“I forget my troubles when I’m here – I can simply see God,” said Nathan Giroux, 14. “In our world you can rarely see God face to face but in nature you can do that.”
The scenic Laurentian surroundings of Camp Peniel, a year-round retreat centre supported by Mennonite churches in Quebec help Giroux understand the meaning of the word Peniel – a Hebrew word meaning “face” or “presence” of God.
Every summer, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Quebec partners with Camp Peniel and the Association of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Quebec to organize week-long camps for children ages 7–11 and youth ages 11–15.
Called Amicamp, the program brings together children and youth from Mennonite congregations in Quebec to develop friendships, grow spiritually, and learn more about the Anabaptist faith and what it means to work for peace.
“Our churches are very small and there aren’t too many programs for kids,” said camp director Carla Martens. “This is an easy way for kids to get together – it’s organized and it’s fun.”
Sense of belonging
Campers, she said, develop a sense of belonging at camp and when they are too old to be campers they come back as counsellors and staff. “They want to be around this atmosphere of friendship and acceptance,” she said.
The theme of July 2009’s Amicamp for youth was friendships and relationships. Through examining the Bible story of four friends who dug a hole through a roof so their paralyzed friend could experience the healing touch of Jesus, camp speaker Patrick Rochon helped campers understand the influence of friends.
Rochon and four counsellors, Louis-Pierre Charbonneau, Catherine Després, Julia Mikhail and Spencer Taylor-Wingender, were participants in Summerbridge, a Canada-wide summer service program supported by MCC Canada, provincial MCCs, and Mennonite churches. In 2009, 18 young people developed and strengthened programs in their home congregations through Summerbridge participation.
Rochon said Summerbridge helps participants follow the example set by Jesus through responding to local needs in their home congregations and home communities.
“What I like best about Jesus’ life is that he was living like others around him,” said Rochon. “His mission field was people from his own culture.”
God’s love is everywhere
This is the fourth year that Vincent Rodrique, 15, has been at Amicamp. Interaction with Summerbridge participants, other staff, and campers, he said, is helping him grow spiritually. Among the many things that he has learned at Amicamp is the importance of memorizing Bible verses.
His favourite verses are about faith, hope, and love in 1 Corinthians 13 – verses he recited at his brother’s funeral last year. He said he could sense God’s love through the compassion and support he received from friends he met at Amicamp.
“I can talk about love because I see God’s love everywhere. Even when someone dies, God’s love is there,” he said.
Martens, a high school teacher in Saint-Colomban, Que., has served as summer camp director since 2001. Over the years, she has seen campers develop strong friendships and grow spiritually.
“It is like a boost to their spiritual life,” she said. “It gives them the energy to say, ‘I will live a life honouring to God.’”
Martens said she returns to the camp every summer because she knows that lives are being changed.
“I love these kids,” she said. “There is such a huge influence to make bad choices. They need support and encouragement in their spiritual walk. I want to help them have a strong, solid faith.”