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Keep the campfires burning

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How one church fueled its ministry passion by adopting a local camp

Burning_titleIt was July 1980. I was seven years old, sitting around a campfire at Gardom Lake Bible Camp in Enderby, B.C., listening to a speaker talk about how Jesus can make a difference in our lives. I had an overwhelming sense that I wanted what he was talking about. So, as we walked back to our cabin by the lake, I tugged on my counsellor’s shirt. In a trembling, little-boy voice, I said, “Excuse me, I’d like to become a Christian.” On the floor of our cabin, with a Bible and flashlight, we prayed for Jesus to come into my life.

More than 30 years later, I still thank God for that camp speaker, a dedicated counsellor, and a place where Jesus was lifted up so kids like me could come to him. From that point on, I was hooked on the power and potential of camp.

I continued to attend camp throughout my growing-up years, working on staff when I was old enough, finally transitioning to camp speaker. Some of my fondest memories are around a campfire, sharing Jesus, answering questions, and praying with campers. I regularly thumb through response cards and notes from kids who expressed what a difference camp made. There’s nothing like it!

The benefits

Camping ministry does several things very well. The evangelistic effectiveness is undeniable. You don’t need to go very far to meet individuals who came to know Jesus in such a setting.

But beyond that, camp has the fantastic ability to develop next-generation leaders. It’s the place where teenagers and young adults can cut their teeth in leadership, service, and kingdom work.

Church-camp partnerships

For these reasons, camping ministry and local churches need each other. They work best together, in partnership, evangelizing and discipling, training up and releasing.

I now serve as senior pastor of a local church family, not far from Gardom Lake, called Kelowna Gospel Fellowship (MB) Church. I relish the opportunity to do whatever I can to fan the flames of camp work.

Some years ago, our church adopted Gardom Lake Bible Camp as a key mission partner. We look for ways to actively engage in their work – to celebrate victories, pray for needs, and support the vision.

Building opportunities

Early on, we had the opportunity to send 18 guys to the site for an “extreme camp makeover.” Gardom Lake wanted to build a new tuck shop. They had the vision and plans; we were blessed with the manpower. So, in one day, I was amazed to see the store rise – from foundation to roof. It was incredible! I was so proud of our team and what they accomplished.

But more importantly, those 18 guys caught the vision for camp ministry – a passion that couldn’t be ignited any other way. They now feel a sense of ownership, and are champing at the bit for more.

Last summer, Gardom Lake needed to update some of their boys’ cabins. Our church family adopted the project, nearly doubling the required dollars, with the remainder of the funds going toward scholarships for campers who couldn’t afford the registration fees. People are hungry for volunteer and fundraising opportunities like this, especially when there’s ongoing relationship.

Master storytellers

Kelowna Gospel Fellowship is committed to telling Gardom Lake’s story. Often.

After last summer’s incredible camping season, we wanted to find a way to represent the 227 campers who made first-time decisions to follow Jesus. Our design team came up with the idea of putting the campers’ first names on lollipops – 227 of them. The team then invited our congregation to take a sucker and pray for a young person beginning his or her life with Christ. It was amazing to see Gardom Lake director Rikk Kieft hold up the jar of 227 lollipops, a visible picture of the power of God at work through camping ministry.

Today, as Gardom Lake begins a substantial fundraising campaign to expand their dining hall/kitchen and add a chapel, we’re praying about how our church family might be part of that great work. We couldn’t even consider the idea if we hadn’t consistently been building a relationship over the past few years. But now that Gardom Lake Bible Camp is part of our everyday vocabulary, people are fired up!

How do we keep the vision hot? We take a video camera up to camp at least twice a year, typically in June as the team prepares for the summer. We interview staff and tour the grounds, transporting our congregation to the camp world. Then, we go back in early August to do a video update when camp is in full swing. The videos are golden because they help people see where their prayers and resources are going. Along the way, we include pictures in our bulletin, tell stories from the pulpit, and interview some of our own people who work on site.

So, don’t be afraid to adopt a camp. The impact on the camp is obvious, but what it does for the congregation is spectacular. Excitement spills over. Awareness of God’s work
is tangible.

At least, that’s the opinion and experience of one guy whose life was turned right-side up by God’s work through the camping world!

–Mike Penninga is senior pastor at Kelowna (B.C.) Gospel Fellowship Church.

For a video of KGFC’s build at Gardom Lake, and photos, go to www.kgfchurch.com/video.

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