Thursday, July 17, 2014

Coming Home

The first night of camp, Samantha looked like a frightened squirrel trapped in a cage. Her wide eyes darted around, trying to take in her new surroundings. It wasn't long before she began to talk about wanting to go home. This response isn't unusual for campers who are unaccustomed to new experiences, but, most of the time, these campers settle in after the first day and really begin to enjoy camp.

Two nights later, however, Samantha approached me after chapel and asked if she could talk to me. We sat down in the chapel room, and she explained that she was in foster care and wanted to go home. At first I thought she was telling me that she wanted to leave camp. When I began asking her why she didn't like camp, she corrected me.

“No, I like camp. What I mean is, I don’t want to be in foster care anymore. I want to go home to my mom and dad.” 

She went on to describe the poor life decisions her parents had made, resulting in their incarceration. She asked me to pray with her that, now that her parents were out of prison, she would be able to live with them again. 

I talked with her for a few minutes, and, together, we agreed to pray for three things: 1) that her parents would follow God and get their lives back on track, 2) that Samantha would be able to join them in their home once again, and 3) that, even if she is unable to join her parents, God would give her peace, comfort, and a sense of belonging, no matter where she lives.

As Samantha left the chapel room that night, her countenance was changed. The frightened squirrel was nowhere to be seen. She was now full of the peace that surpasses understanding—something that can only be accomplished through the work of God. She found a home in His presence.

Please be in prayer for the hundreds of campers here this summer. They all have unique needs, and, for many, the pain runs deep. But God is meeting their needs and it’s exciting to see His hand at work in their hearts.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Exclamation Point


It was a moment you might find in works of fiction but could never orchestrate in real life. It was as if God wanted to add an exclamation point to the end of the story. If you haven’t been able to follow our ten-month journey of rebuilding our high ropes course after it was destroyed by lightning last summer, let me just say that God’s fingerprints have been evident throughout the process, concluding with the ribbon cutting on the new Upward Tower last month. That’s where the exclamation point came in.

At the beginning of May, we were on schedule to have the new tower ready in time for summer camp. As I began to think about a ribbon-cutting ceremony, I thought how wonderful it would be if our primary benefactors for the project, Gary and Vesta Edmonds, could be here for the occasion. It was very unlikely because the Edmonds spend most of their time traveling all over the country. Around mid-May however, they contacted me about coming for a visit at the end of the month. It seemed too much to hope that the tower would be completed by then, but I was at least excited that they would see the project progressing.

Amazingly, God gave us great favor and amplified productivity so that it was finished the very week that the Edmonds arrived! We arranged for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the end of the week. Representatives from the businesses, churches, staff and campers gathered for the occasion. We presented a plaque to the Edmonds, gave them the honor of cutting the ribbon, and prayed a prayer of dedication. 


Climbers of all ages then took to the tower, scrambling up the various routes and riding the zip lines to the ground. Finally, the Edmonds, who are both in their 60’s, decided to give it a try. Just as they reached the top, distant thunder began to roll, so I announced that these would be our last two climbers. As I hooked them up to the side-by-side zip lines, I reflected on how God had worked in such a special way to allow these two precious people to be here for this day. Then, as they rode the zip lines together, bringing the perfect conclusion to the day, I looked up at heaven smiling and said, “Ok, God. Now you’re just showing off!”


God works in miraculous ways all the time, and sometimes he adds that exclamation point just to make sure we know that it’s He who is at work bringing everything about. I pray that you see His fingerprints in your own life as well. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Vessels of God


Like adventurous ships pulling out of a harbor, venturing into the wide blue sea, I watch our campers every summer head out into the next phase of their lives. Where will they go? What will become of them? God entrusts them to our care for just a short period, but we make the most of that time, equipping them with the training and navigational tools they need to follow God into the great unknown.

Sometimes they veer off course, like David* who came to camp as a teenager but got caught up in partying and drugs after he outgrew our program. When he reached his low point, he called me up, seeking guidance for reconciling his relationship with God. I wrote about that story last year. Now he’s working steadily, seeking God daily, and giving of himself as the primary caretaker for his uncle and grandmother.
 

Other times they encounter an unexpected storm, like Sherry* who grew dramatically in her relationship with God at camp, but experienced the devastation of domestic abuse and failed marriage as a young adult. Now she excitedly reports that God is healing her and has used her experiences at camp to birth a new passion for family ministries in her community.
 

Then there are those who manage to stay on course, like Carol* who came to camp throughout her childhood and followed God into a successful career in banking. She stopped by a few weeks ago to share how much camp impacted her life and that the lessons she learned here still give her guidance today.

These are just a few of the ships that radio back to the harbor from time to time. There are thousands of others out there, and we know that the Lord has his eye on each one. As long as God enables us, we will continue equipping these vessels of God to be ready for whatever adventure awaits.


*names have been changed

 

 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Yeah, but...


It seemed like a good idea, but I had no idea how to make it happen. The builder for our new high ropes course tower was suggesting that I try contacting some local businesses to arrange for the delivery and installation of the 60-foot utility poles.

“I can make the arrangements myself,” he explained, “but if you contact somebody local, you might get a better deal since you’re a non-profit.”

It made sense, of course, but I didn’t know of anyone who could do a job like this. Then I remembered that camp founder O.A. Fish knew someone who worked with Duke Power. I asked O.A. for the number, jotted it down on a scrap of paper, and gave the man a call.
 
“Well, Duke can’t do it for you,” he said, “but you should call Pike Electric.”
 
He gave me a contact at Pike, so I wrote that number down and called him.
 
“I can’t do a job like that,” he said, “but you should try C.F. Reese.”

 
He gave me the number for Reese, and I called.
 
“I don’t have a source for poles,” he explained, “but I know somebody who might be able to help.”

At this point I looked down at the scrap of paper upon which I’d been scribbling all these numbers. God is in this, I realized. I wrote out this fourth phone number with more confidence. I knew this was no rabbit trail. God was leading me somewhere.
 
I dialed the number with high expectations.
 
I can’t help you,” was the response, “but you should try Camp Electric.”
 
Undeterred, I dialed the number he provided.
 
“Sure, I can do that job,” Jason Camp explained. “Can you send me the exact specifications?”
 
A few emails were exchanged, and within a few days, I had a quote for purchase, delivery, and installation.

When I passed the quote along to our ropes course builder, he called me almost immediately.
 
“This is remarkable,” he said. “I was expecting twice this amount. It is really a blessing to be a part of a project like this.”
 
I couldn’t have said it better myself. It is a blessing to be a part of what God is doing at South Mountain Christian Camp, and it’s so exciting to see how He brings about His plan.
 
For the back story on the ropes course project, read Taking Action. To see how you can help, visit our website.

A Gift of Faith


When our entire high ropes course was destroyed by lightning last summer, I received something special from God—a gift of faith. I didn’t receive that faith because I was so spiritual or even worthy. I believe it was simply because God knew what He wanted to accomplish, and He knew that I needed that faith in order to fall into obedience to His plan. As a result, I had complete confidence that God would provide the $47,000 needed to rebuild the course. I just didn’t know how He would do it.
 
Armed with faith from God, I pursued every avenue that presented itself as a possibility for funding. Individual donations, church contributions, fundraising events, business sponsorships, grants, and even donations of building materials were all possibilities. I contacted the media, printed flyers, sent emails, and even built a 3D model of our plans for the new course. I shared our story with anyone who was willing to listen. But six months into the process, we had raised less than $5,000.
 
That’s when Jesus took control, and the unexpected happened. Just as doubt was starting to creep into my mind that the course would be built by this summer, I received a brief email from a couple of our supporters, Gary and Vesta Edmonds. It said that they would fund the remaining cost of the project! I was overwhelmed. I had to read the email four times before I could believe it. When I shared the news with our staff, the office was filled with shouts of delight and tears of joy. The Lord had answered our prayers! It came suddenly, and it wasn’t the way I imagined it would happen, but that’s just how God works.
 
I’m so glad He chooses to act in miraculous ways. By doing so, He keeps us dependent upon Him as He operates through our amazing supporters like you. We’re now in the process of clearing a small patch of land and arranging for installation of the 60-foot utility poles that will be the framework for the tower. It’s an exciting time, and even more exciting because we know that it’s all coming about through the hand of God. Now our focus can turn to raising the $65,000 needed for camper scholarships this year. I can’t wait to see what God does next!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Impact of Camp and Custard Pie

I just wanted a custard pie. Actually, I didn’t even want it—my daughter did. We were traveling out of state, on our way to visit family for Christmas, when we decided to stop at a random McDonalds for a break.

As soon as the cashier looked at me, her face froze, her mouth hanging open. I thought something was wrong. Are they out of pie? I wondered. Then she smiled. “You’re Steve!” she exclaimed. “You run the summer camp!”

I laughed with surprise (and a little relief that I would still get my daughter’s pie). The cashier had attended camp years earlier as a child and still vividly remembered the impactful experiences she’d had here. After catching up with her briefly, we said goodbye and headed back out on the road.

As I drove, I marveled at how I happened to run into a former camper so far away from camp, and how she was able to recognize me after so much time had passed. It was yet another reminder from the Lord of the powerful impact summer camp has on young lives.
 
In just the sixteen years I’ve been at South Mountain, we’ve ministered to nearly ten thousand summer campers, and I’ve seen nearly two thousand of them come to know the Lord at camp. That number grows much larger when you consider the entire 40 years that SMCC has been in operation.

There’s no doubt that camp changes lives, and those lives, in turn, can impact more lives. Brian Houston, the pastor of Hillsong Church in Australia, has shared how his life took a dramatic turn at a summer camp. Christian music artists Brandon Heath and Toby Mac both came to know Christ at a camp. When you consider the millions of lives that just these three have touched, the impact grows exponentially.
 
Even at South Mountain, we’ve had former campers go on to become pastors, missionaries, and teachers, impacting the world for Christ. You never know whose life you’re going to touch through camp ministry, and you never know how many more lives might be touched as a result. We thank God for the opportunities that come our way every day.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Taking Action

Last summer a powerful lightning strike destroyed our entire high ropes course in one brief second. The bolt struck a massive oak tree in the middle of the course and traveled through steel cables to the other trees and climbing tower, blowing out massive chunks of wood at each connection point along the way. In total, three trees were killed, the tower was destroyed, and all the steel cable was compromised. It was a total loss, and we had to shut down the course for the rest of the summer.

At the end of that week of camp, a camper named Amber told me that she felt God was leading her to do a fundraiser for rebuilding the ropes course. I smiled and told her that would be fantastic. Inwardly, however, I wondered if she would really be able to follow through with it. Boy did she prove me wrong! Amber took action. She went home, told her youth group about the problem, and organized a bake sale. Just a month after camp was over, she called and said she had a check for $422 for the camp!

Her dedication and hard work inspired me so much that I began approaching other youth groups, asking them if they’d be willing to do similar fundraisers for us. We’ve had at least one other church make a significant contribution to the project, and several others have agreed to take on the challenge. This one camper with a heart for God may have started something big.

The task is formidable—it will cost an estimated $47,000 to rebuild the ropes course. We’re hoping to fund it through a combination of grants, sponsors, and fundraising groups like Amber’s. If you know a business or group that might want to help, you can find more information on the new ropes course design and the fundraising efforts on our website.

Regardless of how God does it, we have confidence that he will bring in the funds at just the right time. He always does. If you'd like to make a contribution to the project, you can do so through the DONATE button below, or mail your check to PO Box 9, Bostic NC 28018. Be sure to designate your gift as "Upward Tower" or "Ropes Course."