and potential distractions), the teaching sessions were well attended and we had many great conversations. It’s pretty cool to “just speak” at a family camp—a very different experience from running them!!

We drove back to Ann Arbor with Wai and Elaine Wong and family Sunday afternoon, exhausted but oh so thankful for the clear ways that God had met us and confirmed the “rightness” of being there.

To celebrate the end of family camp and Paul’s upcoming birthday, the Wongs took us to “Black Rock Steak House” for dinner and it was great!

We then went back to Ann Arbor to “play” with the Wongs for a couple of days.  Walks around the lakes, amazing meals, pedicures for Elaine and me, followed by some “great deals” shopping. A sweet visit with our niece, Heidi, and her 3 kids. Baking cookies and scones. Having competitive ping pong matches. Playing games. Eating custard. Wonderful moments and memories.

Brunch at the Wongs': great food, but greater company.
Our niece, Heidi Rottschafer Lemmerhirt, and her 3 came for a visit that was enjoyed by all.
After recuperating for a couple of days with our precious Wong family, we spoke for a couples event at the 2/42 Church Tuesday night. We really loved partnering with Eric and Stacey Rauch, the pastor to families for 2/42, who set up both the family camp and the couples night. They have a great vision for equipping and encouraging families in their fellowship and it was a privilege to be a part of it.

Eric and Stacey Rauch stand with us before we spoke for the couples event.
All too soon our Michigan days were over and back to Boston we flew on Wednesday, Aug. 26.  We spent 9 hours between Thursday and Friday doing a "mini-intensive” counseling for a couple who flew in from the south with hopes of saving their infidelity-ravaged marriage.  We felt God really met us and them and it seems He used those days as a turning point for them. All praise is His.

Off again: on Aug. 29, we flew to California to celebrate Paul’s 65th and Brandon’s 5th in Santa Clarita. What fun!!  A Brandon-designed day of mini-golfing, go-karting, swimming, bbq-ing salmon, and eating strawberry pie made for a perfect celebration and we enjoyed every minute of it.  We spent the next 3 days catching up with ourselves and hanging with the Garcias before driving to Riverside to spend a night with Lisa in her new world.

Mini-golfing—what fun. 

With temps reaching 106 degrees, it was really refreshing to jump in their pool.
The grand finale: strawberry cream pie a la Kari.

Lisa has officially begun her role as an associate professor at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA. She is teaching 5 athletic training courses, 3 of which are undergrad and 2 are master’s level (she’s co-teaching those.)  She’s renting a little CBU-owned house on the edge of campus and has happily traded her onerous commute for walking to campus.  She’s rediscovering the joys of good work-life balance and is super impressed with the Christian commitment of the president and faculty of CBU. We were so happy to get to experience her new life.

Standing in front of Lisa’s new rental at CBU!

Off to CBS we went on Thursday, the 3rd of Sept., to make final preparations for the 2nd Annual Labor Day Weekend Family Camp. Blessed with a largely veteran staff, and a full-with-waiting-list camp, we had great expectations going into the weekend.

And they were exceeded.

The program team worked together seamlessly. Cheerfully. Willingly. Flexibly. In a Christlike manner. It was truly a joy to partner with this crew, and as we told them, we’d work with any of them anytime.

The Labor Day Family Camp program staff team . . . a stellar group!

Though short, we manage to pack a lot in to the weekend and for the more than 50 family units who came, it worked for them.  David and Cherylyn Hegg were our resource couple and David’s two morning talks were received well. Paul and I spoke one evening on “living to the praise of His glory in your marriage” and the campers seemed to appreciate it.  We danced on the basketball court “under the lights” and worshiped around the campfire before having s’mores. Beautiful weather made the water so inviting and the kayak trip to Willow Cove was packed out. Early morning tubing, commencing in the dark-turning-light, was very popular.

A full camp enjoys worship led by Christian Hushaw, Alea Peister, and Seth Heinz.
Dancing under the lights and the stars.  Very, very cool.

Late-night staff gathering around Paul’s cookies and stories of engagements. Great bonding time.

David and Cherylyn Hegg served as our resource couple for the weekend. We always love spending time with them.
The weekend couldn’t have gone better. We had nothing but thankful hearts for God’s faithfulness as we sang the boatload of campers back to the mainland.

We sailed off the island that afternoon, concluding a long, wonderful summer of family camps. Our passion for family camps only deepens year by year. We continue to believe it’s one of the most impactful venues we invest in. It’s the place where “the worlds’ greatest need and our deepest passion” meet. So so grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve in this way.

After two days in San Diego with my mom, we’ll begin to settle in to a full fall in New England. More beginnings always follow endings. We are anticipating great things, at this point known only by God, but comforted by knowing He goes before us.

What a perfect ending to a wonderful visit with my mom!

One of the Best

The sun sets on another summer at Campus by the Sea.

The rhythmic sound of the tide coming and going over the rolling rocks has been replaced by early morning loons calling from the placid waters of Newfound Lake, and we know we’re not at Campus by the Sea this week. Just like that, seven weeks of living at “a little piece of heaven by the sea” is history and we’re off and running at Berea for two weeks of Family Camp.  

We begin these weeks at Berea with hearts overflowing with gratitude for the incredible ways God met us and showed His faithfulness at CBS. The summer theme of “Living to the praise of His glory” taken from Ephesians 1 set the bar. That theme was woven through the curriculum, the worship, and the devotions. We challenged our staff (and ourselves) to process all decisions, thoughts, and actions through the rubric of “Will this help me live to the praise of His glory?” It showed. Consistently the staff chose to serve whole-heartedly, to embrace the opportunities unique to an “off the grid” discipleship community, and to live honorably in the community by submitting to the community standards. It was a delightfully productive, drama-free summer, marked by deep solidarity and growth. Nothing but gratitude.

We served together, learned together, grew together, played together, hiked together, laughed together, cried together. We chose to honor one another by loving well, encouraging each other, and helping each other grow.  As masks came off during our 49-day community experience, we chose to accept idiosyncrasies and challenge ungodliness. We learned to love those we found hard to love. We rediscovered how good it was to have real time conversations face-to-face, and we regained oodles of hours normally eaten up by Facebook, video games, texting, etc.  We helped each other “live to the praise of His glory.”  It was a rich, growth-producing summer.

Since a “picture paints a thousand words,” I’m posting numerous photos representing staff life, Summer 2015.

The entire staff team: facilities, program, and year-round staff.
The program staff.

The “staff only” annual shore hike . . . pausing at Frog Rock.

For the first time in a long while, the 4th of July fell on Saturday,
so we rented the "Blanche W” and took the staff in to watch the fireworks in Avalon Harbor, followed by a flying fish tour.  Such a fun night!

Every Saturday night the staff enjoyed Paul’s freshly baked
chocolate chip cookies—much to their delight.
The annual tea party for staff women was delightful.

In a most unusual twist, Family Camp 5 arrived in RAIN, and in order to keep our campers as dry as possible, the our staff cheerfully got drenched.

The annual staff-only hike to Lone Tree took place during Family Camp 5,
and though it didn’t draw a large crowd, those who went had a great time.
The “Staff Coffeehouse” was resurrected this summer, featuring some great acts as well as some great desserts.  “Pavlova” a la Vonny was the biggest hit.

Into town for our “staff appreciation dinner” to celebrate our seven weeks of serving together.

Dave and Vonny were our “right hand people” serving as the “deans” of the staff cove,
Little Gallagher’s, as well as leading the college group.
Vonny also directed the elementary program.  So thankful for them!

All six weeks of family camp were full of great teaching, incredible fellowship, and numerous moments of being showered by God’s grace. Decisions were made for Christ. Hope was given to struggling marriages. Baptisms were celebrated. Parents and children were encouraged to work together as a team. Milk jug boats were entered in the “Annual Boat Race.” Square dancing on the basketball court was repeated six times, but was never tired of. The game show, “Go for the glory,” was wildly popular. Worship under the stars, around the campfire ring, followed by s’mores . . . unbeatable.  

The host and hostess of “Go For the Glory” . . . stylin’!!

We were also beyond thankful to have our whole immediate family at camp, as well as many of our extended family.  What a joy to have our grandchildren loving the program, singing the “Butterfly Song”, and hanging out with Papa and Gigi.  This feels like it’s coming full circle.

The “fam” minus Gabe, who had returned to the mainland to lead 
the college missions trip from his church.

Nathan helps Papa ring the bell for announcements.

A bunch of Friesens, Herbsts, Rottschafers, Clarks, Oertlis, Millers, and Stucks.
So fun to have them all at camp!

The original 3: Kari, Julie, and Lisa.

Some big changes within our family happened during these seven weeks. Julie, Derek, and Nathan have moved stateside from Uganda, settling near Lemoyne, PA (outside of Harrisburg), to spend the foreseeable future working at the CURE headquarters. Derek’s new role will be in development and long-term sustainability. Though it was very hard to leave all they love in Uganda, they are looking forward to their new life in Pennsylvania, especially as they await the birth of their second child in early November.

Lisa has resigned her position as head athletic trainer for UCLA women’s basketball and on Aug. 17 will assume the position of Associate Professor at California Baptist University (CBU) located in Riverside, CA.  She’ll teach two undergrad and two master’s level athletic training courses and is looking forward to a more normal schedule, with improved work/life balance.  She’ll leave a large portion of her heart at UCLA with the student athletes she has served and loved so well, as well with her athletic training colleagues. We’ll continue to follow the Lady Bruins with support and love.

We’re still finding it hard to believe that our summer at CBS is over . . . but it will surely go down in history as one of the best.

We Must Stop Blinking

It happened again. We blinked. And suddenly we’re on opening day of orientation for summer staff at Campus by the Sea. Really???  Did’t we just wrap up the summer of 2014?  We must stop blinking.

So here we are, on a plane to Los Angeles, where we’ll be met by daughter Lisa who will deliver us to the boat terminal. There we’ll meet up with several dozen eager/anxious summer staff who will begin the exciting/challenging process of becoming a community in seven weeks or less.

This never gets old.

We’re (obviously) getting older…but this never gets old. We love Campus by the Sea and we love family camp. An unbeatable combination.

Before we land on the desert island later today, I’ll catch up with ourselves by reviewing the past month.  Right after returning from Pennsylvania late on May 17th, we had one day to get ourselves (and our home) together, one full day of counseling, and then we welcomed my sister Laura and her husband David for a brief but very sweet visit. In just over 24 hours, we met them in Ogunquit for lobster rolls with a dear friend of theirs, walked and talked miles and hours, and staged a small and very successful surprise party for Laura on her May 21st birthday. Loved every minute of it and hated to send them off mid-afternoon Thursday, but to quote my mom, “we’re thankful for every minute we get to spend with them.”  We always lament how sorry we are we’re not neighbors. 

Barbara Steele and Betty Ann Bleu joined us in surprising Laura on her birthday.  So fun!!

And just like that, it was Memorial Day Weekend and we were off to Cumberland Wilderness Retreat to launch their first family camp. Through the collaborative efforts of Nate and Jeannie King (with whom we’ve had a long relationship and partnership in ministry) and Keith and Marcia Thompson (long time friends of the Kings), we had the privilege of experiencing family camp for the first time with a group of 15 families.

Because family camp to us is more familiar and broken-in than a well-worn Rainbow Sandal, we can forget how unusual in the best sort of way this experience can be. For the 13 families for whom this was totally new, it rocked their world. And mind you, we were not in a highly developed, well-resourced conference center. Oh no. We were camping. Porta-potties, outdoor grill, a big sideless tent to meet under . . . on the ground. Yes, we were camping and everyone loved it. Just several hours in to it, a 6-year-old boy raised his hand enthusiastically and asked, “Are we going to get to tell you what we think of family camp?”  “Sure,” answered Nate King, who was emceeing.  “This is the BEST camp ever!!” he exclaimed.

And so it went.  We had all the normal components of family camp: adult small groups followed by teaching on family and marriage by us, a great kids program, lots of intergenerational interaction, worship, hiking, swimming, and s’mores at the end of the day—all working together to affirm the goodness of community, of family, of celebrating God’s generosity in nature, in relationships, and in life. It couldn’t have gone better, to be honest, and we were pleased to join ranks with the Thompsons and Kings in helping to make this happen.

“If I were a butterfly, I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings . . .”  These families joined the ranks of those who have wildly embraced the simple but profound truth of this song.

The outdoor kitchen: breakfast on a grill!

Fishing was a favorite pastime and all who got their lines wet were
handsomely rewarded with many fish . . .

. . . which fed the group on our last night.  Best fish fry ever.

Baptisms were done at the quarry lake and it was very inspiring to see
five young ones proclaim their desire to follow Christ.

The family camp photo!

Final moments of family camp, gathering around the Thompson family
as they move from the area so Keith can attend seminary.

The founding families: The Thompsons and the Kings,
after three exhausting days of serving everyone at camp. Tired but content.

Back to Boston Wednesday afternoon, with counseling on Thursday, then off to California on Friday, May 29.  No, we didn’t unpack completely. The purpose of the trip was to attend the Celebration of Life service honoring Garth Dougan, held in Santa Rosa on May 30.  We took advantage of the trip and spent 8 hours on Friday meeting with the interim director of Campus by the Sea, Ray and Diane Schnickels, and the veteran leaders of camp, Greg and Wendy Jones.  Our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent opened their home for our marathon meeting, providing a quiet, lovely setting in which to get lots done. We were thrilled to have time with this team, especially as we adjust to the transition from working under Dave and Kim Noble the past six summers. We consider them dear friends and will truly miss them, but are very thankful that Ray and Diane will serve in the interim. They have deep spiritual passion and will be used by God in a big way for however long they stay.

Saturday, May 30, was Garth’s service and it was beautifully orchestrated by his daughter Eileen. It was so good to be able to both grieve and celebrate together as those who loved Garth deeply.  Lisa joined us for the service, and I know her presence meant a lot to Rosemary.  We enjoyed reconnecting with many longtime CBS friends as well.  

Many of the CBS contingent who attended Garth’s Celebration of Life service in Santa Rosa.
Lisa and Rosemary sharing the love.

The last two weeks have been a blur of counseling, meetings, packing, cleaning, socializing, having houseguests, preparing for the summer, preparing our house to be used by friends in our absence, etc. They’ve zoomed by!  We’ve been thankful to have the time at home to get these things done before we begin our marathon summer of family camps.

So here we are.  We are in the midst of staff orientation this week and are beyond thankful for the great team the Lord has brought together.  Early indications from our program staff meetings are that we have a wonderful group of students who are passionate about loving and serving Jesus.  Our times in the Word have been rich and deep and we’re quickly becoming a cohesive group.  Our all-staff meetings (facilities and program) have also been marked by camaraderie and unity. We are anticipating a fruitful, growth-filled summer. Thanks in advance for praying for us.

We’re mostly “off the grid” for the summer, so our cell phones are off (no reception in this cove) and we’re avoiding Facebook. We’ll be online (email) in a limited fashion and I can’t say we’re sorry.  It is heavenly to be free from most distractions here in this sacred cove.

I know we’ll likely forget not to blink, and August 2 will be here and we’ll be heading to New England for family camps at Camp Berea. Just like that. Blessings on your summer.  May you find time and space in which to be refreshed and renewed.

First program staff meeting 2015.

First “selfie” with 18 staff who hiked Scar for the first of many times.

Welcoming Joe Yardley to the team on Wednesday, flying in from NC after orientation at UNC.

Summer is done done

Do you remember the time when summer didn't officially end until after Labor Day weekend . . . and then some?  Though summer 2014 has for many been over since the middle of August (really???), our summer is only now "done done."  I'm flying home from San Diego today, after spending the last lingering vestiges of summer in that beautiful city visiting my mom and sisters.  Walks on the beach and warmish ocean water confirm that summer is holding on a bit, but when I land in about 6 hours, it really will be over.  With a twinge of sadness, I'll pack away "summer only" things—but a full and beautiful fall is in the offing, and life moves on.

We managed to pack much into the past three weeks (gasp!) post surgery. A few days of "what hit me?!” or "what ran over me?!” shifted my expectations of a "walk in the park" recovery from ventral hernia repair surgery to "I didn't see this coming" shock, but after four days of not much movement from the couch, we headed up to Ogunquit, Maine, for two days of R & R before heading back to California for our final family camp there.

Getting to be in Maine was so worth the effort!  We stayed in a sweet cottage "loaned" to us by our dear friend Hank and walked all over that adorable little seaside village. Early morning sunrises, fresh "lobsta" off the pier in Perkins Cove, endless "slow" walks on the beach, and nothing on the agenda but relax, relax, relax.  It was just what we needed and we felt very renewed by the time.

The sun rises over Perkins Cove . . . in the very still, cool morning.  Love.
Paul's "birthday lobsta" from dear friends . . . so yummy!

We returned to reality long enough to (re)pack, check in with the doctor (he said that all I was experiencing that was unexpected by me was "normal" - which seems like it shouldn't have been unexpected, but . . .) and off we flew to California on Wednesday, Aug. 27.  We had two very important birthdays to celebrate before heading over to Campus by the Sea, and we arrived just in time to make (Paul's) and  Brandon's (6)4th birthday cake. If it looks familiar, it's because it's just like last year's cake . . . only with a 4 instead of a 3.  Brandon's temperament is beginning to show.  :)

Gigi and Brandon decorate his birthday cake.

The finished product brought smiles all around.

Papa and Brandon break in his new birthday squirt guns in the pool.  Not sure who had more fun!!

What fun to have just over 24 hours with Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana before they headed to Sacramento for the long weekend, and we headed to Catalina.  Love being able to celebrate these two very special men!  We were also thrilled to spend the night with Lisa in her new condo in Sherman Oaks.  She found a great place to rent with two other women and we loved "meeting" the place and the roommates finally!

Off to Catalina we went early Friday morning for the first ever Labor Day Weekend Family Camp.  The CBS powers-that-be thought it would be worth trying at least once to see if it would lift any burden off the very impacted six week-long family camps and to see if there is a market for a shorter, less expensive family camp option.  They asked us to speak for it, feeling that might give it the best shot at success—as well as direct it.

It seemed so simple a year ago to say "yes" to the proposal.   As the time drew near, however, we realized it would be much more challenging than we anticipated.  No one really expected it to sell out and have a waiting list months ahead, but it did. Just under 200 campers gathered for the weekend, and 14 of them were under 3 years old.    “It shouldn't be a challenge to pull together a staff…” proved to be the most unrealistic expectation we had. What???  As it turned out, few of our 2014 summer staff were available to serve that weekend.  One-third of them live far from SoCal (in VT, OK, WA, PA, FL, etc.) and most of the rest had school (shocking that Labor Day is not honored on most college campuses!), jobs, or weddings. In the end, though, God provided in amazing and almost miraculous ways to meet us and all our needs and the weekend went without a hitch. The staff team He brought together was incredible.  We were SO SO thankful when all was said and done.

Paul was honored by the staff  with a Shelby-directed birthday skit,
since camp started on his real birthday.

We were very thankful to have Ray and Carol Johnston, along with their daughters, Christy and Leslie, serve on our staff team. Treasured friends for about 30 years now, Ray helps Paul celebrate his birthday with a beautiful blue, matches-his-eyes polo.

Lisa came through, recruiting Rhema and Kendrick (both UCLA student athletes)
to serve on our staff.  They all did a great job.

Here's the team!!!  Such a great group.  We were very blessed to partner with them.  Four of them had never been to camp before, but within 24 hours, we were a well-functioning team—and by the time Monday rolled around, we felt like we had served together for a lot longer than 72 hours. Hand of God!

We used the first two program days of week-long family camp (transformation and proclamation) for the two full days of camp and the campers rallied around the themes quickly.  We had the dance night and ice cream social Saturday, and on Sunday evening, Paul and I spoke on temperaments followed by the worship at the fire ring and s'mores.  The weekend was packed full and everything went according to plan.  We all commented on how thoroughly engaged the campers were from the moment they arrived.  They squeezed in all they could, from waterfront activities to banner making. They didn't miss a beat.  We even had four baptisms!

Kendrick, Lisa, and I hosted one of the s'more tables, a first for Kendrick.
He was a quick study . . . spearing those marshmallows!

We lost our sunlight earlier than we finished our dancing,
so with the aid of a floodlight, the dance went on.  Very cool!

While we were committed to doing the best program we could, God was up to far more important things.  Here are some of Paul's reflections on the weekend:

"A husband, coming very reluctantly to camp, came up after a session asking if we had been living in their attic. “Those were the exact issues we have been facing.”  He later told us it was either a miracle at camp for them or divorce.  They left with a new resolve and hope for a future together.
Another single guest was in tears as she let us know she had never seen families eating together.  She later called her mom and asked why they had never been together around the table for meals.  Her mom apologized for this and a new bond was formed between a mom and daughter.
Another couple came estranged because of sinful choices the husband had made.  During the weekend there was repentance, forgiveness, and hope for a future.  It was a very powerful weekend."

And yet another: a young single man came really questioning his relationship with God.  "This is a make or break weekend for me" he explained to our staff.  God met him in extraordinary ways, and he left camp changed, committed to whole-heartedly following Jesus.

One woman wrote:  "We were tremendously blessed, healed, convicted, and guided to seek God in an intimate, surrendered way."

Another wrote on her evaluation:  "As I looked at the staff this morning (as they stood before us and sang the Benediction), there is such a 'sweet, loving, kind, gentle, humble, and pure spirit' among them.  That spirit of purity is the spirit of CBS.  We love CBS.  We love CBS.  We love CBS."

And one more:  "I feel that we got the best of the week-long camp smashed into a weekend.  It was such a great experience for everyone."

All praise is His.  Our desire is to live to the praise of His glory.  Hearts overflowing with gratitude.

We spent an extra day at camp, debriefing the summer with the senior leadership team, and that was time well spent.  We all agreed the Labor Day camp is a keeper.

Down to San Diego we went on Wednesday to spend some time with my dear mom.  It was a very special time to just be together. The highlight was being with her at her oncology appointment and hearing the doctor's report that her latest scan was clear.  What great news!! It was also fun to be there to host two couples who have been long time friends and colleagues of my parents.  It's very meaningful to hear insights from them of my father's life and its ongoing impact on them.  I love that! His legacy lives on.

One more highlight for me was reconnecting with my 7th grade Physical Education teacher, Mimi Test.  She was a young Navy wife doing her first teaching stint at my junior high school and my Mom took her under her wing as a very experienced Navy wife.  My mom's care for her and my "love" for her bonded us in a way that has never faded.  What a treat it was to spend several hours with her and catch up on years gone by.  She's a remarkable woman, full of wisdom and grace, and I was reminded of how blessed I was to have her as an important mentor during such an awkward season of life.

Besides people time, we walked the beach, watched the sunset, enjoyed simple meals together, and somehow managed to make 3 runs to Costco in 6 days.  We also had a special night at the Lamb's Players Theater in Coronado seeing a fabulous production of "Les Miserables."  If you live in San Diego, don't miss it.  They've just extended it until early November.

Walking the beach at Torrey Pines State Park . . . breathtakingly beautiful.
Lunch with Mimi Test and my mom was a true highlight of my time in San Diego.
All too quickly the time came to an end and I said farewell to my precious mom and to summer in the same breath.  The seemingly endless summer is truly done done.  What a great one it was!

The sun sets on the summer at Coronado Beach.  "The heavens declare the glory of God."  Amen!

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."

39 and Counting!

No, that's not my age.  We've just completed our 39th summer at Campus by the Sea and we're just getting warmed up.  :)

I'm writing from Camp Berea on Newfound Lake, where we are hosting our 7th family camp straight in as many weeks. Though "tired" on many levels, I can't think of a summer that ranks higher in terms of God's favor on the staff, the program, the "aha!" moments, the decisions made to be more fully surrendered to Him, and the overall delight and joy of serving in this way.

All summer I've wanted to capture moments in words and have been thwarted by the 24/7 needs of running packed camps and building into our college students who serve as staff.  I find moments to write this morning as the shopping-starved staff spend part of the "change of pace day" at Walmart in the local town of Plymouth. Wild horses couldn't drag me there, but thankfully, they dragged basically the entire staff so I luxuriate in a very quiet cabin overlooking the lake.  Hard to improve on the inspirational quality of the setting. It will be a challenge to distill the noteworthy aspects of the summer, however, as there were so many. Nice problem, yes?

But first . . . we did have a "20" on a scale of "1-10" family reunion/vacation in Vero Beach, FL, during the first week of June, prior to beginning this marathon summer.  With the Johnsons home from Uganda, and the Garcias and Lisa from CA, we landed together in FL for a most memorable and delightful week together at the beach home of dear friends in Vero Beach. It would take a herculean effort to imagine a more perfect setting and/or experience.  Lazy days walking the beach, eating simple meals together, swimming, enjoying 3 little ones as well as 7 big ones . . . we all were exceedingly blessed. One of the highlights was a family photo shoot done by Gabe's cousin Joelle (  She spectacularly captured the unity and love of our family in such a memorable and framable fashion.  

The "Fam" in Vero Beach: Derek, Julie, and Nathan on far left,
Gabe, Kari, and Ana next, Lisa next to me and Paul, fronted by Brandon.

Off to Catalina Island we went to begin staff orientation on June 16.  We could tell early on that we had a very special group of college students and that proved to be true in spades as the summer progressed. The difference this summer?  An unusually strong group of "all in for Christ" young men! They lead the team with a contagious fervor for Christ and what a shaping influence that had on the whole team. There was such a concerted effort to honor the Lord by honoring the community and serving the campers, "drama" was noticeably absent as well as any other disciplinary issues.  It's not an exaggeration that Paul and I thanked the Lord every night for bringing together this "set apart" group of young people.

We were also really thankful to have Dave and Vonny Bastedo as our right-hand people this summer. They did a great job of investing in staff and keeping the Little Gallagher's cove healthy and compliant. They also lead the college group for each family camp and were appreciated by many. They were a terrific addition to the team and truly lessened our load significantly.

First day of orientation week, we got off to a great start.

Five weeks later, seasoned and bonded, this amazing group of staff had proved
their commitment to Christ as well as to the campers.

A few of my summer take-aways:

Great worship, lead by Paul Gandy and Lyss Gosselin (and accompanied by Robert Kovacs on the drums.)  Not only musically excellent, but their passion for Christ lit up the stage during every worship set.  

Great speakers.  All summer . . . all six weeks . . . great teaching.  Challenging, Biblical, inspiring, hope-giving. We are so thankful for all six of our speakers and their families for their faithfulness in teaching the Word.

Great family moments.  Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana attended Family Camp 2 and we had many deja-vu moments as Brandon helped Papa ring the bell, eagerly participate in his class, move around camp as if it were his backyard, etc. Wasn't it only yesterday that his mother was that almost-4-year-old, fully embracing the delights of family camp?  Full circle. What a privilege to see the next generation grabbing the baton.  Derek, Julie, and Ana had a brief but wonderful 48 hours at camp just before family camps began and Lisa spent 4 weekends with us over the course of our 7 weeks. All of us agree that there's no place on earth we'd rather be than at CBS. That is a gift in itself. We also had a variety of extended family members come to various camps and we truly love that.

Derek and Julie head out on a hike with Nathan in the backpack and Ana on front.

Sisters and babies . . . such fun!!!

All the family minus Gabe (who was leading a missions trip)—
We shared many happy moments at camp.

Brandon helps Papa with devotions.

Paul's oldest sister, Sandy Clark, and her gang, plus sister Beth
and nephew Brian Rottschafer and his family joined us for camp 5.

Great hikes.  The "Staff Only" special hikes were all highly successful. Twenty-five of us hiked the "loop" under the Super Moon on July 19 and enjoyed perfect conditions. Thirty-five hiked the shore to Avalon on a Wednesday morning when the tide was lowest, and again had an "as good as it gets" experience. Our third hike to "Lone Tree" separated the "true" hikers from the crowd and 17 made this annual trek under a full morning sun. All three hikes built into our camaraderie and connectedness as a staff. Additionally, our daily routine of hiking the Scar Loop at 4 pm and ending with a swim to the line and back was good for physical and mental health.

The 6 am departure for the shore hike didn't discourage many as 35 staff made this annual trek.

Happy staff hikers conquer Lone Tree once again.

Great fun.  The annual game show, this year's rendition named "The Ology Show", was wildly successful and the hosts were dashing. Everyone participated, row by row, which provoked lots of laughter and fun for the whole family each Tuesday night. Worship at the fire ring under the stars followed the game show and s'mores put the exclamation point on that evening. Stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, tubes . . . dancing on the basketball court . . . hamburgers on the beach. Lots of summer fun was had by all.

The hosts of "The Ology Game" were joined by swashbuckling Brandon.

S'mores anyone?  Brandon enjoys one with his "Boo" Lyss.

Great moments of seeing God work.  We heard stories of God changing hearts, healing hurts, breaking down walls, giving hope. We witnessed commitments to follow Him more fully, to be more Christ-like, to proclaim His truth more boldly, and to be "fully surrendered." The testimonies shared at each closing banquet were so moving, as person after person affirmed the work of the Holy Spirit among us. All praise is His!!!

Great challenges.  In an unprecedented fashion, two of our registered and long-time family campers had to cancel just days before camp due to accidents which left the dads of each family with broken vertebrae. By God's grace, neither experienced paralysis but both face a long road of recovery ahead. Another precious young family came to camp in spite of huge challenges with the debilitating effects of the dad's stage 4 metastatic colon cancer diagnosis. It was so moving to see this young family (married only 3 years, with a 2-year-old son) press to be at camp in spite of enormous amounts of pain, etc.  Many more came to camp with internal challenges, struggling marriages, rebellious children, financial difficulties, health issues, etc. We were privileged to see God meet so many in some pretty dramatic ways while at camp.

Great protection.  As a staff, we were very aware of God's mercy on us in so many ways, but particularly in the area of health. Though a stomach bug visited one camp, no one on staff got it. One staff member had strep throat and that was it. One and done. Three staff members had a staph infection, and only three. We truly felt that God supernaturally spared us from these illnesses spreading.

Great hope.  We consistently heard campers express their gratitude that God had renewed their hope in Him and in His promises during the week. There can be no genuine hope apart from Him, since He is the author of hope, and that message was reiterated throughout the summer.

There's so much more I could say, but we're in the midst of family camp at Berea so time is scarce. For now, know that we are deeply grateful for your prayers, your support, your encouragement. We couldn't do what we do without a "village" around us and we are humbled to have you in our village. Pray that we'll finish strong. HIM/Berea Family Camp 2 begins Saturday and ends Friday, Aug. 15th. If you do the calculations, you’ll know that means we left Campus by the Sea on Saturday, Aug. 2, started HIM/Berea family camp on Aug. 3 after red-eyeing it to New England, and will go 13 days here without a break. We are depending on the strength and power of the Lord to get us through with health and effectiveness.

By His grace, many years will be added to the 39.

Summer's Grand Finale (part 1)

Our official working summer ended with a bang:  two packed-out weeks of family camps at Camp Berea, on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire.  A stalwart group of tired staff (who had just invested 7 weeks at Campus by the Sea) and an even tired-er leader, Paul, boarded flights at LAX Saturday night, August 3, "red-eyeing" it to Boston in time to launch two weeks of H.I.M. family camps.  Though not our preference, the way the calendar falls again this year makes it impossible for us to delay the start of New England family camps for a week, so we forge ahead. Our very impressive team pressed on, without complaint, as we headed to Camp Berea around noon Sunday, trying to arrive ahead of our eager family campers, which we managed to do.  And then we were off and running, with no time to consider our exhaustion level.  Rising to the occasion, our staff presented "This is week 1 of family camp" enthusiasm and energy, and we truly honor them for their commitment to excellence.  We are also very mindful of God's grace in giving us all strength and health equal to the task.

Paul was greeted by Nathan Scott and his parents at Logan upon his arrival and that was precious to behold the first meeting of Papa and grandson #2.  How kind of Derek and Julie to make that happen at 6 a.m.!!

One-week-old Nathan musters a sleepy greeting for his Papa at the airport.

The "Butterfly Song" is sung for the first of many times as family camp gets underway.

We are so grateful to be partnering with Camp Berea these two weeks.  The commitment of the Berea staff to serve "as unto the Lord" is evident in every aspect of the camp, and our hearts resonate with their priorities, which we share.  Both weeks of camp were "out of the park" in all ways:  full and overflowing capacity, beautiful weather overall, protection from (most) sickness and serious injury, open hearts and sensitive spirits to God's work, and fabulous teaching from Richard Dahlstrom (lead pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA).  Our staff were superb and served so, so well. We felt so met by God.  Above and beyond.

Staff photo from Family Camp 1 — a great, servant-hearted group of young people.

Derek, Julie, and Nathan Johnson decided to spend a good portion of the two weeks with us at camp, taking advantage of staying in the beautiful cabin we rent for housing our married staff (sans Paul and me, who stay on site.)  Birchaven (the cabin) abuts the camp property, making it very convenient but very separate.  It was a delight to all of our family campers to have the Johnsons show up to hear Richard speak or hang out in the back of the gym during the game show.  

I managed to make my way to Birchaven during any free moment I carved out during those weeks.  In fact, I surprised myself by how creative I was in finding "off the beaten track" paths to the cabin so as to not run into campers I would want to talk with.  I didn't want anything to keep me from spending the precious few moments I could have holding this little guy.  

I had an epiphany which came with a conviction as I stealthily made my way to the cabin one day.  The priority of seeing Nathan trumped my nature, which temperamentally would lead me to walk paths which would allow me to see the most amount of people.  I love interacting with people, especially those I love, and yet the desire to hold this little 8-pound bundle of new life was greater than my desire to connect with others I love.

The conviction was strong and startling.  I don't have that "I'll do this no matter what" drive when it comes to being with my Lord.  My quiet time can easily be set aside for "the tyranny of the urgent."  I can be sidetracked by a phone call, my "to-do" list, a hunger pang, or any number of other distractions.  My prayer since then is that I would have the same urgency of spending time with Him that I have had of spending time with little Nathan.  

I treasured every moment spent with him and found it very easy to worship Creator God as I studied the ever contorting face of this little guy and marveled at the miracle of new life. It's beyond me that life can be attributed to anyone or anything besides our Holy God.

Family campers seize some “Nathan moments” at the end of our talk on parenting.  

The highlights at family camp were many.  Richard Dahlstrom's talks were brilliant and inspiring. Listen to them!  They are available on the H.I.M. website here and they are well worth listening to, at least once.  It was a joy to have Richard's wife, Donna, join us for week 2 of camp.  Richard and Donna are a couple who together live the gospel.  They make marriage look good. They live life fully.  They are real and down to earth.  They have become very treasured friends.  What a treat to have these days with them.

Another highlight was having our first ever college group for H.I.M. Family Camp 1.  Last year we had a college group at camp 2, which was thrilling, and we reached a new place in New England family camp history to have college groups at both camps this summer.  Ryan and Kelly Plosker led the group during week 1, and their praises were sung daily.  Never ones to do anything "just to get by," they looked up information on the internet about each of the colleges these kids would be attending in the fall and talked as a group about the unique challenges and benefits each may find at their respective schools.  The students felt very personally cared for by them.  Week 2's college students had the privilege of being led by Richard and Donna, who helped engage their group in developing more of a global awareness.  Great reports came from the students this week as well.  We were so thankful for the way God provided for the students in each of the weeks—again, "above and beyond."

The college group at Family Camp 1.  A stellar group, now off on college campuses.
Pray that they'll stand firm for and in Him.

The traditions of family camp are always so stabilizing and loved:  the game show was a grand slam this summer as every camper was involved; the time of worship at the fire ring, followed by s'mores, was "sweet" in every way; the finger blasters were a "blast"; the dance night celebrated all that is good when the generations have fun together.  Banners were made by most families (thank you Guy Steele for making this happen year after year) and the banquet was a time of celebrating the powerful work of God among us. 

Guess which couple hosted the game show?  Fun was had by all.

Baptisms are among the most meaningful "traditions" of Family Camp.  Although all baptisms are significant, I don't think any of us will ever forget Meredith Grieci's.  This precious 7-year-old has Down's Syndrome and her enthusiastic "YES" to each of Paul's questions were topped only by her coming out of the water, arms held above her head in victory, beaming from ear to ear.  Ahhh . . . pure, childlike faith!  

Meredith Grieci and Mister Paul share a hug as camp ends.
Her baptism will stay with us for a long time to come.

The end of family camp comes oh so quickly.  After corporate worship and wrap up, a group photo is taken, farewells are exchanged, and the campers drive off, reminding us that there are only 51 weeks until family camp.  :)

And within hours, the 260 campers for the second family camp arrived and we did it over again. 

I'll admit there were many moments leading up to family camp that we really doubted our sanity regarding our commitment to continuing to direct these weeks.  Maybe our sanity is still in question, but the moment camp was underway, the passion for this seminal ministry overwhelmed any questions we may have had about why we were doing this.  There is nothing more satisfying or reinforcing that seeing families together, learning to live and love "Jesus-style" in the community of like-minded believers.  What can be better than hearing stories of how God is at work: healing, restoring, renewing, and rebuilding?  

Friday, August 16, was the last day of our 2013 family camp season.  As tired as we were at that point, we were fueled by adrenalin (and grace) to finish strong and to savor the incredible way we had consistently been met by God throughout the summer.  Truly.  We were especially aware of the way God molded us in to a team in New Hampshire as a relatively eclectic group—anchored by a solid core of 15 who had served together all summer—gathered to staff those two weeks.  

After sending the campers off with a heartfelt chorus of "We love you campers, oh yes we do!", we drove out of New Hampshire and the party began.  Doug and Julie Macrae hosted the team for the weekend, starting with a night at Fenway Park on Friday and ending with a steak and lobster feast on Sunday evening.  Their hospitality and generosity are legendary and communicate such appreciation and affirmation of the staff team.  It's hard to imagine a better ending to an unforgettable summer.

Donned in Red Sox gear, the staff experience the rare treat of witnessing
a Red Sox vs. Yankees match-up at Fenway.

Pretty sweet welcome to Fenway!!

Lobster races prior to dinner Sunday night, one of many unique experiences the staff had,
making for a very memorable end-of-the-summer celebration.

And so another summer of family camps retires into the memory banks of all involved, by God's grace, leaving life-changing fingerprints on the hearts and minds of all.  Our prayer is that none of us will be the same as a result of having been together at family camp.  

We were greatly encouraged to receive a beautifully written, from-the-heart letter today from a family camper, and I'll close by excerpting part of it:

Thank you for another wonderful week at Family Camp.  We all look forward to it all year long and we are never disappointed.  As our little family grows up and our needs change, camp continues to be a perfect fit for us.
My girls love their "teachers" at camp and I am so grateful for these "cool" young adults who show my girls God's love, that it is fun and rewarding to walk this path boldly, to worship Him unashamed.  These young people go above and beyond, giving their time and attention to children, making kids feel special.  Thanks again for an amazing week, for being our non-negotiable family trip every summer.  We are already looking forward to next year!

A joyful exclamation point on the end of a great summer.  All praise is His!


Part of what made the summer "fuller" was having Derek and Julie home from Uganda awaiting the birth of their first child.  Camped out in our home in Bedford, MA, they kept us appraised of progress, or lack thereof, regularly.  Julie’s due date of July 25 fell on Thursday of Family Camp 5.

I was deeply touched that they invited me to be part of the coaching team for her labor and delivery, but I must admit I could not imagine how I would possibly be able to be there "on time."  I knew it would take a miracle to get the timing right.  No one thought it was a good idea for me to leave camp early and hang around waiting for the baby to come, and as we all know, a baby comes according to God's appointed schedule, not ours.  We honestly didn't know how to plan, but we all knew that the complicating factor of being on an island with an infrequent boat schedule would make it difficult to fulfill our desires.

I had begun praying in earnest during camp 5 that God would give me an unmistakable impression when it was time to go.  Friday the 26th arrived, and I sensed that it was the day.  Julie called after her morning appointment and said, "Status quo.  Dilated to 1 cm still, and 80% effaced.  The doctor had me make an appointment for a non-stress test for next Tuesday and an appointment for next Friday."  

In spite of that lackluster report, I couldn't shake the sense that it was time to go.  Our dear friends Doug and Julie Macrae were attending camp that week and discussing with them my sense that the time had come to go, they offered to fly back with me that night.  They rearranged their tickets and got my ticket, securing the last 3 seats on a Jet Blue flight out of Long Beach at 10:30 p.m., arriving 6:30 a.m. Sat. at Logan.   Dear CBS friends Paul and Vauna Armstrong picked us up at the boat, fed us at In-N-Out Burger, and dropped us off at Long Beach airport.

At the airport, 10 p.m., getting ready to board, I got a call from Julie.  "My water broke. I'm going in to labor."  

It was a moment from heaven, to be honest.  I felt a bit like Moses must've felt when he received instruction from God, and God said something like, "You'll know I sent you when you get there."  I felt so personally loved and cared for by God that He would've made this so, so clear.

So off we flew, arriving on time, and a call to Julie confirmed that she was in labor but far from delivery.  Macraes dropped me at our home and soon after, Derek, Julie and I checked in to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where at 11 p.m., after a long, hard day of "labor," baby Nathan Scott Johnson entered this world.

Here we go . . . about 2/3rds the way through her 24-hour labor,
they're still all smiles.  That would change . . .

I have never been a part of anything more miraculous than experiencing his birth, except our own three births.  And I obviously experienced those in a completely different way!  Julie was a champ, laboring stoically and without medication.  It was such an honor to be a part of this most amazing process.

Within moments of Nathan's birth, the smiles are back and the miracle of birth is embraced.

All cleaned up and ready to go, I hold this healthy, alert, wide-eyed little bundle for his mom to see.  Precious moments.

Out of labor and delivery and into their private room, the happy family looks amazingly refreshed, which belies the intensity of the previous hours.

An hour after Nathan's arrival, I drove to Logan airport to pick up Lisa, Kari, and Brandon, who had flown in to celebrate their baby sister's first child.  They also had booked tickets in faith, taking advantage of the few days Lisa could take off from her new job (more on that later.)  When they booked their flights, they knew there was a possibility that he wouldn't arrive while they were there but Lisa had no other space of time she could make the trip.  They were so elated to know she was in labor while they were flying out, and were amazed that they were granted entrance to the hospital at 1 a.m. to welcome little Nathan.  Sweet, sweet moments.

Auntie Kari, Auntie LeeLee, and cousin Brandon rejoice over two-hour-old Nathan.

Brandon is temporarily speechless as he examines his little cousin.

A brief photo shoot before the girls fly back to California.  Nathan is 3.5 days old.

Paul generously and faithfully soldiered on, running Family Camp 6, while the rest of us celebrated this precious new life.  Reports from family campers affirmed that he did a great job without me, though he would have you believe otherwise.  His plate was especially full as he not only ran camp 6, but he wrapped up the family 2013 CBS camp season and prepared to launch two weeks of H.I.M. family camps in New Hampshire . . . which started 24 hours after CBS ended.  And 3000 miles stood between the two camps and most of the staff.  Craziness.

Back to Nathan: Derek and Julie welcomed many visitors, including Derek's parents and sister, during Nathan's first days.  They came home from the hospital on Monday, the 29th, and began adjusting to their new normal.  Nathan arrived at 7 lbs 7 oz and 20.75" and has spent his first two weeks of life doing normal newborn things: nursing, sleeping, and getting changed.  He's also done many things that few newborns do, like accompanying his dad to get the oil changed in the car, going to the market to get a few groceries, and going to family camp.  Why not??  Derek and Julie have taken to parenting like a duck to water and besides experiencing normal sleep deprivation, they're deliriously happy and deeply grateful.

Nathan attends his first family camp at Berea.

So are we.  These two weeks have been full of mercies and blessings too numerous to recount, but this we know:

The miracle of birth has turned our world upside down in the best possible sense.

Life On an Island

I’m looking forward to the day when my blog doesn’t start with “I can’t believe how much time has passed . . .”, but that day is not today.  It is unprecedented, actually, that almost two months have passed since my last post, but again, it is an apt reflection of the lack of bandwidth I've had for the non-urgent list of “to-do’s.” 

We had a summer full of family camps ahead of us when I last posted.  Only 3 days now remain of our 9-week commitment and that truly seems impossible.  But calendars don't lie.

We started June 17th at Campus by the Sea with this wonderful staff of mostly veteran family camp kids now grown up.  It's funny to think back to our first few days of orientation week, before we knew each other and before we had become a cohesive team.  Now reflecting, this staff grew into who they “seemed” to be: servant-hearted, humble, serving, and desiring growth.  So many answers to the months of praying that God would bring the right team together!  We are truly grateful for God's faithfulness and grace.

Day 1 of staff training: a neophyte collection of college students
who had grown up at CBS (for the most part) . . .

 . . and who became a well-functioning, serving, cohesive team over the course of 7 weeks.

All six weeks of family camp were incredibly fruitful and blessed.  Each speaker delivered, and God used their words to inspire, challenge, heal, and give hope.  Some families experienced healing.  Some made life-impacting decisions.  Some met Christ.

It was just one of those summers during which the constant refrain was "we are so blessed."  We had very little sickness on staff or in camp.  We had very few injuries.  We had great weather, and the three or so days during which rain fell, it was gentle and dust-settling and no more.  We had a cohesive, harmonious staff who were committed to living honorably in the community and, thankfully, perpetuated little drama.  All of our camps were full and overflowing; the waiting lists never were cleared, which is both good and bad news.

We sensed God’s favor and presence in more ways than I can articulate.  We feel very, very blessed.

One family encouraged us with this email following their week at camp:

Dear Paul and Virginia,We want to thank you for such a great week at family camp!We were so encouraged and refreshed by all the teaching and super sweet worship times! Thank you for your clear and frank teaching. We were blessed!Blessings to you both! Thank you so much for running such an amazing program...we are truly blessed and encouraged...ready to take on the next year. Thank you for the love, encouragement, friendship, and challenging of our faith, marriage, and parenting! 

Papa and Brandon get the campers’ attention in the dining hall at the start of the meal.

Though there were many highlights for us as we reconnected with literally hundreds of families we deeply love and invested in a program we're wholly invested in, the highest lights included having our own family at camp.  All three girls spend some days at camp, and Kari, Gabe, and Brandon spent a week as family campers.  It feels like it's coming full circle to have the 4th generation Friesens benefitting from the vision of Grandpa Mel, who helped start this whole thing 62 years ago.  “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”  It was also a delight to have a bunch of other siblings, nieces, and nephews.  It means the world to us that they make a priority of continuing the legacy of family camp in their families.

Lisa also managed to make it to camp during the week the Garcias attended.  :)

Another highlight of the summer was having Jake Gosselin and Kaylee Sherman serve as our college leaders and worship leaders.  The fact that their wedding date was set for 8 weeks after orientation week began made their presence most significant.  The comment that we had the "best worship ever" at camp was constant, but even more impressive was how they conducted themselves in the community with so much honor.  Their impending marriage spawned many relationship talks among the staff and inspired many to continue wrestling with their own commitments and standards regarding relationships. A very fun Saturday afternoon was spent “showering” Kaylee.  The time of sharing was especially sweet as several spoke of Kaylee and Jake’s relationship being so hope-giving in terms of having a God-honoring relationship.

Kaylee’s shower was a sweet time of celebration of her upcoming wedding
which went off without a hitch on August 10.

For the first time maybe ever, I left camp just before the sixth and final family camp began, but that's for the next blog.  

Life on an island.  Free of so many distractions.  Full of so many God moments.  Fruitful in ways known and unknown.  

We are blessed.

Sunrise illuminating Saddleback on the mainland . . . and the iconic rock jetty,
which protects this sacred little cove that hosts Campus by the Sea.  

Whirlwind on Steroids (part 3)

Wrapping up the whirlwind: our annual H.I.M. Memorial Day Family Camping Trip was canceled due to dire weather forecasts, which proved to be true.  Though very disappointing, it was the right decision.  Snow fell in VT and NH that weekend!!

As a result of that cancellation, I was able to fly down for my brother Frank's remarriage.  It was good to be with five of my six siblings even briefly.

Six of the original seven Collins siblings at Frank's remarriage.  

In between lots of counseling appointments and preparation for family camps, we also took on re-painting and re-carpeting our long-neglected downstairs in anticipation of having Derek and Julie with us for the next several months as they birth their first child.  :)  We are very pleased with the results and have wondered what took us so long to prioritize those projects!

Lisa and I ran the Covered Bridges Half Marathon Sunday, June 2, for the 4th year in a row.  As it turned out, 85 degree temps and 95% humidity made it our most difficult "half" and our worst time.  In spite of Lisa's gracious encouragement throughout all 13.1 miles, I spent much of it wondering if I could do it.  Thankfully, I did, but I vowed to not compete in a "hot" run again.  Ever.   

Even so, the grueling nature of the run was made somewhat bearable by the kind-hearted people who stood along the race route and sprayed us with their garden hoses.  Lisa and I were extra blessed by our dear friend Glenn who twice met us along the route with a spray bottle and icy cold wash clothes. Especially at mile 11, when 2 more miles seemed impossible, Glenn refreshed us with these coolants and encouraged us with "You can do it!" I was amazed at how revitalizing such acts of kindness were and what a huge difference they made in our determination to finish well.  Well, at least, to finish.  For the record, I am using "we" very generously here.  Lisa could've run circles around me and finished at least 45 minutes sooner than we did.  She is very, very gracious.

Lisa, Pam Barker, and I ran as the "Green Team" this year at the Covered Bridges Half Marathon.
13.1 miles later in brutal heat and humidity, we celebrated our accomplishment.  

It was a joy to reconnect with Bethany Church of Breakfast Hill, New Hampshire, on Monday, June 3, as we spoke to their First Monday Couples' Night.  To a packed room, we spoke on "finishing well" in marriage and the couples seemed very engaged and appreciative.  First Monday at Bethany was spawned by First Monday at Grace Chapel, launched by Gordon MacDonald and carried on for 9 years by Paul.  It was heartening to see the continuation of that strategic ministry to men.

That evening ended with the exclamation point of Derek and Julie's return to the States to begin the wait for their baby's arrival.  Derek once again flew within 24 hours after a positive malaria diagnosis.  :(  Fortunately he responds quickly to medication and had enough in him to make the trip.  He did return to Uganda 11 days later and will return to the States July 12 for the countdown.  Their due date is July 25.  Exciting times!!!

Welcome home, Derek and Julie!  A delayed celebration of Derek's birthday included
freshly baked cinnamon rolls and fresh blueberries.

Not many people make Phoenix, Arizona, a destination of choice in June, but we did—in response to an invitation from lead pastor David Harris to do a marriage conference at Paradise Church.  We loved partnering with David and his crew, who did a great job of putting together a meaningful weekend for couples.  We were especially pleased to reconnect with Matt and Christen Bumen and their precious children Derek and Riley over breakfast one morning.  Paul married them 10 years ago and it's very, very encouraging to see their vital, growing marriage.  Though very brief, our time was rich and wonderful.  And hot.  It was 113 degrees on Saturday.  :)

Matt and Christen Bumen and David and Tammy Harris were instrumental to making the Paradise Church conference happen.

Along with this crew, all of these folks have deep hearts for marriage
and are serving Paradise Church in some manner.

Straight from Phoenix, we flew to Washington, D.C., to pull off a surprise 30th anniversary party for my youngest sister, Laura, and her husband, David.  Our girls are some of their "surrogate" children and together with them, we really wanted to honor their beautiful marriage. They have been so intentional about keeping their marriage alive and growing—and truthfully, they make marriage look great.  We're so thankful for them.

It was a blast working together with some of their closest friends to honor them on the occasion of this milestone.  Thankfully, it came off without a hitch and along with 30 of their closest friends, we celebrated their uncommonly good union.  

Here they are on June 18, 1983 . . .

. . . and here they are 30 years later, still madly in love with each other,
and even more in love with Christ.

The party-goers at the home of their dear friends Bob and Lisa Hartman (front row, far right).

We drove back home early the next morning with Derek and Julie, who had driven down for the party, and began the countdown for our summer at Campus by the Sea.  It was crazy to say the least but we managed to get through our final counseling appointments and wrap up other loose ends before we flew to Caifornia on Saturday, June 15th, as Derek flew back to Uganda.

It was a joy to spend Father's Day with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, as well as Lisa and Julie, and then all head to Campus by the Sea together on Monday, the 17th, where we launched our 38th summer there. 

Gabe opens his Father's Day gift from Brandon: SF Giants' t-shirts for both.  :)

The best gift for this dad—his three daughters!
Off to Catalina we go, with three grown up daughters and two grandchildren on the way.

The whirlwind sort of has landed in Gallagher's Cove which hosts Campus by the Sea.  Not that we're sitting around eating bonbons, mind you, but we're breathing deeply the sea air and basking in the simplicity of life disconnected from technology and traffic.  We're in to our second week of family camp already and I'll write about that before long.

I mentioned in the first part of this series that we've had some of the highest highs and lowest lows over this past month.  The lows have included almost losing my dad over Memorial Day Weekend, when he apparently suffered a TIA or a mild heart attack (from which he has fully recovered, thankfully, though his decline from dementia marches on).  The night of Memorial Day we received word that my sweet cousin Donna's 21-year-old son had drowned accidentally, and that news plunged us all into deep sorrow.  More recently, the mother of very dear friends succumbed to a 9-month battle with cancer, and these friends had lost their dad just 9 months ago, also to cancer.  And we experienced greater challenge than usual assembling a program team for family camps this summer.  Plenty of applicants, but putting together the right team for working with our older kids was difficult.

I wish I could say that we handled these all with grace and confidence consistent with our belief in our Sovereign Lord, but there were many moments of anxiety, concern, and grief.   No apologies for grief; it is what it is and warranted in times of loss, but it's been good to be reminded these weeks at camp that God really is in control and that He's got us covered.

Inside and outside of the whirlwind.

All praise is His.   

Summer On Steroids

Good-bye Campus by the Sea . . . until 2013!

How fitting . . . that on the one year anniversary of Derek and Julie's wedding, we're flying to Africa to spend the next 3 weeks with them.  But first . . .

The past month has been fast and furious.  Camp is always all-consuming, but this summer was all-consuming on steroids.  Doing two weddings during our seven weeks at CBS (one in Aspen, one in Boston) and going straight from CBS to NH without the traditional week break ratcheted it up to the "on steroids" level.  

Truth be told, when we stood on the brink of the summer back in June, the intensified pace of the summer was daunting to say the least.  It was very clear to us that we wouldn't be able to do it without God's supernatural presence and power - which we know is always true.  We were just much more aware of it given the unusual schedule of the summer. 

With it all in our rear view mirror now, we are humbled by the way God has met us.  It seems like we've heard more stories about His work in lives throughout the summer than ever before, and we know it goes way beyond anything we could've done.  He is faithful.

Our final two weeks at CBS were a bit crazy.  We flew to Boston between camps 5 and 6 to do the wedding of Drew Macrae and Dana Neel.  Drew's parents are on the H.I.M. Board and we’ve had a relationship with Drew and Dana since they began dating their sophomore year at Boston University Academy.  That was over 8 years ago.  We were honored that they wanted Paul to marry them and it was well worth leaving camp to fulfill their request.  God met Paul very powerfully through his message and many of the guests talked with him about the meaningfulness of it.  We had a great weekend celebrating with them.

Drew and Dana came to camp for their final pre-marital counseling marathon session and we loved introducing CBS to them!

A week later, we flew to Boston to perform their wedding.  It was a wonderful celebration.

Before we flew to their wedding, the staff made the annual trek to "Lone Tree" - one of our optional "staff only" special hikes.  We had perfect conditions for the small but stalwart group who sacrificed one of their few opportunities for sleeping in to experience this out-of-the-ordinary hike.

Reaching the goal: Lone Tree!

Our final week at CBS was packed as we wrapped up a seven-week sprint.  It seemed impossible that the days at CBS ran out so quickly, but by August 4, they had.  Family Camp 6 speaker Gary Gaddini's teaching was relevant and profound and God used Him to help change lives.  He also wrapped up the staff's study of David Platt's book Radical in a challenging and practical manner.  The week was full of joyful celebration and sad closure.  

CBS Directors Dave and Kim Noble surprised Paul by honoring him at the final banquet for his 40 years of service to Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship.  Paul went on staff in 1972 as the first tour director for "Twenty-One Hundred", IVCF's traveling multi-media show.  From 1973 to 1976 he served as Campus Staff Member in San Diego, and started directing CBS in 1975.  After our marriage in 1976, he was appointed the full-time director of CBS, a position he held until 1991, when he went on sabbatical in New England and resigned as director.  From 1992 until now, he has been the Program Director for Family Camps at CBS. The Nobles did a great job of honoring Paul and he was as humbled as surprised.

Following the six weeks of camp at CBS, off to Boston we flew, along with 15 summer staffers.  We arrived around midnight on August 4, and by 3 pm Sunday, August 5, we had launched the HIM/Berea Family Camp at Camp Berea in New Hampshire.  276 eager campers arrived that afternoon and we were off and running.  

God met us so incredibly.  Some of my "I feel overwhelmed at times by this crazy summer" concerns had revolved around exhaustion and vulnerability to sickness....and we felt God was faithful to give us what we needed strength-wise, and we had very few cases of sickness.  Praise Him!!  He also met our needs for staffing such a huge camp: our final need was filled in the ninth hour by Aly, who is the sister of the boyfriend of a CBS staff's sister  :)  She was great.  We also had veteran staffers Liz Aleman (who just graduated from law school), Kelsey O'Keeffe (who just graduated from Muhlenberg College), Brian and Heather Dietz (on staff at Highrock Church and long-time mentees), Sue Martis (who has faithfully run the nursery childcare program at our east coast family camps for years), Barbara Steele (who keeps the infrastructure intact), and Helen Challener (who served at CBS in 1978 and 1980 and now has served two summers at Berea.)  What gifts each of these "ballast" veteran staff were to the team!

HIM/Berea's Family Camp 1 staff

Camp 1 ended on Saturday, August 11th, and Camp 2 arrived on Saturday, August 11th.  Yes.  Summer on steroids.  Though less than ideal, it's how it had to be since Berea had a camp booked the following weekend, beginning on Friday the 17th.  So . . . we had to start on Saturday the 11th, and we did!!!  Though not quite as large as Camp 1, it was a sold-out camp full of very expectant campers and God met us all.  It was a powerful week of ministry and God sustained us.  Right down to the last moment.  To Him be the glory!!!

Paul leads children’s devotions at Berea

The Ide family competes at the Tuesday evening game show . . . 

. . . brought to you by your game show hosts!

Families and staff join together for the chicken dance at Berea

The Minch family works on their banner
The solo challenge was a new feature at Camp Berea this year

HIM/Berea's Family Camp 2 staff

I wish I could tell you all the stories from the summer, but I am going to share a few:

Some long-time CBS family campers brought with them a young family whose dad was not able to come due to his work as a maritime captain (and therefore is gone for long periods of time. ) The mom and her 4 young children came to camp as ones seeking to know God more fully.  Paul and I spoke this summer on Thursday nights on "Intentional Friendship in Marriage" and we close telling the story of my parents who wrote letters to one another every night while they were separated by my dad's Naval career.  (A link to that talk will be posted here with a few weeks.)  Our final challenge is "What are you doing to build into the friendship of your marriage that will help you finish well together?"  This young mom shared at the banquet that she was convicted due to her lack of keeping in touch with her husband during his deployments and was newly committed to being intentional to write him faithfully now.  She said that God had really met her during the week at camp.

Another camper wrote:
"Loved your staff!  My kids were loved and taught better than I could ever imagine.  No matter what age, all kids were taken such good care of."

And another: 
"It's with tremendous gratitude that we leave today.  Thank you doesn't seem enough to express what is in our hearts.  CBS is one place and time of year we know we come to meet God in a most intimate way - as a family and as a couple.  It truly is heaven on earth.  The staff are the best example we've seen of Biblical servanthood.  We are refreshed and encouraged to return home for kingdom building in our marriage and family."

We are grateful beyond words.  We'll take these next three weeks in Uganda to reflect on and process the summer, as well as to be refreshed and renewed.  We will also have the privilege of partnering with Derek and Julie by doing some marriage seminars at their church, with the Mbale missionary community at large, and with the CURE Hospital staff.  

We're basking in the faithfulness of God as we consider the incredible ways we've seen Him work through family camps this summer.  Thanks for your prayers and support in so many ways.  

We've arrived in Entebbe after 24 hours of easy, uncomplicated travel and have had a joyful reunion with Derek and Julie.  What a gift to be able to do life with them for the next three weeks.

Jambo from Uganda!  And no more steroids.  :)  

The Best Intentions . . .

The heavens declare the glory of God.  Sunrise, June 18th

It's ironic that the theme of Family Camps '12 is "The Intentional Family"...and it's not lost on me that though I've had good intentions to write an update for weeks now, I've not followed through very intentionally.  Not that I've been sitting around eating many bonbons...but still.  This late night attempt to catch up guarantees unusual brevity...and I'm counting on these pictures to paint many thousands of words.
I'm writing from the sacred cove of Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island, where we've been hanging out for the past 4.5 weeks in our 37th summer of being here as a couple.  We arrived June 18 along with our summer staff team to serve for 7 weeks — running six weeks of family camps, preceded by our orientation week.  As this would be our first summer with no daughters on staff, I'll admit that we arrived with at least a bit of sadness...and though we have missed them greatly, God has been more than faithful in bringing a wonderful team around us.  But first....
For the third year in a row, Lisa and I ran the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock, VT, June 3.  This is such a beautiful race course and under robin-shell blue skies,  we completed our 5th run together (and my 6th half marathon since Nov. 2009.)  Paul, as usual, was our escort and he makes it so easy for us!  
Just after crossing the finish line, we were awarded our medals and were already talking about our next race. 

We flew to Lancaster, CA, the next weekend to speak at Central Christian Church, and were honored to speak in this new venue.  We also consulted with Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita on developing a family ministries model at their church, which gave us some time with our dear friends and ministry partners, David and Cherylyn Hegg.  And we managed to squeeze in a lunch date with our mentors, John and Grace Tebay.  Rich, full days!
Back to Boston to get things wrapped up before the summer, we counseled, cleaned, and packed, and on Sat., June 16, we flew to CA to be with my folks to celebrate Father's Day.  My mom's health is much improved (PTL) and my dad seems to be holding his own.  Though brief, it was wonderful to be with them.

Happy Father's Day, Papa!

We arrived at camp on Monday, June 18, and we were off and running immediately.  Our program team gathered every morning to dive in to God's Word and to discuss the passages that would be used for the summer study.  We were immediately impressed with these college students and their insights into scripture, their character, and their openness.  We bonded fairly quickly and are really enjoying being in community "spurring one another on to love and good deeds."  We feel very blessed and very met by God to be partnering with them.
A highlight of our first days at camp was having Lou and Grace Charette join us for a bit.  They were on our staff in the late 80's, when Grace served as the head cook and Lou as the mechanic.  We have been fast friends ever since and have have watched God do amazing things in their marriage and family.  The staff were all deeply touched by their testimony, which they generously agreed to share during our all staff training time.  It was so good to catch up with them and celebrate God's faithfulness as they celebrated their 56th anniversary.  They inspired us all.
What a treat to have Lou and Grace Charette visit camp, 24 years after serving with us!

The program staff takes a photo break during staff training week.  They're a great group!

Family Camp 1 arrived June 24 and for the first time in our history, Paul and I were not at camp to welcome the campers.  That was strange!  We were in Aspen, CO, doing a wedding, and thankfully had very capable hands to carry on at CBS.  We were very happy to get back on the island before lunch on Monday, so we fortunately didn't miss much.  
We love family camps!  Everything about them.  The multi-generational presence.  The distraction-free environment.  The expectation and joy of the campers.  The way God works.  The beautiful setting.  The simplicity.  The purpose.  The transforming impact.  
"The Intentional Family" theme has been powerful.  It has provoked reflection and recommitment.  Each week we've heard testimony upon testimony of God's work in lives.  Humbling.
Family Camp 1 was extra special for us as Paul's oldest sister, Sandra, and her clan were in camp, as well as his sister Beth Smith, as well as our nephew Brian Rottschafer and his family.  We loved having late night hang-outs with them, sharing old memories, and making new ones.  Sweet times.
Extended Friesen family attended Family Camp 1, launching the summer with lots of laughter and energy.

Family Camp has many traditions . . . like singing the "Butterfly Song" every day, young and old; the annual original Game Show; great teaching from our wise speakers; the square, line, and swing dance; worship under that stars and around the fire ring followed by s'mores; the hike into Avalon; the milk carton boat race; the banquet.  Traditions connect the generations and create a secure foundation for changes that allow family camp to be fresh and inviting.  The mix of the known and unknown produces ongoing engagement and ownership.  
Game Show hosts Vanna and Paul Barker.

Each week we celebrate God's work in our midst.  Great teaching.  Worship.  Baptisms.  Reconciliations.  Confessions.  Prayers.
Paul had the privilege of baptizing Baker and Turner Welch in the chilly Pacific.

Family Camp 3 brought Kari, Gabe, and Brandon, as well as Lisa (who had just returned from Israel where she served on a summer missions project with Fellowship of Christian Athletes.)  It was SO wonderful to have them in camp with us (though all of us deeply missed having Derek and Julie with us, too) and Brandon managed to keep us all entertained with ease.  What a difference a year makes!  He was fully engaged in all the activities available, and especially enjoyed anything the included a ball.  We hiked, talked, swam, laughed, and had a blast.  It was hard to let them go after a week.
Gabe, Kari, Lisa and I hiked the loop together.

Brandon helped Papa with announcements at every meal.

Lunch at Antonio's Pizzeria in Avalon.

Loving playing on the mostly rocky beach at CBS.

Banquet night! By now, Brandon was down with an ear infection and wasn't too chipper, but the party continued.

Sending our little man back to Sacramento. The week passed way too quickly.

Family camp 4 at CBS is almost history and we have only 2 weeks left before we fly east to run our two family camps at Berea.  I wonder if the summer has passed as quickly for you as it has for us.  We'll cherish each day we have left in this beautiful place and be very intentional to maximize the opportunities unique to Campus by the Sea.  
I'm also committed to being very intentional about my intentions to post more often.   
Sunset on the same day, July 18.  Wow.

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.” 

Farewell, CBS 2011

The record-setting 32 staff take a “staff only” hike along the shore.

We blinked and 7 weeks were history at Campus By the Sea.  Twenty-four hours ago, we once again left the rocky shore of this sacred place. I want to relate some of the amazing stories of the summer, which remind us that the summer extends far beyond the days we’re here.

And that’s because it’s not about us or what we do, but about the Spirit of God, who faithfully meets us and our 200 (on average) campers per week in ways that exceed our imaginations.  Every week, part of His story for each person in camp is written, and some of those stories are read aloud, while others are tucked away in the hearts and souls of those for whom they are written.

But first, a brief recap of the past five weeks.  Camp 2 was full of adrenaline, as is always true when Ray Johnston speaks at CBS.  Lots of laughter, fun, and inspiration with Ray—and the joy for us of continuing the journey with the Johnston family—all six of whom were at family camp.  We always love hanging with them.

Family Camp 3 with David and Cherylyn Hegg was our only not-full camp of the summer.  For some reason the 4th of July camp, when the 4th falls on Friday through Monday, struggles to fill, and this year was no exception.  There are certain clear advantages of a camp of 120, but since we know how impactful family camps are, we lamented the empty beds.  That didn’t keep us from throwing ourselves fully into the wonderful group of families who gathered this week, and again we experienced God at work among us.  It seemed as though the American Bison that live on Catalina Island heard of our low enrollment, so several of them joined us in camp for the entire week . . . at times, settling to rest right on paths, effectively cutting off several “commuter trails” in camp.  Paul and I even began carrying flashlights to avoid having a collision with one of these over-stuffed, burly, generally tame—but still wild—bison.   They definitely upped the “wow” factor in camp.

The highlight for us, though, was not the bison in camp, but having a large Boston contingent in camp, including the Martises, Steeles, and Welches.  It was a first for Jim, Sue, and Matthew Martis, and we loved introducing them to our “real” world.  As always, we also loved hanging out with David and Cherylyn.  Great people.

New England had a fair representation at camp 3 with the Welches, Barbara Steele, Linda Lue Leiserson, and the Martis family.

Howard Clark taught at family camp 4 and was deeply appreciated for his rich teaching.  So many commented at the banquet on Howard’s sessions, most acknowledging that it was a rare treat to hear such profound teaching.  Most memorable this week was having Garth and Rosemary Dougan in camp.  Now 88 and 86, their level of remarkability just increases.  Garth had actually spent a few days in the hospital the week before, so their ability to come to camp was in question.  There was not a dry eye in the Main Deck on Monday night when they sneaked in at the end of singing.  What great joy especially for their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, all who had gathered for a family reunion at CBS.

A treasured moment with Garth and Rosemary Dougan and the program staff.

Lisa, Kari, Brandon, and I left before family camp 4 was over to attend a family wedding in Petersburg, VA.  Though it’s very difficult to leave camp at all during the summer, we couldn’t miss the wedding of our niece, Emily Newman, so we went and had a great time.  It was a joy to celebrate the union of this very special niece and the great man God has brought into her life.  The trip, though exhausting, was made much easier by the fact that Brandon acted like a seasoned traveler and was so easy.  Praise God!  Could’ve been a nightmare.  :)

We made a quick, 4-day trip to Virginia to honor our niece, Emily, as she married Kevin Frith.  Standing between Lisa and me is our nephew Frankie.

Family Camp 5 was packed, full of life, and smooth.  David and Carrie Tebay served as our resource couple and David’s teaching on Matthew 16:24 was phenomenal.  It was hard-hitting within a framework of grace—and again, many of the comments at the banquet affirmed that God had spoken through David. Our annual staff hike to “Lone Tree” happened on Wednesday of this week, and we were blessed with a perfect-for-hiking marine layer which made the 8.5 mile hike much easier.

David and Carrie Tebay carried on the strong Tebay tradition of excellent Biblical teaching, as well as of modeling strong family life.

And then camp 6 arrived.  By now, we veterans knew that this summer would stand out as one of the best ever, so we reinforced the importance of finishing well and committed ourselves to leaving it all “on the beach.”  We welcomed camp 6 as though our freshness and energy were at camp 1 levels and we reminded ourselves that we're about “honoring God, honoring the community, and honoring the community standards so we could serve the campers well”—and the staff did it. They stepped up. They dug deep.  And they served with humility, perseverance, and joy.  We've never felt better about the quality, unity, and humility of the entire team, from program staff to facilities staff to camp leadership.

Gary Gaddini spoke for camp 6 and he’s just incredibly gifted in teaching truth with relevance and grace.  He’s infectious.  His teaching through the book of Habakkuk was profound and God used him to speak to the hearts of so many.  Very powerfully.

Gary and Anne Gaddini helped us finish well by speaking at our last family camp.

It’s hard to put into words just how rich this summer was, because all 35 summers we’ve had at CBS have been rich in different ways.

But this one will go down in history as one of the best, if not the best, summers ever.  We’ve thought a lot about what made it so special, and there are many things.  At the top of the list was having Dennis and Susan Mansfield with us as the ”Dean and Deana” of Little Gallagher’s (our staff-housing cove).   This now empty-nested couple, who spent 28 summers bringing their kids to family camp, served alongside us and invested mightily in the staff.  Susan directed our children’s program as well as crafts, and Dennis  . . . well, he didn’t have a job description per se, but he spent hours of each day interacting personally with staff, caring for them, challenging them, loving on them.  It was pure gold to have them in the community this summer.

Having Gabe, Kari, and Brandon on the team was another huge factor.  Gabe designed the staff training material, led the men’s study, and with Kari, led our college group each week.  They also invested greatly in staff.  And best of all, having a baby on staff again brought joy to all.  And I’m not just saying that because I’m his grandma.  He brightened everyone’s days with his “Big Easy” disposition and ready smiles.

Gabe, Kari, and Brandon are ready for the final banquet of the 2011 season.

The addition of Chef D’Arcy LeTourneau and his beautiful family contributed to the specialness.  Not only were the meals out of this world (it will actually be a huge adjustment to return to our very simple style of eating after this summer!), but even more, the spirit of the LeTourneaus was refreshing.  Their commitment to serve every camper in the dining hall joyfully and well was remarkable and unflagging.

Chef D’Arcy and his family love on Brandon, whom they love in spite of his allegiance to the Red Sox. (D’Arcy’s favorite team cannon even be mentioned here.)

Another factor was the depth of unity among the leadership at camp.  We so love partnering with Dave and Kim Noble and their team and appreciate their commitment to working together to make family camps the best they can be.

Hopefully it won’t sound too shallow to add that having perfect weather (especially contrasted with last summer’s coolness and very cold water), warm water (I know that’s a relative statement), and daily sightings of eagles, bison, dolphins, and deer all added to the mix.

Each week God brought an eclectic but wonderful group of families to CBS, and we believed that each family was appointed to be at camp when they were.  Safe community happens at CBS by God’s grace, and each week we shared each other’s joys and struggles.  We prayed for each other, we celebrated significant moments together, we worshiped together, we bore one another’s burdens, and we spurred one another on to love and good deeds.   Each banquet night was full of sharing, affirming that God had done a powerful work among us during our days together.  We heard stories of hope renewed.  Of visions born.  Of commitments made.  Of truth understood.  Of souls refreshed.  Of energy renewed.  Of the goodness of God.

Each week as the boat pulled away from the dock and our staff team sang the time-worn but sincere song, “We love you campers, oh yes do!” even as exhaustion settled in after giving it our all for the previous 6 days, we weren’t too tired to be aware that we had just been part of something way bigger than ourselves . . . nor was it lost on us that whatever had just happened was something that we couldn't have accomplished on our own.  That might be the key to the summer.  This staff seemed to get to a deeper degree that this summer wasn’t about them but about Him.  That it wasn’t just about now, but about eternity.  They “got” that they’d best support and love each other in the community by submitting to the authority set over them, and they did so remarkably.  It was truly one of the most servant-hearted, unselfish, ego-less staffs we’ve ever had and we are honored to have been able to partner with them this summer.

The staff send off our last family camp with the tradition of singing “We love you campers, oh yes we do!” one more time.

We are pooped, but in the best sort of way.  Our hearts are so full of gratitude for these past seven weeks.  Paul told the staff at our final worship time yesterday that though he came into the summer dragging his heels and lacking creativity and vision for the summer,  he is actually leaving this summer refreshed.  That probably says it best.

Rather than setting, he sun rises over the end of our 2011 family camp season at CBS.
(photo courtesy of Bill Crandall)

Family camps are underway!

We blinked and orientation week and family camp one were over.  And family camp two hit the halfway mark today.  It seems as though the pace of the summer will keep time with the months preceding it.

Before we got to the island, I spent a few days in San Diego with Julie and my parents.  The days passed quickly, but were fairly productive as we got their wedding invitations in the mail, celebrated Father’s Day early with my dad, and went to a bridal shower for Julie given by her professors and classmates from physical therapy school.  It was so sweet to hear them speak so supportively of Julie and her influence on them.  I felt very privileged to be there.

Dinner out in honor of Father's Day with my parents was lovely.

First thing Monday morning, June 13, we drove to Long Beach and took the ferry to Catalina with our summer staff.  We could tell even then that the Lord had brought together a great group of college students as we gathered at the terminal.  That first impression has been fulfilled during these few weeks.  We have a terrific staff.

We were thrilled to reconnect with Bob and Carol Kraning at the boat terminal.  They delivered two of our staff, Kory and Johnie (who also happen to be their grandsons), to catch the boat.

During Orientation Week, the staff creatively worked to develop the curriculum and decorate their classrooms.  We spent time every day building community as we built curriculum.  For the first time ever, we had 7 on the program staff who had never even been to CBS.  Very unusual, but understandable: three of the new staff have great siblings on year round staff, two of them came from Kari and Gabe’s ministry and had been mentored by them (and Kari and Gabe are batting a thousand on all the staff they’ve sent us the past four years), one grew up at our family camp in New Hampshire, and one has a sibling who was on staff  3 years ago.  So though they hadn’t stepped foot on the island prior to June 13, they were all exposed to CBS by reliable sources.  It did create a steep learning curve for them and reminded us of how foreign this well-known-to-us culture is to some. Thankfully, they’ve all adjusted beautifully and have brought a freshness to our team. We’re also thrilled to have Dennis and Susan Mansfield with us this summer as the “Dean and Deana of Little Gallaghers” (the little cove in which our summer staff are housed). Additionally Susan is serving as our children’s program director and crafts coordinator, and Dennis is filling in many gaps.  We’re loving having them here for many reasons, but especially for their maturity, depth, and love for the staff.  After being family campers for 28 years, they’re experiencing camp in an entirely different way.

Holland, Taylor, Claudia, Johnny, and Katie work on decorations for their classrooms.

Not all the team, but many, pose after lunch on their way to more preparations during orientation week.

Though we are truly thankful for each staff member God has brought here, we’re still pinching ourselves to believe that Gabe, Kari, and Brandon are part of that team.  As it became increasingly clear to them that God was moving them on from their positions at Bayside of South Sacramento, they talked to us about serving at CBS this summer. Really??? It quickly became clear that their gifts in working with college students could be used to lead the college studies for family campers as well as to develop training material for our summer staff, so we said YES!!!  Oh, and, we'll gladly help care for the little guy.

So here we are, in the midst of a historical legacy visiting the next generation.  Paul’s parents, Mel and Helen Friesen, started camp in 1951 and their only son, Paul, learned to walk in the Main Deck that first summer.  In 1981, Paul (who was in the midst of his tenure as the Camp Director 1975–1991), watched his eldest daughter Kari learn to walk in the Main Deck that summer.  Thirty years later, Kari’s eldest child, Brandon, is trying to learn to walk in the Main Deck (and feeling lots of pressure as a 10-month-old to uphold the tradition.  :)  )  Really?  We feel blessed beyond belief that we’re part of God's amazing faithfulness through the generations.

Gabe, Kari, and Brandon Garcia are a great addition to the staff team this summer.

Brandon loves his new and different bathtub, as well as living in community with more loving arms and smiles than ever.

Truly a huge part of the richness in serving at CBS comes from the relationships we've developed over the past 35 years.  Each family camp is full of people who mean so much to us. We've journeyed through decades of life together, through the highs and the lows, the thick and the thin, the family milestone moments of life, marriage, deaths, disappointments and triumphs.  Each week we reconnect with friends who return to camp with three generations in tow - some of whom were young parents in the late 70’s, now at camp with their grown up kids and grandkids.  We love the intergenerational framework of CBS family camps. And we love the newer families, who bring fresh perspective and experience to the table. Our passion for this ministry has not abated at all, but actually continues to grow each summer as we see the hand of God doing His good work among us. We are so blessed.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, who directed Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild for many years, have been dear friends since the beginning of our marriage.  It's always such a joy to have them pop into camp for an annual visit, to celebrate what God is doing in our lives and in our families, as well as to affirm our deep hearts for each other.

So, after a week or orientation and preparation, the boat loaded with over 200 family campers pulled up to our dock on Sunday, June 19.  With a mixture of emotions running the gamut from excitement to at least a few fears (how will the program go, etc.), the staff enthusiastically welcomed the campers and the 2011 family camp season at CBS was launched. The most touching moment of the week was experienced right off the bat, when Hayden Whelan, a precious 13-year-old who has Down’s Syndrome, arrived at camp after a year’s hiatus.  She was unable to come last year because she was undergoing treatment for a malignant tumor, and after a torturous year of chemo, radiation, hospitalizations, etc, she was recovered enough to return to camp and to her beloved “Paul.”  Hayden has had a thing for Paul since she was tiny, and she told her mom before arriving that she couldn't wait to see him.  She ran up the ramp and threw herself in his waiting arms, and there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.

Hayden is welcomed by Paul and the whole staff, who painted her a “Welcome Back, Hayden!” sign.

Six days later, Hayden gives Paul a farewell hug as she leaves camp.

That was the start of a great first week of camp.  Though we had the normal challenges of the first week, and some abnormal ones with so many new staff, it was a surprisingly smooth week programmatically.  Tim and Susie Theule were our resource couple and as we've come to expect, Tim’s teaching was challenging, instructive, and inspiring.  He’s truly one of the best teachers we’ve heard.  We’ve also grown to love their family over these six years that they've been on our family camp team, so having a week with them was a treat.

Our theme this summer is “The Fully Alive Family” using Psalm 23 and John 10:1–10 as our texts.  We’ve been so struck by the reminder that the sheep follow him because they know his voice and that they won’t follow the stranger because they don’t know his voice.  Our prayer is that we’ll become so attuned to the voice of the Good Shepherd that the stranger won’t pull us off course.

Tim and Susie Theule bring so much to camp, not just through Tim’s excellent teaching, but also through their healthy, beautiful family of six.

The week progressed through all the  beloved traditions - the game “Gender Defender” (some say it's the best ever!); all family worship and s’mores at the beach around the campfire; the hike to Avalon; the dance night and ice cream social; the boat race; the banquet; banner making; and tons of inter-generational interaction around dining tables, in the fairway, and on the beach.  What makes this place and experience so unique is the intergenerational community that is naturally woven into all waking hours.  So much health “happens” when the generations are laughing, playing, and learning together.

The week flew by and before we knew it, we were singing the traditional “We love you campers...oh yes we do!” as the boat pulled away from the dock in the early afternoon of June 25.  It was  especially poignant for us, as we were saying good-bye to many relatives who had continued their tradition of attending family camp.  Paul’s oldest sister, Sandra, and her husband, Wayne, once again brought their four married children and all their grandchildren to camp so we had feasted on the delight of being with family we love so much.  That meant many late nights of laughing and talking with one another, which was not great for our sleep needs, but an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.  Danny and Rayna Oertli are part of that clan, so we were treated to a concert by Danny one night during which he debuted a number of songs just released on his newest album, Just Beyond the Door.  We love this album and would highly recommend it.

The Friesen relatives who attended family camp 1.  Great time with all!!

No real reason for this photo, except that it’s an adorable one of this possible future lifeguard.  :)

Family is the theme...and we’re so blessed to have all of our gang with us at the moment. Lisa safely returned from Israel after her 2-week missions trip with FCA and came back bubbling over with enthusiasm for her experience there.  She’s working at camp for three weeks, joining the high school team. Julie is managing to make it up for the weekends and we’re loving that. The countdown to the return of her fiance Derek to the states has begun in earnest.  It's now less than a month.  :)  And we're loving having the Garcias here 24/7.  Besides the joy of having them with us, they’re doing a fabulous job with our staff and with the college-age family campers.

The girls and Gabe, left to right: Kari, Julie, Lisa

We’re also having an amazing summer of wildlife sightings as well as gorgeous weather. Buffalo have been hanging out in camp regularly and the bald eagles and pods of dolphins have been seen multiple times.  We’re delighting in all of it.

A buffalo finds dinner next to our volleyball court. 

Brandon helps “Papa” with announcements at many meals.

Our program staff are ready for a new day.

Do pray for us as we run 4.5 more weeks of camp.  God is doing amazing things among us already and we are humbled to be a part of it.  All praise is His!!!

We've crossed the finish line on the Summer of 2010

Paul and I are sitting at Manchester (NH) Airport, awaiting a delayed flight which will carry us Sacramento hopefully before August 23 is over, so I will happily seize these moments to reflect on the past two weeks of family camp.  As is true for most “finish line” crossings, we are very tired...but once again, happily so.  It’s been a great run overall and we will be processing a lot from these ten weeks for a long time to come.  It’s been a very full summer of experiencing God and of witnessing Him work in unmistakable ways.
A view of Camp Berea before the campers arrive . . . it’s not Campus by the Sea, but it’s so beautiful in a completely different way!

Assembling a full staff team was a bigger challenge than usual.  Many of our CBS staff began school early or had family plans, so we supplemented with some wonderful volunteers, a couple of whom said “yes” the morning before family camp began . . . and flew from California in time to drive to Camp Berea with the rest of the team!  In the end, the Lord provided so that every grade was well staffed and all needs were met.

Staff for the first week of family camp at Berea.

Megan Forbes and the worship team lead “The Butterfly Song” at the opening night, much to the delight of many veteran family campers.

Paul leads the children’s devotions and the two contestants practice self-control successfully, doubling their “take.”
Over forty families attended this sold out camp, many of whom have made family camp a tradition for many years.  This was our 14th family camp in New England and it delights us to see families as passionate about family camp here as they are at CBS. It’s like a huge family reunion!  Many of the families we’ve known since the parents attended Engagement Matters many years ago, and we’ve journeyed with them through their weddings, the births, and the dedications of their children.  What a gift!

David Swaim spoke to the first camp and he was terrific again this year.  Each day he spoke about different aspects of the Father’s Love and was used by God in some very powerful ways.  Since he spoke last summer, he and Michelle have doubled their family size by adopting three teen-agers from Uganda (originally from Congo, but orphaned and displaced to Uganda), and it was a joy to have all of them with us.

David Swaim not only preaches powerfully, he can dance up a storm.  Here he’s pictured with his daughter Angelina, who looks semi-petrified during most of David’s energetic swing moves . . .

 . . . but was all smiles when all was said and done.
On “change-of-pace day” (known as “hike day” at CBS), we spent the day relaxing: jumping at Sculptured Rocks, swimming, and eating ice cream.  It was a great “catch up” day on sleep, which we were all feeling the lack of.  It was a fun and low-keyed day.

Sculptured Rocks is a gorgeous spot not far from Camp Berea - great for picnicking, jumping off a 10 ft. rock into very cold water below, and relaxing.  We had a blast!

We topped off the day with a Shackett’s Ice Cream stop and it’s hard to beat that.
Family Camp 1 culminated with a baby dedication and several baptisms, followed by the banquet that evening.  Each baptism was such a wonderful expression of God’s work in individual lives, celebrated in the context of Christian community.  The celebration continued that evening as person after person shared at the banquet how God was working in their lives and had met them during family camp.  The sharing was deep and meaningful and filled our hearts with joy and gratitude.

Nate and Jeannie King, along with Andrew, Emily, and Camryn, bring Brady to be dedicated at the lake.

Paul baptizes Susie Hirtle, who has grown up at family camp and is now off to a Christian college in Texas.

Joe Yardley also chose to be baptized at camp this summer.  Here he stands with his family: parents Dan and Susan and siblings James, Liz, Tim, and Abbie.

Sam Potter, another long-time family camper, was baptized as well.  His family and both sets of grandparents stand with him.

And just like that, family camp was over and we had 24 hours to regroup and prepare to make our last group of family campers feel like it was our first week of camp.  The weekend was relaxing and renewing in many ways.  Pizza Friday night was followed by a special showing of one of “clean” comedian Brian Regan’s very funny DVD’s, which was followed by watching a disappointing, extra innings loss for the Boston Red Sox.  We got over it by eating yummy homemade waffles the next morning. :)

The weekend was also highlighted by having Aimee, Chelsea, and Danny visit us from NYC.  Yes, it’s the same Aimee who met Christ at CBS during week 2, and the same Chelsea who was baptized at CBS during week 6.  Danny is a mutual friend of theirs who decided to follow Christ after seeing the dramatic transformation in Aimee when she returned from CBS.  Don’t you love the way God works??  They came to Berea to reconnect with the staff and many significant conversations were had during the course of their stay.  God is at work.

The staff were thrilled to have Aimee, Chelsea, and Danny join us for the weekend.  This photo is taken in near the cottage we rented to house some of our staff.  Here everyone takes a break from swimming and playing to mug for the camera “for the blog.”

Family Camp 2 arrived Saturday afternoon, August 14th, with even more campers than week 1.  Our biggest camp of the summer was the last!  Fortunately, we had several additional staff - Liann and Evan Wong, as well as Helen Challener and Taylor Tedford.  They were just what we needed to “fill the gaps” and we were so thankful for them.

Helen Challener joined our team for family camp 2.  She volunteered at CBS in 1978 and 1980 and proved that she hasn’t lost her touch.  She was a terrific aide for the 1st and 2nd grade class.  It was a joy to have her!

A wonderful team of “older than college students” rounded out our staff: Debbie Smith (a colleague of mine from college), Helen Challener, Susan Martis, and Liann Wong all added “years of experience” to the team and were so appreciated by both kids and parents.

Staff team for Family Camp 2
One of the traditions and highlights at Camp Berea is the all generations “finger blasters” feud.  The “harmless” nerf rockets are “fired” at the opposing team and mayhem breaks loose in the gym.  It is really fun and thoroughly enjoyed by all.  The grand finale of this family camp was having a shoot-off between Paul and me.  Much to the delight of the very competitive and vocal men, Paul “shot” me.  :)  I lost this year . . . but there’s always next.  :)

Paul is the victor in the “shoot-off” with me.  Here we’re posing with “refs” from our staff team:  Heather Thiel, Kyle Becker, David Hathaway, and Nathan Smith.

During the second family camp, we drove the staff up to the Mt. Washington Hotel so they could experience some of the unique beauty of New England and tour this fabulous hotel . . . and then on to Amonusuc Falls to do some big rock jumping.  Compared to Sculptured Rocks, the jumps are MUCH higher and the water MUCH colder - but fun was had by all.  We picnicked on the rocks, did a fair bit of jumping, and then drove back to Shacketts for more yummy ice cream.  It was a great day.

The staff enjoyed touring the Mt. Washington Hotel . . .

 . . . but probably enjoyed the delights of jumping into this frigid water more.  :)
We were back at Camp Berea in time to conduct our last dance night.  We had a blast in their spacious gym doing the Chicken Dance, the Hokey Pokey, the Barn Dance, the Virginia Reel, Slappin’ Leather, the Cotton Eye Joe, the Rain Dance, and finally swing dancing.  Kelsey O’Keeffe and Andrew Price did a fantastic job all summer leading the dances and this was no exception.  I love this night for many reasons, but topping the list is seeing the integration of the generations on the dance floor.

Megan Forbes and Vincent Swaim work some swing moves while Alton Green teaches his sister Danielle how to slide in the background.

Jay Abramson spoke for this week of family camp and he did a wonderful job of tying his talks in with the prodigal son story. Jay’s teaching is authentic and passionate, and it engages both the head and the heart. Jay and Liz are always such a delight to partner with.  They make themselves so available as they invest greatly in campers outside of the speaking sessions.

Jay and Liz Abramson were appreciated by the campers during Family Camp 2.

Our final family camp culminated with powerful sharing at the banquet and a wonderful time of worship at the campfire.  We heard testimony of marriages on the mend, parent-child relationships improving, and many tales of personal sanctification.  No one could deny God’s hand in changed lives.

For the final time in the summer of 2010, we had our closing session featuring worship and wrap-up. One last “Butterfly Song,” “Days of Elijah” and the memory verse song . . . One last all-camp photo. One last giant farewell to a wonderful summer.

Kelsey O’Keeffe plays one last round of “gaga” with some of our smaller campers.

We were packed up and out of Berea in record time on Friday and the real end of the summer celebration began.  Pizza in the small town of Bristol sustained us until we were feted with an unbelievable surf and turf (lobster and steak) feast at Doug and Julie Macrae’s house.  We arrived mid-afternoon and enjoyed their pool and their huge backyard-turned football field before indulging ourselves beyond reason.  It rivaled the finest restaurants in Boston.  We all felt very pampered.

The Macraes’ backyard provided a great party site for our “end of the summer” celebration.

Full and happy . . . we take one more photo for the blog.  :)
But is doesn’t end there.  Saturday topped the charts - starting with a yummy brunch, a tour of Boston, a great meal at Fire and Ice, and then an extravaganza at Fenway Park.  The Macraes had arranged for all 22 of us to tour Fenway and then to watch the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays in extra innings.  :)  Really?  Does it get an better than that??

We’re on the field during our tour of Fenway Park.

During batting practice, Kevin Bron and Andrew Price snagged balls, while Heather Thiel, Monica Wong, and Hannah Early celebrate with them.

It was our first visit to Fenway this year and we enjoyed it at least as much as the kids did.

With very little sleep, we got most of the staff to the airport for early morning departures Sunday . . . and the summer officially ended.  Though we are really, really tired, we are much more thankful.  It has been a most unforgettable summer (for mostly good reasons!!!) and we are praying that the seed that fell on fertile soil will thrive in the year ahead.  We can hardly believe we’ve now crossed the summers-at-camp finish line 35 times, but we consider that a huge gift from the Lord.

And now, the countdown begins in earnest for the arrival of grandson #1.  His due date is a week away and we’re so thankful that he didn’t decide to make an early entrance.  We’ll be in Sacramento for the next little while with Gabe and Kari as they begin this new season in their lives.

Other family news: Julie has successfully finished her first year of physical therapy school and is enjoying a much needed break with her boyfriend, Derek, who is “home” from Uganda for several weeks.  We’ll see them in Sacramento this week.  Lisa is off and running with her new job.  She has been going non-stop since starting on August 1, and is loving it so far.

Thanks for standing with us and for praying for our lives and ministry.  “When you’re working out of your passion, it doesn’t seem like work” is an apt statement for us.  We know we’re blessed to be able to say that.

If a picture says a thousand words, then this one that Barbara Steele snapped last week at Camp Berea overlooking Newfound Lake expresses what’s in my heart that can’t be expressed in words.  Savor His faithfulness along with us.