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Summer church camps connect activities with spiritual truths

Campfires and s’mores weave
with singing and prayer to nurture community.

Climbing walls and ropes courses provide
adventure for drawing spiritual parallels.

Swimming and hiking immerse campers
in God’s creation—alone and with others.

Sitting down for meals and conversing
remind campers of the lost art of family meals.

Wilderness experiences and bicycling around lakes
stretch new muscles and mindsets for facing hardships.

Paid and volunteer staff and counselors introduce
campers to role models, racial and cultural diversity.

Sounds of birds, frogs and crickets mix
with voices of youngsters laughing, squealing, talking.

Faith-based camping plants seeds in such settings
to have ongoing impact on personal and family lives,
on friendships and local-to-wider church fellowship,
on community life and cross-cultural understanding.

The camp directors and managers express their roles with different words and emphases,
but each shares the common aim of building up God’s kingdom, Christ’s body—           

         discipleship, salvation, love, peace, respect—                                               

                        to strengthen faith communities

                         to create healthy communities

                          to stir responsible decisions.

Camps are fun places with lofty goals to accomplish
in a weekend or a week, in a summer camp or retreat

                        away, beyond, outside the everyday

                        inside a new setting, along with others

                        without the usual distractions of busy lives.

A time to meet God, people, oneself again, anew, and
to return renewed, refreshed, re-inspired and ready.

Camp invites low-income children to make good choices

Of the 140 campers each week at Camp Gifford, 90 percent are low-income, nearly 20 percent are from foster homes and three percent are homeless.

The Salvation Army camp on Deer Lake—between Spokane and Colville—has a sliding scale for payment and raises the rest  through year-round use and direct-mail appeals.

Food is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture summer food program, because it serves low-income children.

Twelve of 32 paid counselors and staff are foreign students from Scotland, the United Kingdom and a Youth Leadership School in Australia that may include two from Zimbabwe. 

In previous years, some counselors have been from Africa and Asia.

“The initial response of some children, coming with racial bias, has been resistance,” Jeff said.  “Over the week, they discover the counselors are ‘neat’ people who care about them.  Their British accent adds to their charisma.

“Campers’ perspectives change,” he said, so he has had international counselors every year since he began as director at Camp Gifford. 

“We provide a moral foundation from which campers can learn to make better choices,” he said.  “We teach them that choices have consequences, asking if a drunk on the street or person in prison chose that life. We point out that those people had dreams, but bad choices made while growing up meant their dreams died.”

On arrival, 20 percent of campers say one choice can change someone’s life.  By the end of the week, 100 percent believe one choice can change a life.

“We discuss what makes choices good or bad,” he said.  “We affirm that we believe the Bible and a personal relationship with Jesus can help us know the difference between good and bad choices.  We want them to know that God loves them and wants them to be successful.”

Camp Gifford also surveys parents later in the year, asking if camp helped their children make better choices.  About 85 percent say, “Yes, definitely”; 12 percent, “maybe,” and two percent, “definitely not,” he said. 

Because campers are selected through schools and agencies based on need, few return. Camps run Mondays to Fridays from mid-June to early August.  Each week, there is a youth camp for seven- to 12-year-olds and a wilderness camp for 13- to 17-year-olds.

Activities include canoeing, paddleboating, swimming, a floating diving dock, fishing, high ropes, archery, basketball, soccer, hiking, camp fires and classes led by counselors. 

Because of bonding among counselors over the summer, eight couples have married in Jeff’s 11 years at Camp Gifford.

For information, call 233-2511 or visit

Camp’s focus is consistent

Zephyr has been so much a part of Gary Hann’s life and identity that one camper called him “Gary Zephyr.”  After nearly 27 years as director of Zephyr Conference Center at Liberty Lake, he retired May 31 and moved to Greenacres.

For five years, he has been half-time at Zephyr and half-time pastor of Greenacres Christian Church, which he will continue to do.  He served Eastside Christian Church in Tacoma from 1970 to 1979, coming to Zephyr when it sought a director with theological background to lead retreats year-round.

“What I have valued most about camping over the years is still part of camping:  building community life, helping children and youth respect others, encouraging campers to care for each other and to honor differences, sharing the ethics of Jesus and discovering how to work together in the life of the church,” he said. 

“The activities may change, but those emphases continue to draw campers back year after year,” said Gary, who worked at camps while studying at Northwest Christian College in Eugene.  “Zephyr is an extension of churches’ ministries for children and lay leaders who volunteer to help.

“With adult retreats, I observe the shift in body language, from people arriving tired from the week of work and unsure if they have energy for a retreat,” he said.  “They leave re-energized and revitalized for their lives and the life of their churches.”

Nico McClellan, a member of Greenacres Christian Church who has been named the interim manager, hopes to put the lodge, which was built in 1902, on the historical registry to make funding available for restoration and updating.  She also wants to add more activities—such as horseback riding and archery—to spark campers’ interest.

“Through our camp programs, children and youth build memories, strengthen spirituality, spread the Good News and start life-long friendships,” she said.

At noon, Sunday, June 4, Zephyr is holding a salad potluck, open house, worship service, children’s activities, a farewell talk and camp tours to honor Gary.  Nico hopes it will also be a time  to introduce or re-introduce the camp facilities to members of congregations and neighbors in the local community. 

For information, call 255-6122.

Camp offers time to talk about peacemaking in lives, world

N-Sid-Sen’s managing director Randy Crowe finds the National Council of Churches’ 2006 summer camp curriculum theme, “Peace Talks,” fitting “for these times.”

Rowing at N-Sid-Sen on Lake Coeur d'Alene

He has found that to be the case in the 23 years N-Sid-Sen has used the NCC curricula—16 of which he has been managing director.  Before then, he and his wife Linda volunteered as directors for junior high camps, coming from the United Church of Christ in Kirkland.

“Given where we are as a society, it’s the best time we could talk about peace,” said Randy, noting that many peace and justice songs like “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “We Shall Overcome,” are now camp songs.

“We will create peace dove banners and make peace cranes.  We will trace campers’ hands on fabric and sew them on a banner to form peace doves.  We will hang it in the welcome lodge we are building,” he said.

Volunteer directors from congregations around the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ are using the curriculum for resource ideas.  For example, campers will create a peace pole by painting or wood-burning words for peace in different languages on a driftwood pole to be installed at camp.

“We need to be aware of what our country is doing around the world and that there are alternatives, especially for people of faith,” he said.  “Our faith as Christians has a strong message about peace.  Jesus calls us to be peacemakers.  We need to try to be peacemakers in a society that does not work as it should.

“If we do not teach children and youth that peacemaking is part of our faith, then we are complicit in injustices,” he said.

Camp works in partnership with churches to further their Christian education in the outdoors.  It gathers children to meet other children and youth from across the region so they build new friendships as they live in international Christian community.

Randy finds that campers, counselors, resource people and staff can experience “incredible growth in faith” in a week. 

Randy sees his role as offering a ministry of hospitality at camps and retreats, providing for physical needs and comfort, so people can be open to spiritual insights.

“My own faith has been deepened by bounds, as we welcome people with HIV and AIDS who come to retreats and feel safe; as we welcome children who come from abusive home situations and start to blossom, and as a child—worried about his mother’s illness—came and let go, becoming a “gung-ho” camper.

“Safe, nurturing, intentional Christian community grows each week,” Randy said. 

For information, call 208-689-3489 or visit

Team-building activities nurture discipleship

To nurture discipleship and encourage young people to live more Christ-like lives, Ross Point Camp and Conference Center on the Spokane River in Post Falls has broadened adventure and team-building activities with a high ropes course, a climbing tower and a bouldering wall.

Blob - Ross Point
Camper tries jumping on and off a blob.

These programs supplement traditional water sports on the river such as canoeing, swimming and boating, said John Batchelder, director of the Washington Baptist Convention’s camp.

Other activities include beach volleyball, miniature golf, horseshoes, karaoke, kayaks, an aqua jump and slide, a blow-up blob and log rolling

Through three youth camps and three family camps for up to 200 campers, he said, “we focus on building the kingdom of God.”

Since starting a family weekend 25 years ago, Ross Point has expanded family camping program to meet the demand.

Ross Point
Climbing wall at Ross Point

Staff encourage campers to apply Scripture and Christ’s commandments “in daily life, every moment, not just on occasion,” he said. “People often make an initial commitment to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, a recommitment or a career decision to enter ordained or other ministries.”

For John, spiritual growth also includes learning to love God, self and others, learning how to live in Christian community, discovering personal gifts, practicing stewardship of creation and becoming committed to a life of service.

Campfires at the end of each day reinforce what campers learn.

To help six year-round staff, John hires 12 summer staff for the kitchen, cleaning and lifeguarding.  Youth and adults volunteer as counselors and directors, developing the program with John, who has been in camping 20 years and at Ross Point since 2001.

The camp, which started in 1948, is open year round.  Built in the late 1990s, motel-style accommodations serve 90 people.

For information, call (208) 773-1655 or visit

Camps strengtrhen personal growth, relationships, community

The YMCA’s Camp Reed on Fan Lake, 30 miles north of Spokane, encourages personal growth, Christian values and community in a wilderness setting. 

Camp Reed
Campers establish life-long friendships.

Through new challenges and relationships, it hopes to turn ideals into lasting behaviors, said Lisa Vogt, its executive director.

The camp’s program involves four two-week leadership camps for 15- and 16-year-olds, week-long camps for children from eight to 14 years old and mini-camps for six- to eight-year-olds.

“We seek to instill honesty, respect, responsibility and caring among campers,” she said.

Staff and counselors share their stories and let campers know they care for and believe in them.

In the leadership camps, teens work one week on teamwork, a work ethic, serving others and life choices.  The second week they do a 300-mile bike trip from Fan Lake around Lake Coeur d’Alene and Hayden Lake and back.  About 100 youth will participate this summer, 25 in each session.

Camp Reed serves campers from many backgrounds.  For campers from the YWCA’s homeless program, Morningstar Boys Ranch, St. Margaret’s Shelter and eight schools, it provides full scholarships and sleeping bags with funds raised in a golf tournament.  It draws many repeat campers, including children of former campers.

The eighth week of the summer session for 25 years has included hosting 20 students and teachers from 10 schools in Spokane’s sister city, Nishinomya, Japan.

After 15 years as an attorney in Spokane, Lisa learned of the opening while attending a women’s retreat in 2001. 

About that time this member of Life Center in Spokane was deciding she wanted to find a way to make a difference in children’s lives. 

 She and her husband, Tom, a teacher at Longfellow School, filled in for a summer.

A Camp Reed camper since she was seven years old, then a dishwasher and a counselor while in college, Lisa is now full-time director.  Tom works with her in the summer, when they live onsite with their three children. 

Schools and other groups rent the facility for use in the off season.  It is closed from December to March. 

For information, call 838-3577 ext. 142 or visit

Camp produces leadership for offsite day camps, as well as onsite camps

Adding to its nearly 25-year tradition of offsite day camps, Camp Lutherhaven—now in its 60th season—will sponsor an onsite day camp this year bringing children to camp from Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Stateline.

Counselor connects with children at Wapato.

“We seek to meet the needs of working parents by providing a safe, fun, values-centered program for first through sixth graders,” said Bob Baker, executive director. 

Day campers do a gamut of camp activities in a shelter by the waterfront, interacting with onsite campers in water activities.

“Some parents and some children are not ready for overnights.  Some children have signed up for all eight weeks,” he said. “We will serve up to 20 children each week, so staff can provide the relational aspect of our ministry.”

This summer, Lutherhaven will also run 35 day camps in communities around the region—including Lewiston, Moscow, St. Maries and Pierce, Idaho, and Seattle, Yakima, Wenatachee, Tri Cities, Davenport, Reardan, Odessa, Pullman and Spokane.

Four staff go to churches, a park or community center to run “a glorified vacation Bible school” with volunteers from the church and community. 

Unlike VBS, it’s all day and for up through eighth graders, plus it includes archery, building camp fires, hiking and going to the local pool, he said.

Lutherhaven has hired and trained 65 summer staff, primarily college students and graduates, who rotate into the different programs, onsite and offsite, from mid-June to mid-August.

“They switch responsibilities each week to keep fresh, energized and creative,” Bob said.

This year he expects 1,600 campers to participate in offsite day camps—with four offered each week.  Ten years ago, they offered eight day camps.

Last year, one was offered at an orphanage in Mexico and another was a bilingual camp for migrant children in the Yakima Valley. 

Bob has been executive director at Lutherhaven for 13 years, coming from parish youth and family ministry in western Montana.

With 12 year-round staff, he runs Lutherhaven as a retreat center for churches, the community at large and nondenominational churches that have no camp.

This year, the Full Gospel Mission Youth Camp—also known as Hamp’s Camp—for inner-city Spokane children and youth will be at Lutherhaven the first weekend of August.

“Camping is different now from 60 years ago.  In the last decade, the number of choices of  summer activities for children and youth has skyrocketed with more than 250 options in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area,” Bob said.

In 2005, Lutherhaven served 14,000 overnight guests in the summer and year round at its camp on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“A week at camp equals a year of Sunday school,” he said, citing an adage in camping circles, “because we concentrate on relational faith.  Campers build relationships with each other and strengthen their relationship with God and Jesus Christ, as well as strengthening themselves in ways they build on over the following year. 

“We see growth in their faith each year.  Many join staff and become church leaders—elders, teachers and church council members,” Bob said. 

“Many Lutheran seminary students point to camp as where they decided to do ministry.  It’s where they learned about community relationships and trust of self, others and God,” he pointed out.

For information, call 208-667-3459 or visit

Children learn their place in God’s family

Even with 40 more beds expanding Camp Spalding’s capacity to 180, three camps were full by mid-May, said Andy Sonneland, executive director for the Inland Northwest Presbytery’s camp and conference center.

Climbing creates persistence.

He expects the camp will serve 1,500 summer campers this year, it’s 50th.  Growth is among both Presbyterian and non-Presbyterian campers.

Andy attributes it to more staff, more programs and new “toys.”

A new activity this summer is mountainboarding on a big skate board with air-filled tires on a course down a hill onsite.  It’s like snowboarding.  There’s also a frisbee golf course.

Some of the toys are just for fun and some are designed to draw a spiritual parallel, Andy said.

“Junior and senior high camps are most in demand.  Elementary camps are growing.  Family camps are full,” said Andy.

Working with the campers are four year-round and 31 summer staff. 

College-age counselors come for 10 weeks, also helping on the waterfront, with mountain biking and other activities.  They come two weeks before camps start for 10 days of training in CPR, team building and counseling.

“They need to focus on campers’ relationship with Jesus Christ and what to expect of different ages.  Some come back summer after summer,” he said.

Andy said that the younger children need to learn about their place in God’s family.  Junior high campers learn more about the Gospel and have a chance to respond.  High school campers focus on discipleship.

“It’s a unique opportunity for children and youth to be away for a week in God’s creation with Christian role models to consider Jesus’ call to follow,” he said.

“Our focus is for campers to have a relationship with Christ and to leave here having had an encounter with God.  We want the week to be a ‘blast’ so they sign up to come again,” he said.

Morning and evening campfires include worship and speakers.  Then campers have small group discussions in cabins and one-to-one time with counselors, establishing relationships so they are open to spiritual parallels counselors draw in activities.

Camp Spalding in the Selkirk Mountains is open year-round as a conference center for church groups on weekends and Elderhostels, corporate groups and other retreats midweek.

Now in his 15th year as director, Andy is committed to camping because “it’s an opportunity for children, youth and adults to make significant spiritual decisions away from their daily routines.  It’s a time to consider God’s call in their lives and their potential for ministry.

Along with age-specific camps, this facility has pioneer, arts, leadership, family and college-prep camps, and mom-dad-and-me overnights. 

For information, call 447-4388 or visit

Older campers have opportunities to engage in mission projects

Offsite and onsite, campers will consider and act on the theme, “We Are All One in Mission:  Mission Possible,” in 2006 summer programs through Camp Cross and the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane.

Camp Cross
Car wash in Moses Lake raises funds for park.

In 2006, the diocese offers several offsite mission camps, including one taking 50 youth and adults to Arlington, Texas, June 25 to July 2, as part of a pilot program of the national Episcopal Church.  Participants will lead a vacation Bible school for youth in two inner-city areas.

Other off-site mission camps in Coeur d’Alene, Moses Lake and Spokane include service projects.  For two years, a group has gone to Moses Lake. 

They do a car wash there to raise money for a church-sponsored community park and food bank, and repair picnic tables. 

Onsite camps include age-group camps and a family frontier camp that has campers use Dutch ovens, play old-time games, learn archery from a “mountain man,” hike and have family reunions.

“We want campers to know that by working together anything is possible,” said Evita Kristlock, the camp’s executive director and the diocesan youth director. 

Camp Cross intentionally includes environmental education, appreciation of nature and stewardship awareness, tying them to Bible studies and liturgy.

“We have campers eat healthy, family style meals and encourage them to be conscious of manners,” Evita said.  “It may be a contrast to home, where people are busy and may not sit down to eat.”

The camp is also intentional about developing leaders, drawing youth into counseling, mentoring and leadership in a safe space.

“We help young people to be aware of and to challenge racism, sexual misconduct and injustices in the social structure, rather than assuming that what is on TV and what the society promotes is okay,” said Evita, who previously worked for a railroad and volunteered with the Central Valley School District.

In the setting and structure of camp, young people can experience being leaders, even “messing up” without being mortified, Evita said.   “They learn the layers behind what happens, skills needed and the role of prayer.”

The camp also brings international staff—this year from Latin America and Spain—to create cross-cultural understanding. 

In her year-round work with diocesan youth, Evita also seeks to help them overcome racism, foster dialogue and encourage inclusion.

“In my seven years in this ministry, I have noticed that there are many more demands on people, especially students, in the summer—with debate programs, and basketball, band and football camps.  Summer is no longer about carefree days.

“With so much going on and so many demands from communities and society, it’s hard for young people to keep a spiritual connection,” Evita said.

To keep parishioners connected to Camp Cross, the camp offers Sunday brunches from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., starting June 4. 

Camp Cross, which accommodates 96 people—including 10 staff—is a May-to-September camp because access to the site on the west side of Lake Coeur d’Alene is by boat. 

For information, call 624-5780 or visit

Camps strengthen local churches

For Brian White, who grew up spending summers at United Methodist camps in Oregon and Idaho, camp and retreat ministries extend tools of local churches to strengthen mission, relationships, community and faith.

Swim lessons build confidence.

After working summers in college as a camp lifeguard, he was asked to be full-time program director at Camp Magruder at Rockaway Beach, Ore.  He started in 1994, knowing he did not want to pursue a career in biochemistry, his major at Whitman College. 

After 12 years at Camp Magruder, Twinlow Camp and Retreat Center on Lower Twin Lake near Rathdrum, Idaho, invited him to be interim director in April 2005.  In January, he became director.

“This ministry is a place away from the local church where people are strengthened in relationships that build community and build each person’s relationship with Jesus in an intense, peaceful, relaxed time,” Brian said.

Although camp is away from  church and daily life, it does not exist in isolation but as a partner with local churches. 

“It’s no longer just a place for children and youth to go in the summer, but also a place for adults, families and church groups summer and year round,” he said.  “When there is snow, we have winter activities—skiing at nearby ski areas or tubing and sledding onsite.”

Brian said when people play and have fun they open themselves to discover new things about themselves and others.

“Camp is more experiential than a Sunday school class.  It’s hands on—swimming, climbing, hiking and relating life and faith to the activities.

“It’s about discovering who we are and what we believe,” he said.  “Camp helped me form my values and make decisions.”

For Brian, ministry is daily life, and daily life is ministry.  He is excited about a career in which he is challenged to grow in faith.

As manager and director, he cooks, cleans, pays bills and develops programs.  A part-time person assists with maintenance. About 15 summer staff lifeguard and serve in the kitchen.

Each part of the camp facility and program is geared to strengthen campers’ relationships with Jesus Christ and connections to the local churches.

To diversify its approach, Twinlow is also doing day camps.  This year, day campers will do a “world tour,” learn about animals, have a campout and more.

Children from five to 12 years old are picked up by bus in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Athol at 8 a.m. and returned at 5 p.m. 

During sessions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., day campers do water sports, crafts, music and Bible stories.  They share the dining hall with the week-long campers, but meet in their own space.

“It’s helpful for working parents and small children who may not want to stay overnight,” he said.

About 22 are coming, some for a week, some for four weeks and some for seven weeks.  One will come Tuesdays to Thursdays.

For information, call (208) 687-1146 or visit