A conversation with camping ministries coach Merv Boschman
Early in 2014, Ron Toews, CCMBC director of leadership development, invited recently retired Merv Boschman to a quarter-time 10-month contract as camping ministries coach. Merv used his decades of experience in ministry (the last five years as BCMB camp ministries director) to support the directors of 11 Mennonite Brethren camps in Canada.
Reaching the often remote locations of the camps can be challenging: washed out roads added an extra three hours to the already long drive to Simonhouse Bible Camp in northern Manitoba. Yet Merv and his wife Carol persevered to visit six camps in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec this summer. Merv spoke with Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches staff writer Gladys Terichow about what he learned.
CCMBC: What is one of the most rewarding aspects of your position?
Merv Boschman: It’s a privilege to take special interest in the lives and ministry of CCMBC camp directors. In Galatians 6:9–10, Paul says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” I desire to encourage those who are weary.
How do you encourage camp directors?
Simply being in touch with regularity and being there when they need me. Listening is important. I enjoy praying with them. Many of the camp directors are as busy during the rest of the year as they are during the hectic weeks of summer. Several work or volunteer in their local communities.
I look for ways to link camp directors with others who can partner with them: developing partnerships and synergy between camps and local churches enhances opportunities for people to become followers of Christ.
What encourages you?
Many camps take leadership development very seriously. When you look at the leaders in our churches, many have gained experience in camp ministries. That is where they have the opportunity to cut their teeth and test their wings. Campers who come to faith return as young adults to take on leadership roles – at camps and in their local churches.
Ed Heinrichs at Camp Crossroads dreams of expanding this discipleship training in partnership with churches, conference and C2C. That kind of big-picture thinking is exciting!
You visited six camps this summer. What can we celebrate?
We can celebrate God’s faithfulness. Over the past decades, men and women have initiated camp ministries across the country, and that fruit is visible in the lives of tens of thousands of people. We can celebrate the faithfulness of the congregations who started the camps and support them.
And age doesn’t matter: at Camp Crossroads, one sixty-plus man served shoulder-to-shoulder with the young volunteers on the maintenance team for the summer.
What do the camps that you visited have in common?
No matter what size the camp, all have staffing needs. All the camps face financial challenges in terms of infrastructure and other costs that are not covered by camp registration fees. But all the camps are committed to proclaiming and living out the gospel message. They want to share and live the life of Christ.
Did you observe other similarities?
Every camp has training opportunities for their staff and is committed to growing and developing leaders from within. Each camp is an encouraging place where staff and volunteers take time to pray together and encourage each other. The learning attitude of the leaders and the sense of team was wonderful to see.
How are they different?
The size of the camps and their infrastructure are very different. The program options and length of the summer camping season are diverse. Some camps enjoy substantial church support and connectivity, and others are not as fortunate. In some camps, only 10–20 percent of the campers have church connections; others have many more campers with church connections.
Camp Evergreen has a unique partnership. Through a linkage with an international Christian organization, this camp regularly has staff from Germany. Christian young adults come for a year of practical service and opportunity to learn.
How do camps share the love of Jesus Christ?
The gospel is presented through teaching, preaching, singing and music. It is also presented through sharing testimonies, group discussions, fireside discussions and one-on-one talks. It is spoken and verified by life. Staff and volunteers live it through 24/7 engagement with campers.
At Camp Péniel, I watched the camp attendees sit absolutely rapt with attention as a young staff woman shared her testimony. Then, the campers and guest speaker surrounded her and prayed for her. Unforgettable!
How do campers respond?
Each year, hundreds and hundreds of campers make initial commitments to Christ at camp and hundreds more make commitments afresh to grow in Christ and a deeper walk with Jesus. One of my greatest thrills is hearing testimonies like Vincent Rodrigue’s. Now an engineering student at university, he came to faith at age 12 when a woman paid for him to attend Camp Péniel. The week I visited, he was using his only week of vacation to serve as program director. What an amazing testimony – but this is the story of most staff at Péniel!
If you have your ears open, you hear these testimonies everywhere – from campers who went to camp this year and campers who went to camp decades ago.
Why is it important for churches to support camping ministries?
It’s a reciprocal partnership that benefits both the camp and the church. Each year, some 10,000 campers are served and loved by some 2,000 staff and volunteers at our 11 camps across the country. Churches can support this ministry with prayer, capital projects and bursaries for campers. They can also provide volunteers and active promotion as a partner ministry. Prayer and financial support from individuals, families and businesses are also important.
For example, Gardom Lake has a strong partnership with Kelowna Gospel Fellowship. The church fundraises for the camp, sends and celebrates volunteer staff, and organizes work teams when the camp needs projects done. Other camps long for closer connections with the churches and conferences that support them.
Do camps influence local communities?
The camps are ready to receive campers with challenging and diverse needs and are gracious in providing an environment where everyone can participate. I found a heart for the local community surrounding the camps.
For example, at Simonhouse, Darrell Janzen has a deep concern for the youth of the area – most of whom have no church connection. He is relating to the mayor and others in the school system about how to help with the concerns that they have mutually.
What did you learn that you were not expecting?
I was surprised at the poor infrastructure in some camps – the need for both repairs and improvements. Some of the camps I visited are pretty close to a desperate need for cash infusion for infrastructure and facility development. I wondered how the staff at Camp Peniel could be so hopeful when their own housing facilities were in such poor repair.
It was beautiful to see how camp staff and volunteers model the fruit of the Spirit from day to day. The energy that they could maintain continues to amaze me. Over and over again, I could see the sustaining power of God in their lives. It didn’t surprise me, but it was a delight to see.
What is the future of church- supported camping ministries?
If we keep our focus clear and demonstrate a willingness to invest in camping ministries, the future is as bright as the promises of God.
Any final reflections?
Thank you for your prayers and giving. Thank you for supporting camps!