How did you get started in Camping?
I went to Camp Lakeside in Scott City, Kansas, where I later served as Director for twenty years. I remember when I was nine years old I went to camp for the first time with my friend JD. Our moms dropped us off at our cabin and put our suitcases under our bunks. At the end of the week when they picked us up, JD’s mom checked his suitcase and it had never been opened. He’d spent the whole week in the same clothes; hadn’t even used a towel or anything!
I went to camp every year through grade school, junior high and high school, Institutes at Southwestern College. My dad directed camp every summer and served as the camp treasurer, so I often tagged along with him even when I was little. But I didn’t see my role in it until much later. After Diana and I were married and I was teaching school during the year, we were invited one summer to return to Dad’s camp as counselors. And that was really the turning point; we never looked back. We volunteered two or three camp weeks every summer after that. In 1978 the manager, John ReQua retired, and he invited Diana and me to apply.
At that time it was all small-group camping. The site had eighty acres, forty of them developed, but the property abutted the 1500 acres of Scott State Park. We developed horsebacking riding trails and hiking in the park. There would be no one in the park during the week, so it became ours. We’d ride around the lake and camp out by their corrals, then ride back into camp the next day.
In 1998 when the opportunity came up to serve as Missouri Conference Camping Ministry Director, I was ready for a change and a new challenge.
How did you experience Camping Ministry as a calling from God?
When we were first at Lakeside, I wondered if I was feeling a call to pulpit ministry. I asked God, “Is this the right place?” After a while I decided to talk to every minister who came on site and ask,“How did you come to ministry?” I heard some amazing stories: things like, “I ran and ran from God till I had to give in,” or the one who was driving a school bus, and the call hit like a bolt from the blue. He resigned and went to seminary. I told them, “You don’t tell congregants enough of these stories!” People don’t know what a call to ministry can be like. I realized over time that none sounded like a career choice or climbing a ladder. They were truly a response to a call, being nudged by the Holy Spirit.
What significant changes have you seen over the years in this ministry?
When I first started as a counselor in small-group style camping, we learned that kids have an attention span of 5-10 minutes, so we’d keep them moving and do lessons along the way, looking for teachable moments. We would end up doing a five-mile walk. Now kids wouldn’t walk five miles. Kids are less fit today; they don’t play and run around as much, they prefer being in the air conditioning. Now we have to teach a passion for nature, it doesn’t seem to come as naturally any more.
Another thing that’s really different is that kids used to know all of the campfire songs. Now there are so many kinds of music, the songs are always new to a lot of campers. But it is neat to see the new kind of passionate worship, with the worship bands, and the words up on a screen so everyone can learn them. It’s different from when we’d just sing around the campfire with volunteers in the small group. Now our camps do a lot more all-camp activities, what I would call institute-style camp, and the small group pioneer camps aren’t as popular as they used to be.
One thing that’s been a challenge is that the amount of training time for volunteers has decreased tremendously. They used to take two full days to prepare, and we would cover so much: age level awareness, canoeing, outdoor skills, outdoor cooking, faith development. Now people are busier, the training time feels squeezed, volunteers aren’t willing to take the extra days away from work and family. The videos and webinars are a help, but that doesn’t take the place of face-to-face training.
Describe your greatest blessings in this work.
By far number one is the relationships with different people and with God. I have made a lot of wonderful friends, peers, and mentors. There are very few people who stay in this work as a career, most come in to camping to learn their gifts and graces, and move on to express those in other ways. I’ve really enjoyed the career camping people like those who’ve served over the years on the national committee, they really go deep.
I have been blessed over the years to watch people bloom and grow. One kid came back ten years after camp, after he graduated from college. He was working at a bank and came back with his family to visit. He told me he goes to church now because of his experiences here; camp has been a guide for the rest of his life. In the hard times of life, his network of camp friends have been his support.
What advice would you offer to other camp and retreat leaders?
I see a danger in thinking, “I am good at this.” When people keep coming back, just doing the same thing, with the same people, offering the same experience again every year, it becomes ingrown. You are just building a safe place for yourself. I believe that every worship, every human encounter is new. You have to leave spaces in the camp program, because that’s where encounters with God happen.
What else have you learned that you would like to pass along?
Well, for the job and for life, it’s important to know where your roots are, and take time to put it in God’s hands. The demands can be overwhelming, and the truth is we can’t handle it all ourselves. But if you look inside and look to God, you will find the resources and strength you need to move through. Don’t get too busy to pay attention to the balance in your life.
What are you looking forward to, in your retirement?
This has been so much fun. I will miss it. But I am looking forward to two
things: Diana and I are going to spend time with our granddaughter and grandson on the way, and I plan to get good at golf, for real! I am going to balance my life differently.