Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Who In Their Right Mind...

It was the perfect recipe for disaster. As soon as I woke up, I checked the weather and discovered that our third annual South of theMountain Trail Run would be besieged by a wintery mix of rain, snow, and bitterly-cold wind. Knowing there was nothing we could do to change it, my wife and I bundled up and headed out to proceed with the plan. I was unsure what to expect, but I know I never anticipated what happened next.

I’d been determined to increase the number of participants at the event this year and had taken extensive measures to do so, but with the horrible weather conditions, I would not have been surprised if only 12 of our 69 pre-registered runners showed up to the race. When I received news that some of our volunteers had cancelled, I couldn’t blame them. They were assigned to help with parking, but we probably wouldn’t even need them now. Who in their right mind would show up on a morning like this to run in a race anyway?

The answer began arriving shortly after 9:00 am. As car after car began pulling into the camp, I suddenly realized that I needed to fill those vacant volunteer jobs. Remarkably, some of our participants offered to help. They threw on some orange vests and started directing traffic within moments. As people continued to arrive, I thanked them for showing up in such horrible conditions. I found that most of them were not only understanding, but even excited with a “we’re all in this together” attitude. There were some who couldn’t participate, but had showed up anyway just to show their support. Then I discovered that a number of them had not even pre-registered. They’d just gotten up that morning and decided to come race with us anyway!

I’d like to tell you that the weather cleared right when the race started, but that didn’t happen. Those runners endured some of the worst conditions I could imagine for a race, and they did it with smiles on their faces. I don’t know why God didn’t give us better weather, and He certainly isn’t obligated to give me an answer. But He showed me that sometimes taking us through the storm is just as great a miracle as taking the storm away.

At the end of the day, we had 80 paid runners for this year’s event—a 10% increase over last year’s participation when we had perfect weather! This gave us a good start on fundraising for kids to come to camp next summer. It’s just another example of God’s faithfulness and everyone doing what they can to make a difference. 

You can make a difference too. Whether it's your talent, skills, knowledge, or financial means, if you do what you can, you can help make this world a better place.

If you are interested in making a contribution to the ministry of South Mountain Christian Camp, you can easily do so through the donate button below.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pumpkins, People, & Potential

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere! We had our very own pumpkin patch here last month with hundreds of these fall favorites adorning the front entrance of the camp. People came from all over to pick out their favorites. We sold them for donations only, with all of the proceeds going to the summer camp scholarship fund. By the final week of October, we’d sold every last one of them, earning over $3,000 in needed camper scholarships.

An unexpected side benefit of the pumpkin patch was that, aside from just coming to pick out their pumpkins, dozens of people came to take family portraits. Some were just snapping photos of their kids surrounded by pumpkins, others hired professional photographers to take large group photos here. Every week I would see new pictures posted on social media of friends and family visiting our pumpkin patch. 

It also gave us the opportunity to interact with many people who had never visited the camp before and wanted to learn more about our ministry. In fact, the front porch of the office became one of our biggest ministry tools as the Lord opened doors for us to share the love of God with a number of new friends.

It might surprise you to also know that the pumpkin patch wasn’t even our idea. OA and Charlotte’s adult granddaughter, Michelle Kramer, first proposed the idea to me last summer. It was she who made all of the arrangements regarding purchase, delivery, promotion, and finding a sponsor, AE Global Media, to cover the cost of the pumpkins. She even visited most weekends from her home near Columbia, SC to make sure things were running smoothly. We are deeply grateful to Michelle and AE Global Media for bringing the pumpkin patch to South Mountain Christian Camp.

This is how the Kingdom of God works. Every part of Christ’s body plays a vital role by following the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit. You are an important part of God’s kingdom too. When you follow His guidance, you can make a difference.

If you would like to make a donation to the ministry of South Mountain Christian Camp, you can easily do so through the Donate button below.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Making the Connection

Shaky little hands nervously grip the ends of two loose wires, cautiously touching them to either end of a steel rod. A tiny light bulb suddenly flickers to life, and a collective gasp escapes the mouths of eight fourth-graders huddled around the table. “Whoa!” “It works!” “Cool!” “How does it do that?” The excitement of learning bubbles over, and I can almost see the metaphorical light bulbs coming on over their heads.

This is one of my favorite scenes that plays out almost every day during our fall S.E.E.D.S. programs. The students spend the day with us, and, in this particular hands-on activity, they are learning about electric currents. They try touching the wires to samples of plastic, wood, and rope as well but they discover that steel is the only sample that can conduct the electricity, close the circuit, and bring the bulb to life.

The scene reminds me of summer camp. Many of our campers have never been able to connect with God in a real way. Through our summer camp programs, we seek to be the “steel” that closes the gap and the conduit through which the love of God flows. When that happens, new life is born within them, and their lives are changed forever.

Kyle is one example of that. When he came to camp last summer, he’d heard a little about God, but had never experienced Him in a real way. During his time at camp, the truth of the Bible was presented to him in a way he could understand. And he witnessed God’s love at work every day through his cabin director. At chapel on the third night of camp, the connection was made. The spiritual light bulb came on, and he gave his heart to Jesus.

Every connection that is made here is orchestrated by God. He is the one who supplies the power and new life. South Mountain Christian Camp is simply the conductor, but, when He flows through us, amazing things happen.

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.”

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!

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.