Jenna’s Camp Story

Let me introduce you to a young woman who will be interning with us at camp this summer. Not only does she have a heart for the Lord, Jenna is also a talented writer and has put her experience at camp into words in a beautiful way. Here is Jenna’s story.

When I think about places that have made an impact on my life, Camas is one of the first places that comes to mind. It not only helped lay a foundation and shape my relationship with Christ but it also helped shape my identity and eventually the woman I saw myself as.

My first year at Camas was life changing for me, I had never felt so welcomed and so comfortable somewhere in my life. I had never felt so absolutely free to be myself and not have to worry about anyone else. For an entire week I got to make friends, play night games, worship Jesus, and I didn’t have to worry about any of the troubles and pain that were behind me in my life back home. I was surrounded by people who so intentionally poured into me and made me feel loved.

My father and I have not had a healthy relationship growing up, he is an alcoholic and has been distant for most of my life, but that week I felt a FATHER’S love. His love radiated from my counselors and everyone there and for the first time, I felt like I mattered, like the “little things” I was going through at the time weren’t little things at all.

I was also struggling with being bullied around the same time I started going to Camas, and being able to make those healthy friendships helped me and my identity in more ways than one. I came home and through my weeks of post camp depression I told my mom that I had to go back next year, no matter what. For the next 6 years I spent every summer at Camas, whether I was living in California or Washington one thing was for sure, come summer I’d be at Camas for a week.

Camas became a spiritual home to me. It was a place where you felt comfortable, a place where you could be yourself without having to worry about being unaccepted, a place where you knew that no matter what, when you go there you will feel loved. Home is family, and Camas became my family. Home isn’t four walls and a white picket fence, it is the people you laugh and cry with and the old back porch you do it on. It’s the thrill in being thrown in the lake by Chaco and the sound of Scruffy laughing in the distance at a campfire.

I have grown to call Arkansas home, and have been blessed with an amazing community and church to grow with. But Camas will ALWAYS be a home to me. I can’t tell you how many times after I moved 2000 miles away I would look back at old pictures from camp and it would help get me through the hard times. I thought about the years I’ve spent there and the relationships I made, the people that loved me no matter what. The joy of Jesus flows from that place, even when you aren’t there. The simple thought of a memory from camp can make probably most of us smile. And that my friends, is because of Jesus. It is because this is the place where our souls found their true home, where we felt the Father’s love and peace for the first time.

So Camas, being the place where my soul and my body found its home, will forever play an impact on my life, my identity, and my relationship with the Lord. The Lord truly has blessed the foundation of that place and I believe that it is a safe haven for so many more than me, and will continue to be so for years to come.

Jenna Cook

Autumn

DSCN8542

One of our founders, Autumn Griffith, turned 92 yesterday. She and Del, her husband, started the camp when they retired in 1973. Forty-two years later, the camp is still here, bringing the power and beauty of God’s creation and love into our lives.

DSCN8478

So is Autumn. She is the epitome of the word hostess, always offering a cup of tea or a cookie to anyone who stops by. Our three boys and even our pets are given the special Grandma Autumn treatment. Autumn shines the love of God upon all who come close. She is gentle and gracious, caring and always kind.

DSCN8536

I’ve heard this grand-parenting time of life referred to as “The Golden Years”. Looking around at the splendid fall color washing across the Camas, I cannot help but think of my own Grandmother, Autumn. And so I post these beautiful pictures of the autumn color in honor of Autumn’s 92nd birthday. Over ninety years lived well, shining bright and bold with the love of God behind her smile. Thank you Autumn for continuing to show us how to love long and well in the strength and power of God.

DSCN8469

 

Boo Boo

 

Ninja Flash!

 

The campers slowly creep up the trail toward Squirrel Cabin. They have their camo, a smidge of face paint, and a few wildly waving flashlights. But the woods are dark and the tube hill seems awfully far away. Will they be able to reach the checkpoint before one of the counselors catches them?

Suddenly, out of the darkness, a figure dressed in white leaps from the porch of a nearby cabin.

“Ninja Flash!” He yells as the bright glare of a portable camera flash blazes through the night. The campers are disoriented, they’ll never make it now.

But they’ve forgotten the dark Ninja.

He steps from the forest and stands between the discombobulated campers and the bright flash of the white Ninja. Gently he guides them past every danger, up the tubehill, and to the checkpoint so they can collect points for their team. The white Ninja struck again, but the dark Ninja was waiting.

Whether it is leaping out of the forest to combat the evil machinations of the white Ninja, helping a little girl with a twisted ankle limp back to the lodge, or allowing someone to pick his nose during cabin skits for dramatic effect, Shinobi is always ready to lend a hand or nostril.

So where did our resident Ninja come from?

Shinobi has been coming to camp since he was a nine-year-old camper, the year before Scruffy was hired. His counselor, Zucchini, wrote him a letter between camps one year. “It meant a lot for me and was a big part of me coming back as a camper.” Later, after watching Zorak his older brother devote his summers to serving as a camp counselor, Shinobi decided to make that sacrifice as well. Shinobi has counseled for many years and done every other job imaginable from dish pit crew to paintball ref. I asked him why he keeps coming back, why he remains available for Scruffy’s late night calls for just one more dishwasher or experienced guy counselor.

“The love that I experienced, I wanted other people to experience that. I really feel like this is the way the church is supposed to be and I want to be a part of that and to spread it. I don’t know, I just fell in love with this ministry. Also, I like being able to tell people who my friends are. That I’m good friends with Superman or sensei Splinter from Ninja turtles. And not everyone can say they are as close as a brother with a true gladiator.”

Dedicated to making nightgames memorable, sharing the gospel in a way that children can understand, and ensuring that camp is a place where kids know they are safe and loved, Shinobi has ghosted through camp and made it so much better for having its own Ninja.

DSCN5603

 

Boo Boo

That Camp Smell–An Interview With Hatu

DSCN7809

Many of you know Hatu. She was a first-time camper back when I was a counselor. She grew up coming to summer camp each year until she herself became a camp counselor and was tragically named Hatu after her older sister. Yes, Hatu is Utah backwards.

Most counselors grow up and move on and Hatu did as well. But then she came back, first as a counselor when we desperately needed one, and then as our marvelous facebook and photography expert. I asked Hatu to share a bit about what camp means to her, why she gives of her valuable time to remain involved with a simple, backwoods Bible camp.

Hatu told me about her years as a camper. She remembers having Princess, Rapunzel, and Blossom as her counselors and many long weeks of intense fun. “Every year I would go home and all my clothes would smell like ‘camp smell’ and I refused to let my parents wash them because I didn’t want to lose the ‘camp small'” We discussed it and decided that camp smell is equal parts campfire smoke, dust, and pungent weeds. Which doesn’t sound all that enchanting until you pair it with a week of precious memories. One year her dad forgot to register her for camp. Hatu remembers the horrible bout of weeping that she (and he) endured while she waited for him to call Scruffy to try to get her in at the last minute. Of course he let her come, it was Scruffy after all.

When talking about her years as a counselor, Hatu mostly recalled the bond that you form with other Christians your age. How they grew up into adults together. How they walked through the fire together, had to rely on each other, built a team together that cried and laughed and bled as one. “Obviously I’m still friends with the people I counseled with even though they haven’t counseled for a decade.”

But why did she come back, even though her years as a camper and counselor had come and gone?

“There is a real sense of family here, more than any other place. I’ve been moving around a lot, a new home every year, but Camas was a constant, you always know someone, there is the same feel, even when the people change.

I like the ministry here in that it is relational based and not just about numbers or all the cool things we can do. It’s about building true lasting relationships.”

Scruffy tried to give her gas money once for driving all the way from the west side to take photos of camp. But Hatu explained what volunteering up at camp means to her and why she refused.

“I feel like I’m getting away with something, being able to come up here and be involved. I get to do something I love. I feel almost like I owe, not that I am owed.”

Hatu has done so much for camp over the years, especially these last few. She has worked behind the scenes, starting the camp facebook page and providing pictures of the campers, counselors, and speakers each week. She makes the wonderful speaker biographies and films the cabin skits for us to enjoy. Parents can see their children enjoying camp during the week because Hatu drives over the mountains after work and takes the time to document each week of camp.

Thank you for all that you have done and all that you continue to do. Thank you for directing your many talents and gifts across Blewitt Pass and up a small gravel road to a rustic Bible Camp in the woods. 

 

Boo Boo

 

Gorp

This week we are privileged to hear from a long time friend and counselor Gorp. I’ve been waiting with bated breath for Gorp to write something for the blog. So glad he did!

Written by Steven Whitham, camp name: Gorp.

Nearly a year ago, Kristen asked me to write about how Camas Meadows had affected my life.  It has taken me that long to put my thoughts to page.  The truth is, writing this was a daunting task because I don’t like opening up to anyone and everyone.  At the same time, Camas Meadows means too much for me to relay anything less than what’s really on my heart.

So allow me lend you my eyes.

I first attended Camas Meadows when I was 13 as a camper.  Like many other things in my life, my insistent mother pressured me into going.  Not that I was opposed to going, just apathetic about it.  And like so many other things in my life, I’m afterwards glad my mother is so insistent.  That first week changed my life forever in a positive way.  Since that year, I attended Camas Meadows once more as a camper, 3 times as a counselor including a summer where I worked every week.  My last time working as staff, I took leave from the Army to work at camp.

In order to explain what Camas Meadows means to me, I should explain a few things about myself.  For those who don’t know me, understand that I am naturally introverted.  I usually only share with a very select few.  For those who do know me, this will set some context.

I am an Army captain, having deployed both to Iraq and Afghanistan.  My last assignment was leading a group of men whose primary responsibility was tracking human beings to be killed or captured.  70-80 hour workweeks at home, 90-100 hour workweeks while deployed, kept me underweight 20-25lbs from the stress.  I’ve lost friends, seen inhumane things I won’t share on this blog, sent men into combat and nearly lost one in a firefight (a distance of 2 inches saved his life), while folks at home debate whether what we’re doing is even moral.  (By the way, my experience is tame in comparison to most.)

When Jesus needed rest, he went to the garden.  Camas Meadows is my garden.  In a world gone berserk, Camas Meadows remains a place where everything is, in a word, right.  Every time my life turns upside down, Camas Meadows is my refuge.  It’s where I go to take a life pause, catch my breath, and heal. Never underestimate the power of safe haven.

When I need God most, I find Him at Camas Meadows.

Camas Meadows Bible Camp is a place where all the world’s distractions melt away and God meets you where you are.  If you’re a “lost” soul, God finds you.  If you’re a Christian with lost direction, God will light your path.  If you’re hurting, God enters your wounds.  In my time there, I have had the privilege of leading others to Christ, but also sitting speechless, giving only the gift of my shoulder as others show me their shattered hearts just hoping someone, anyone, will understand.  And I have witnessed miracles, physical and spiritual, personal and otherwise.

The most profound snapshots in time occur around the campfire at the end of every summer camp week, where kids share what God has done for them that week.  For those who have never experienced this, let me paint the picture for you.  Sitting in the cold on wooden benches or the grass with blankets, a fire, and embraces of friends for warmth, we look to a sky with stunningly vibrant stars set against a black canvass.  Someone brings a guitar and we sing praises to God for His creation and His love.  Everyone is exhausted after a week of fun and/or tears, too tired to keep their guard up but discovering they no longer need to.  Worship becomes pure, authentic, and unashamed.  One by one, people stand up, toss a piece of kindling into the fire, and speak what’s on their mind.  Some speak for only a few seconds, thanking God or the counselors for the friendships they’ve made and the fun they’ve had at camp.  Others share at length the most heartbreaking stories ever uttered aloud.  Some proclaim joyfully their decision to accept Christ into their hearts.  Some recommit their lives to Him on the spot.  In that moment, all doubt about the week is stripped away.  Counselors who have poured themselves out like a drink offering understand, perhaps for the first time, their role in God’s work that week. It’s beautiful. It’s right.

I once had a conversation with some wonderful Christian men who were unsure whether to support the camp because they felt its mission was incorrect.  They believed every ministry should focus on “reaching the lost” and any ministry that wasn’t focusing its efforts that way was not worth supporting.  As much as I love these men, I respectfully disagree with every fiber of my being. They were more interested in a quantitative conversion count than qualitative ministry.  I get it.  Christ’s Great Commission was about making disciples.  But folks, we are fooling ourselves as Christians if we believe we don’t need ministering, ourselves.  The camp’s motto since I’ve been there has been “planting and watering.” Again: right.  I love the metaphor.  God does the work; we are His tools.  He adds to His family, and He recovers His prodigal children.

The ministry of Camas Meadows does not end with their summer camps, or even rental camps.  I have participated whenever possible in CamasCon, a Christian board gaming convention where about 35-50 stereotypically introverted geeks of all ages sit around tables and throw themselves into different worlds, powered by shared imagination and confusing rulebooks.  Talk about becoming all things to all men!  It’s a time of fellowship, fun, and healing.  Imagine working every day, struggling to live in a world with people who don’t understand you, and yourself being naturally disinclined to let others in.  But two weekends a year, you have a place and a time to meet others like you; with whom you don’t have to pretend, who know you before you even meet them, where you don’t have to live by everyone else’s rules.  Again, tired of keeping up your guard but discovering it’s not necessary.  Then God meets you there, in the company of believers.  It’s hard to describe the experience to those who have never been to it, harder still to describe it to those for whom CamasCon is not an attractive retreat (which is most people; we get it).

I love Camas Meadows.  I love the people, I love the ministry. I love that the religion there is merely Christian as CS Lewis describes.  I love the facility, I love God’s creation.  I love God’s servants, I love his broken children.  I love the Christian I am when I’m there, and the Christian I am when I re-enter the world.

I don’t think my words here adequately express my feelings, but I’m already well over double the word count Kristen asked me to limit myself to, so I’ll wrap this up.  I hope those of you reading this will have a greater appreciation of the ministry of Camas Meadows Bible Camp.  Much of the ministry that happens there cannot be quantified, but it is as powerful as any other.  Camas Meadows has certainly impacted my life, and for that I remain forever grateful.

Athena

DSCN2901

Athena is a tough, fun, capable girl counselor. My boys love her because this girl knows how to wrestle. She picks them up and slings them around and isn’t the least bit ill-at-ease when three fierce little boys see her from across the room, grab up Nerf weapons, and run toward her screaming their battle cries. Most of my conversations with Athena have been quick exchanges in her classic gruff but loveable style.

But I had the rare opportunity to talk with her in depth at the Summer Staff Winter Retreat. I love it when you get a glimpse into someone’s heart and I was not disappointed with my peek at the thoughtful girl who lies beneath Athena’s fierce exterior. 

Athena graduated last summer, served at camp, and moved out of state where she is working hard toward achieving a lifelong dream of becoming a horse trainer. I asked her how her new job was going. She sighed. “I’m beginning to see that the little things matter. In Pennsylvania I can’t see the stars. When I came back to Washington for Christmas I discovered that I don’t really belong here anymore. But then when I came up to camp, I realized that this was it, I had come home.”

I knew that Athena was a good counselor, a fun individual, and superb at roughhousing. But I didn’t realize what Camas had become to her. I didn’t realize that it was her home.

When Scruffy and I were called to camp we had an idea of what working at this ministry entailed. But God’s call is so amazing, it is more and less complicated then you think. It is many different things. It is my husband over in the kitchen doing dishes this weekend because we don’t have enough dishwashers. It is sitting with a lonely child in the meadow during summer camps. It is telling someone of God and the glories He has brought to your own messed up life. It is wrestling with the Director’s kids when their mom needs to run and grab them a change of clothes. It is loving the people that show up, whether they are campers or counselors, speakers or nurses or kitchen staff. And sometimes it is providing a place. A place that is safe, where you know that you will be loved, somewhere to come home to after you grow up and have moved away.

 

Boo Boo

Maximus

DSCN3422

Maximus is one of our boys’ favorite counselors. He wrestles a lot, isn’t frightened when all three of them leap out from behind the camp couch and pelt him with a barrage of Nerf darts, and he is very very patient.

Maximus is one of THE RETURNED.

Most counselors serve at Camas for a few summers during high school, until life catches up to them and they are forced to get real-live-paying-jobs in order to earn $ for college. Once in awhile one of them will finish college and then inexplicably return. This is always a glorious blessing beyond what we could ask for or expect.

After the Summer Staff Winter Retreat last week, Maximus wrote something on his facebook that made me realize I had to interview him and find out why he keeps coming back.

Maximus–“I finally get home from winter retreat and I’m laying in bed and it doesn’t quite feel right. Then I realize every time I leave Camas, I leave a little of me behind, which would be why it’s a tug on my heart to leave every time.”

I asked Maximus what his first memory at Camas Meadows was. He laughed. Scruffy and Camo Man walked up to him, picked him up off the back porch, carried him off, and threw him into the dunk tank. He said, “Now that I think about it, events like that help break down our barriers and get us out of our boxes.”

About his years as a camper Maximus told me–“My relationship with God grew mainly through Camas, and without it I would probably be leading a very different life. Camas helped me through my parents splitting. It helped me through rough years at school. I don’t think I could count on my hands and toes how many times Camas has brought me back to the right path.”

Maximus was a camper for about five summers before he became one of our camp counselors. When asked about serving the kids as a boys counselor he said–” When I was a counselor it was amazing to know that the kids I was leading looked up to me and looked to me for help. Having gone through hard times myself it made it easier to level with kids who had a rough time.”

 Maximus is amazing to watch. He is so good with kids. He is great with my boys, as well as with campers, and counselors, and other camp staff. He manages to be fun, tough, honest, gentle, and real all at once. He has blessed both those he comes to serve and those who have the privaledge of serving with him. Maximus is both part of the reason we serve and part of who God has allowed us to become. We gave to him, but he has given back to us so much more than we ever expected. Thank you Maximus. For the years of wrestling and mayhem, thoughtful honesty and sacrifice, and giving us the honor of walking this journey together.

Maximus–“Camas is a safe haven for many people. One I have not found anywhere else.”

 

 

Boo Boo