I’ve just returned to the world of Internet, television and mattresses thicker than two inches after two weeks in the Adirondacks. Every year, I do my best to spend anywhere between two days and the entire summer at an all-girls Christian summer camp in upstate New York. Since I’ve been there every summer since 2002, I affectionately call it “my camp.”
Describing it as a summer camp doesn’t quite do it justice. Those words usually generate mental images of a daycare or sports camp, so I want to begin to paint a picture of the rustic setting:
While at camp, we have no cell signal and limited Internet access. Girls live in cabins and platform tents without electricity (though the bathrooms have both hot water and electricity, as do the kitchen and dining hall). We live on 500 acres of wooded property and have girls from 2nd grade through high school under supervision of the summer staff. We have a lake where we swim, canoe, and kayak, a high ropes and low ropes course, stables with 6-8 horses, riflery and archery ranges, and many other things. Every summer we send out several groups of girls on hiking or canoe trips in the Adirondacks.
When people ask how I got connected with camp, I usually reply something to the effect of “it was hereditary.” Early on its beginnings fifty years ago, my grandparents became involved in building the camp and supporting its development. Both of my grandparents worked at the camp in different capacities throughout the next two decades or so—leading trips in the mountains, building things there, and my grandmother even directed for a short time. My mother grew up as a camper, completed the leadership program, and then worked on staff. So when we were in the states one summer, I also started attending as a camper, only to return every subsequent summer and later join staff myself.
Early in 2015, my grandfather—the same one who helped develop this camp—passed away unexpectedly. As he lay in ICU, I watched the Internet as people who knew him via camp poured out support and prayers for him. At his memorial service and the reception that followed, I met people connected to camp whose names I had only ever heard in stories. At the time, I found it moving, but I didn’t fully understand the extent to which my grandparents had been a part of a legacy until I was back at camp for these two weeks.
This summer, I was reminded of the extent to which camp is a place where people matter above all else. It’s a place where the love of Christ and servant leadership isn’t just spoken about, it’s acted upon, and that’s part of a greater legacy than any career could ever be.
During my second week this summer, I had the privilege of teaching a session of the leadership training program to older girls who are preparing to serve as counselors, and then on another day sat on the Craft Porch and listened to the lesson taught by the program supervisor. As I taught the class and later listened, I was struck by how intentionally the creators of camp structured our program. Everything that we do at camp connects to one of our four values, from family-style meals to holding Bible studies outside in cabin groups to daily devotions. That aspect of the program was never something that I’d truly appreciated as a camper, but as a staff member investing in campers, it’s become increasingly evident. Over the two weeks I was there, I saw girls grow comfortable to be themselves in ways that they aren’t able to amidst the pressures of today’s world. I watched as they pushed themselves to try new things that they wouldn’t if they were self-conscious. I listened as they shared what they had learned about God, and my jaw admittedly dropped as I heard them ask to do chores around cabins. In speaking with campers going through leadership training, they expressed amazement at how everything worked together to point toward Christ.
As I walked across the parking lot on my last day there, I listened to the different age groups singing about shining for Christ and bowing their heads in prayer. What my grandfather had been a part of building was something bigger than him, and more worthwhile. God had used his skills to create a place to disciple young girls for Christ, they effects of which expand far beyond the property boundaries of our camp. It’s something that you can’t measure in a spreadsheet or a budget chart, but it’s something that lasts much, much longer.