Tuesday, September 16, 2014

God and Ga-Ga

Amid all the excitement associated with the new Upward Tower on camp this summer, you may not have heard about the surprise hit of the season. It’s an inconspicuous little game with a goofy name: Ga-Ga Ball. Ga-Ga Ball is played in an octagon-shaped arena made of two-foot-tall wooden walls. It’s a dodge-ball style game in which the players swat a small rubber ball with their hands in an attempt to tag other players below the knee with the ball. The game originated in Israel, and the word “ga” is Hebrew for “touch.”

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We installed the Ga-Ga Ball arena near the cafeteria so that campers would have an activity available while they waited for mealtimes to begin. We figured they would like the game but never anticipated the wild enthusiasm it would generate. Before and after every mealtime, the Ga-Ga Ball arena was filled with campers shouting, cheering, and laughing as they played. By the end of the summer, they were begging us to build another one by the pool and a third one by the Joy Center.

The Ga-Ga Ball arena also became a very special place for me. On Friday mornings, just after breakfast, I would meet with all of the campers who wished to be baptized at camp. The Ga-Ga Ball arena became our gathering place for these meetings. Eager campers would sit perched on the arena walls while we talked about forgiveness, new life, and the importance of baptism. I would answer all their questions (including the occasional, “can we play Ga-Ga Ball now?); then we would pray together and walk to the pool where all the other campers were waiting for our baptism service to begin.

This summer, 115 of our campers made a public profession of faith and were baptized here at camp. Games like Ga-Ga Ball are a great draw to get them to come to camp, but it’s the encounters they have with God while they are here that change their lives forever. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Onward and Upward

I don’t remember ever seeing such determination in a teenager. Heather’s white-knuckled grip on the rope ladder held firm, despite her sweaty palms and exhaustion. She’d been climbing one of the most difficult routes on the new Upward Tower for several minutes but seemed to have stalled half-way up. I thought she would give up any minute, allowing her safety team to lower her to the ground, but then something exciting happened.

Her cabin mates, sensing that she was on the verge of abandoning her ascent, gathered around the tower, shouting words of encouragement and urging her upward. Heather fixed her eyes on the next grip point and pulled with all her might. The shouts of inspiration grew stronger then, fueling Heather’s resolve. One difficult step at a time, she continued her climb. Slowly and steadily she approached the top of the tower, forty-feet above the ground. When she reached the top, cheered erupted from the ground, and the lesson was cemented into place.

The Upward Tower isn’t just about climbing and zip lines. Before the group began the activity, I explained that the name comes from Philippians 3, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I described how a relationship with God isn’t just about getting into heaven, but God calls us upward into a closer connection with Him. Many people give up and walk away from God when the going gets tough, but the Upward Tower teaches us to be determined and uncompromising in our pursuit of Christ.

All summer, our campers have been experiencing this lesson first-hand as they have taken on the challenges of the Upward Tower. In the process they've gained not only an unforgettable experience, but also a lesson about their relationship with God that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.



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!