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.

Great is Thy Faithfulness!

And just like that, our summer at Campus by the Sea (CBS) is over.  After the coolest summer of our 35 years together at CBS, we wakened this morning with no doubt we were no longer there.  The over 90 degree temps and equal humidity today remind us that part of the reason we love “summering” at Campus by the Sea is the weather!!!

The last two weeks of family camp continued in the trajectory of the summer: beyond words wonderful.  We can’t remember a summer when there has been more evidence of God’s grace working out among us in so many ways.  Every banquet this summer evidenced this, as the “feast” we consumed was exceeded only be the “feast” we witnessed after person upon person shared of how they had been met by God during the week.

Family Camp 5 featured second year speaker David Tebay, senior pastor of Calvary Church of Placentia.  He challenged us with the message of Romans 12, and his sermons were practical and discomforting.  That’s good.  :)  It was a delight to have his son, Taylor, on our program staff all summer, and to have his wife, Carrie, daughters Tara and Amy, and son Austin join him for the week.  David’s father, John, was one of the officiating pastors at our wedding, and along with his wife Grace, has been a significant mentor in our lives for the past almost four decades.  It’s so good to see the generational legacy of God’s faithfulness in this family.

David and Carrie Tebay, with Austin, Tara, Amy, and Taylor.

The “staff only” annual hike to “Lone Tree” took place on the Wednesday of Family Camp 5.  Only 12 braved this challenging, 9-mile-round-trip hike, and we were all on the top within 1.5 hrs.  Though we were very thankful for the cloud cover hiking up, we all wished the sun would burn it off once we were on the top.  But alas, we remained sunless (in keeping with the theme of the summer!)  Oh well, makes for easier hiking!  We had a great time of fellowship and experienced wonderful camaraderie throughout.  Another Lone Tree summit accomplished!

Front row: Holland Stewart, David Hathaway, Heather Thiel, “Mama Virg”, Megan Forbes, Lisa Friesen, Leslie Johnston, Scott JohnstonBack row:  Jared Klay, Rachel Baughman, Whitnee Sherman, and Christy Johnston.  Mission accomplished: Lone Tree conquered!
As was true for every Family Camp, the week flew by and before we were ready for it, Saturday morning had arrived and we were celebrating God’s faithfulness during our closing session.  Tears, hugs, and another heartfelt chorus of “We love you campers, oh, yes, we do!” sent this wonderful group of campers off to San Pedro.
Late that Saturday afternoon, the program staff and part of the facilities staff headed into Avalon for the annual “staff appreciation” meal in town. “Mi Casita” was the site of our dinner and though the food wasn’t nearly as good as what we’ve enjoyed from the CBS kitchen this summer, it was a fun and relaxing change of venue.  The bonus of the night was the brilliant full moon - with no cloud cover - spawning our second full moon hike of the summer. Twenty-one intrepid staff hiked under the unbelievably beautiful moonlit night, which put a large exclamation point on a great evening.

Program staff appreciation dinner at Mi Casita in Avalon.

Presto change-o - into hiking clothes and off to Campus by the Sea under a moonlit night.
Family Camp 6 arrived on Sunday, July 25.  Gary and Anne Gaddini and their four daughters joined our resource team this week and as usual, Gary’s speaking did not disappoint.  He preached through the book of Jonah, and was compelling, challenging, relevant, and inspiring.  (A reminder that all of the family camp talks from CBS 2010 are available on MP3’s on the CBS website.)  Gary’s passion for Christ, his knowledge of the Word, and his strong communication skills combined to “knock it out of the park.”

Gary and Anne Gaddini with 3 of their 4 daughters join Lisa, Paul, and me for ice cream in Avalon on hike day.

Week 6 had so many special features.  One of them was having Garth and Rosemary Dougan in camp for the week.  Now at 87 and 85, they continue to inspire all of us.  We invited them to our staff meeting and spent a few moments honoring them for their years of faithful service at CBS, but mostly for their faithfulness to the Lord for decades.  Their lives are so hope-giving.  How we love them!

Paul presented Garth and Rosemary with honorary staff shirts at the banquet Friday night.  Don’t they look terrific?

The program staff share a staff meeting with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, CBS staff “grandparents” emeritus.
Another very special moment during week 6 was Chelsea Paskvan’s baptism.  Chels grew up coming to family camp and served on staff for several summers.  She just graduated from Kent State University with a degree in fashion design and is living in NYC working in the industry.  She wanted to be baptized in the place where God has met her consistently.  It was a beautiful service.  BTW, Chelsea has been a great friend to the young woman from NYC who became a Christian at camp during week 2.  She has taken her to Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer, and is walking with her during her first steps as a Christian.

Lisa prays for Chelsea at her baptism ceremony.
It’s hard to remember a summer when we’ve experienced more spiritual fruit than this one.  Or a summer when there’s been more unity among the staff team.  We were especially impressed with how well the program staff worked together; they were “all in” with serving and becoming more Christlike.  They were such a delight to partner with!

I’m still amazed at God’s faithfulness to us in bringing this team together.  Twenty of our twenty-four program staff grew up as family campers.  That means they really “get” it; they know how important staff members were in their lives through the years.  It’s an awesome thought to consider that all the years these kids were growing up as family campers, they were in training to serve as staff workers one day!

We also had an unusually high number of staff with theatrical or musical backgrounds, and in line with their gifts, we had more creative flair in the program.  The Children’s Program drama, written and directed by the staff,  was fabulous and conveyed the essence of the Prodigal Son story remarkably well.  John Thiel, our worship leader (as well as children’s program director) wrote a short reader’s theater for opening night and closing morning, and that was well received.  He also wrote a catchy memory verse song, which will be sung long after the summer of 2010 is history.

After we sent our last family campers sailing, we spent our last almost 24 hours in camp bringing closure to the summer.  The year round staff couples prepared a wonderful Mexican feast for our last dinner together and that was followed by “Saturday Night Live” - a sharing of talents which would bless our community.  Sunday morning, we had a wonderful two-hour worship/sharing service and we privileged to hear how God had met us individually through our seven weeks together.  It was a really sweet time.  And then it was boat time.

It’s impossible to put into words what it means to live in this kind of unplugged, undistracted, directed community for almost two months, but what is unspoken is mostly intangible.  God meets each of us in different ways, right where we are on the journey towards His heart.  He uses us, imperfect as we each are, to impact eternity, and none of us can really get our minds around that.  We can get our hearts around it, though, and even more now, after spending a summer delving deeper into “The Father’s Love,” and for that, we’ll be forever grateful.

On the Catalina Express, en route back to the mainland...our very wonderful staff team gathers for one last shot “for the blog.”  :)

And so the sun sets on another summer at CBS and we head off to New Hampshire to do two more weeks of family camp.  We are exceedingly tired . . . and exceedingly grateful.  “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”

A Life Lived for the Kingdom

Claude and Forestine, flanked by John and Marilyn Nugent and Paul and me at Claude’s 90th birthday celebration in September 2007

The phone call this morning was unexpected and brought us news that saddened our hearts. Claude Cole was on the other end of the line, 3,000 miles away, and in a broken, teary voice, he let us know that his beloved Forestine had entered eternity this morning. After sixty-four years of living together in the covenant of marriage, their ways have been parted by death.

Our emotions and thoughts are all over the place as we let this news sink into our souls. Claude and Forestine have been a very big part of our lives for fourteen years now, ever since we joined the staff at Grace Chapel in 1994. As regular attenders in our Home Improvement Sunday School class, we’ll never forget how often they’d come up after class and say, “What a great message! We wish we would’ve heard this years ago.”

As we grew in our knowledge of and love for them over the years, we discovered that what set them apart from most was their commitment to continued growth in Christ-likeness. Claude and Forestine, as old and wise as they were, never believed they had “arrived” or that they knew more than anyone else. They loved learning about God, and their relationship with Him was their life. Their lives reflect the words of the Psalmist in 92:14–15: “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming ‘The Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’”

The Coles were about bearing fruit. When many of the over-70 crowd were indulging themselves in the rewards of retirement, Claude and Forestine were investing themselves in Kingdom work. In 1997 we launched “The Gathering” at Grace Chapel, and they volunteered (along with their dear friends, Thora and Eliot Eames) to serve on the dinner team. Week by week, they faithfully showed up to serve: Forestine at the money till and Claude usually at the sink, washing dishes. That was only one of many ways their lives bore witness of their commitment to Christ.

But it was their dedication to one another that has touched us most deeply in these past years. With Forestine’s descent into the murky world of Alzheimer's, Claude has demonstrated steadfast commitment and service to his beloved. For a number of years now, he has managed life for both of them: cooking, cleaning, driving, etc. From time to time, Forestine would leave for a week or so to be cared for by one of their daughters. In a visit with him during one of her absences, Paul said, “I’ll bet it’s a relief to not have Forestine here this week, Claude. You get a much needed break.”

“Oh NO, Paul: I miss her SO much. I wish she were here,” Claude responded.

Claude and Forestine’s love for Jesus and love for each other have changed us. Their lives of faithfulness to Him and to each other have inspired us. We have lost something rarely seen in these times with Forestine’s death, but the impact of their lives together will be immortal because they invested themselves in that which will outlast their physical lives. “Oh joy!” as Forestine would say.

Paul Friesen will be returning to New England to officiate at Forestine’s funeral, which is this Friday, July 11, 11:00 am, Grace Chapel, Lexington, Massachusetts. Viewing hours are Thursday evening from 7-9:30 pm at the Douglass Funeral Home next door to Grace Chapel.

Family campers sing “We are somebody” during worship.

From the rocky shores of Campus by the Sea, and as Family Camp 3 begins, we send our love and greetings. Two full weeks of Family Camp are now history and the third camp is off to a great start. God is meeting us in such obvious ways.

I’ll confess that I had great concerns throughout the spring as we hired our staff team. Though very impressed with the caliber of applicants we received, most of them were young and would be rookies as staff (though the majority were veteran family campers.) We were especially concerned about lacking “ballast” staffers: those with experience, maturity, and leadership. We prayed, we recruited, we even lost a little sleep—and still, a month prior to the start of orientation, we were deficient.

As I reflect now on how I felt then, and how I feel now as we are experiencing an unusually mature, dedicated, here-for-the-right reasons staff team, I’m a bit embarrassed that I was so uptight . . . and probably untrusting that God would meet our needs. He has provided for us in some amazing ways. In the ninth hour, Paul and Stefanie Spangler (recruited by Kari and Gabe) agreed to come to lead worship, work with the high school program, and serve as RA’s in the staff housing. They’ve been such a gift, filling these critical needs incredibly well. Our daughter Lisa is coordinating the junior and senior high team and program and she’s golden as she brings years of experience to the table. Elsa Stanley is running our elementary program and is doing a wonderful job. The “young, rookie” staff has far exceeded our expectations and we are more than thankful. God is so good!!

CBS staff hike the shoreline into Avalon, enjoying the challenge and the exercise afforded by this team-building event.

We’re privileged to be here, serving in this set-apart place, experiencing God and seeing Him work in real ways. Though our days are people-intensive and full, it’s therapeutic in itself to experience the simple delights of being in this beautiful, car-less, “unplugged”, remote place. We’re loving building into families and marriages in this unique setting, where God manages to get a hold of hearts and minds in uncommon ways.