Now is a good time to think about warm weather, new friendships and a Christ-centered summer. Both North and South Indiana United Methodists outdoor ministries have opened registration for their more than 20 types of residential camps, as well as 11 kinds of adventure camps. The offerings include activities for the thoughtful, active and everyone in between.
North Indiana unveils a brand-new camp called "That Thing." Senior Operation Manager for North Indiana camping ministry, Impact 2818, Shane Hartman told Together North Indiana tries to add new camps each year to adjust to changing interests. "It's a new approach to camp," Hartman said of "That Thing" because it is conference-style.
Hartman said campers can book a cabin for a whole group of friends or a youth group. He said, "That way it's cheaper for churches, but they can enjoy worship in a different way, and cabin leaders will take a ministry role with camp. They can control everything in their cabin."
Hartman said the reason for the new structure was to allow smaller groups or individuals students to have a more intimate, personalized setting with a cabin leader, who would also act as a counselor and small group leader.
North Indiana has four sites: Camp Adventure near Pierceton, Camp Lakewood near Wolcottville, Epworth Forest Camp and Retreat Center at North Webster, Ind. and Pine Creek Camp near Pine Village.
South Indiana Director of Outdoor Ministries Ian Hall said short-stay camps continue to be popular for the youngest campers, allowing first-timers to stay for just two nights, and sometimes even with parents, in order to help adjust. He said chess camp is a new offering this year, and a variety of adventure camp programs will allow youth to experience backpacking and water sports.
"But camp isn't just for kids," Hall said. "We have scheduled a weekend backpacking trip that includes a 14-mile hike.
South Indiana has three sites: Camp Indi-Co-So at Springville, Camp Mone'to near Nashville, and Camp Rivervale near Mitchell, offer guest access to unique year round retreat facilities.
The Evansville District has Santa Claus Campground at Santa Claus, Ind., east of Evansville.
Different than church
Camp is about spending time with God and fellowshipping with other Christians and it is different from going to church, Hall explained. He said the outdoors is one of the best places to meet with God.
"We could do summer camp in a church hall, but we choose to do it outside," Hall said. "The adventure camps open up wilderness. Campers get to see different aspect of God's creations.
"I think really we're just using outdoor space as a tool. There are aspects of being outside and being away from things that help focus one on being able to have fewer distractions," he said.
Hartman said the goal of camping ministry is simple: "I think our number-one goal is the same as the church." He cited The Great Commission, from Matthew 28:18, which also is inspiration for the North Indiana camping program called Impact 2818.
"Kids can get away from all that's normal and focus on God in a relevant way," Hartman said. "It'll hit them right where they're at, and the rustic style is great."
Proof in numbers
With camping ministry as a tranquil and powerful tool to grow in faith, both directors said the proof is in the numbers: Each year, many campers make their first profession of faith in Christ or rededicate their lives to Him.
Camper Brittany Stephan attended Epworth Forest as a shy sophomore. Her experience helped her grow in her faith. She said one of the hardest things she ever had to do was when her pastor asked her to pray before a meal.
Photo courtesy of North Indiana outdoor ministries
|Camp is about action, but also about making life-long friends in a Christian atmosphere.|
"He said if I didn't pray, no one was going to eat," Stephan said. "He did that because he knew I was capable. I was just afraid to do it."
The following Sunday back at her church, she was asked to speak about her camp experience.
"It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, but it helped me get over my fear and changed my options for the future. I originally went to camp to have fun, and that I did, but it also did something that I could have never expected - it changed my life."
Hartman said, "You do grow in your faith every year, and camp becomes your staple to refocus your faith. Because camp is once a year, it's a special time to set aside to focus on spiritual growth.
High school freshman Trapper Mize attended the junior high Impact Camp at Camp Lakewood. Mize said that with each year of camp, he has recommitted his life and grown spiritually.
"I am proud to serve God. Each year I get closer to God and live my life with better decisions than the year before. I know I could never be nearly as perfect as Jesus was, but every bit counts."
Call to ministry
South Indiana's Hall said many campers find their calling to ministry at camp.
"When people have done research about ordained ministers called to ministry, they say camping is their first encounter with Christ."
The fellowship aspect is key, too.
North Indiana's Hartman said, "Getting them with their peers is important for spiritual development,"
Camper Terrell Jones attended the junior high camp anxious about feeling accepted, but his fears were gone when he saw that the staff was so friendly.
"When I came to camp I didn't think I would fit in and thought I wouldn't get to know anyone," Jones said. "But the Camp Adventures staff made me feel that I was accepted and wanted and that gave me the courage to stick around."
Lifeblood of camping
Camp staff, made up of directors, counselors and volunteers, is the lifeblood of camping ministry in Indiana.
North Indiana has several hundred volunteers who commit to a particular camp, usually a few days to a week. The camps are run by four directors for each week of camp. Each director takes on a different role, including directing counselors, worship time, spiritual growth and activities.
For South Indiana, camps also are run largely by volunteers with a minimal paid staff who oversee life-guarding and a challenge course. Hall said each week of camp is run by a volunteer director who recruits the counselors for each session. Volunteers lead worship service, games and Bible studies.
Hartman said churches in North Indiana volunteer to help cook meals for the campers. One such volunteer, Ginny Allison, began as a volunteer counselor and then a summer staff member at the Camp Lakewood.
Allison said, "No job is too big or too small for our awesome God. From washing dishes to cleaning toilets, to playing games or doing crafts with a camper, to soothing a homesick child, it all matters."
Both Hall and Hartman said they expect about the same number of campers this year, despite the economic downturn. Although North Indiana offers more camps than South Indiana, South sites allow campsites to be used by outside groups for separate events, like retreats.
Hall said, "We offer a summer camp program and offer hospitality to outside groups."
Last summer, South Indiana had more than 800 summer campers and 1,450 guests for retreats.
Both camp directors said there is always a concern, though, when the economy is doing poorly. Hartman said that's all the more reason for kids to attend camp.
He said, "I see the need to attend camp during these times. Families are going through hurt at home, I see it in people losing jobs and with Elkhart going through so much job loss, there are so many students who would benefit from a week of camp."
Hartman admitted that finances may be a struggle for families, and said his camping ministry will be donating money for scholarships so more kids can attend.
"It's on my heart that the need to give is greater than ever to provide spiritual connection kids. Kids will say they can't wait for camp because that's where they feel God."
With the uniting of the North and South Indiana Conferences into one Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, both former conferences are in the process of uniting both camping and outdoor ministry programs into one. Both camp directors said the camping ministry may be structured differently. Although neither one is sure exactly what that might look like.
Hall said the combined resources will benefit ministry as a whole. "It will look different," Hall said. "In a nutshell, we'll have seven campsites throughout Indiana with a combined budget of $3-million. My hope and prayer for (the uniting of ministries) would be that as a combined unit, we can be a more effective ministry than as two separate organizations. When we combine facilities and resources, we should be able to grow ministry in that model."
Meghan Biallas serves as an intern of Butler University in the Indiana Conference Communication office in Indianapolis.