As we launch 2017, I’m excited to share some thoughts from a veteran HYC Staff Member. I know it’s a little longer than usual but, I think it will be well worth your time to read and be a great reminder as to why you pray and give monthly to the ministry of Hiawatha.
Summer camp: a camp, especially one for children, that provides a facility for sleeping, eating, and recreation.
This is the definition of a summer camp according to Google’s online dictionary. My personal definition was a bit different.
Summer camp: the place where people act the craziest, old friends catch up and new ones are made, and where eternal good is done and lives are change forever.
I really can’t remember a single time period of my life where Hiawatha Youth Camp was not a vital part of my life. Ever since my very first summer, my mom and dad took me, as well as countless other children from local ministries and churches on a 5-hour trip (on a good year when the buses didn’t breakdown) all the way up and over the Mackinac Bridge, into the Hiawatha National Forest. I remember there were always three types of kids on those buses: the ones with excitement-filled eyes who’d been there before and couldn’t wait to get back, the ones who were a little nervous but trusted the stories of the veteran campers, and the ones who were totally freaked out. I also remember that no matter what kind of kid they came as, by day two they were all, well, “happy campers”.
I spent seven years being a camper at Hiawatha. Of course, I remember it being the most fun week of my entire year playing Marathon, watching puppet shows, playing games in my cabin, and having the coolest counselors around. Regardless, those aren't the first things that come to mind when I think of camp. What I think of are the bible verse songs that I still know and the time the people invested in me. No, it isn’t the mud pit that I recall first, it's the time I walked to the alter to rededicate my life to the Lord on a Tuesday night when I was 12. I think of the countless life-altering decisions to serve and commitments to live by, the worship music that made me want to sing for hours to proclaim praise to God, the services I didn’t want to end and the speakers who spoke of the eternal truth.
When I was 16, I got to be on staff for the first time. I had sisters that had been on staff so I knew a little of what to except but it exceeded every expectation. It’s hard work. You’re up late and wake up early, do a lot of physical labor, and sometimes you’re not even really sure what you’re doing. It's demanding, tiring, junior campers are EVERYWHERE, and you’re exhausted, but it’s by far one of the most challenging, exciting, scary, most incredible, wonderful things I’ve ever done in my life. You’re pushed and give everything you’ve got but amazingly never run dry. You’re tired, but you’ve never felt more awake. You know God is always with you no matter where you are, but at Hiawatha you feel it more than ever.
I will never forget being a counselor for the first time or the first time I led someone to the Lord sitting on the ledge of the library fireplace. I think counselor talks are the best part. You go in without knowing what they will say or what you will need to say back. Campers tell you all sorts of personal experiences, good and bad, because they finally feel safe to do so and all the sudden God gives you a nudge of what He needs to you say and it usually turns out it to be exactly what they needed. God tends to be pretty cool like that.
Moving up to exec staff or “The Peeps” as Craig calls us, has been one of the greatest honors. We do a lot of planning, a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make sure everything runs smoothly. I think what is so awesome about being a part of this group is that when I was on staff it was almost as if when I got there everything had just all happened. You don’t think about the late nights or long hours of planning someone must have put into it. As a Peep, you show up with a base model of what has been done in the past and nothing else. We brainstorm how we can make camp different, better, and more of an unforgettable experience for the campers. Then all the ideas flood in and everything starts coming together, going from absolutely nothing to everything all at once and then it just hits you - God already had it laid out, He knew exactly what was going to happen for the summer and was just waiting for someone to listen.
The whole summer goes like that; God just taking care of everything. It’s why campers have fun in a mud pit when it's 60 degrees and rainy and campers who have never picked up a bat in their whole lives love playing Marathon Softball. It’s why kids have fun playing football with watermelons and being sky-rocketed off a giant water balloon only to belly-smack into a lake. It's also why kids from the worst part of Flint, MI regain hope to turn their lives around because there is a God out there that loves them regardless of the stigma the world puts on them. It’s why countless pastors, missionaries, and faithful servants of God made their decision to live a Christ-like life for the rest of their time on Earth. It’s why people who have been there never forget it and in turn, never forget the choices made there.
So maybe Google’s definition of summer camp is right, maybe I was wrong. Maybe summer camp is a place where you go stay in the woods for a week to swim in a lake and roast marshmallows around a campfire but, if that is so, then Hiawatha isn’t just a summer camp; maybe it is more.
Honestly, I’m not sure why God picked Hiawatha to be such an incredible place; to allow it to change so many lives. I’m not sure why God has let it last over 50 years. I really don’t. Maybe God does special things there because He just has a special place in His heart for it. Maybe He likes the trees there or Piatt Lake. Maybe He favors the footbridge and the lagoon it looks out on. Maybe He really likes the bright orange carpet and the view from the porch in the Miracle building. Maybe we will never know. What I do know is God blesses that place and there is no maybe in the fact that His presence is why…
“…It all happens at a place called Hiawatha”.
Hope you enjoyed these thoughts on HYC from a young lady who has spent summers there for a lot of years, attending as a junior camper, teen camper, and staff member. Hope 2017 is a great year for you. Thanks for all you do to help make the unique ministry of Hiawatha possible.