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Thousands stretch skills at summer church camps

By Virginia de Leon

Every summer, thousands of children and young people from throughout the region gather in the outdoors to pray, play and immerse themselves in faith, fun and fellowship.

“We hear all the time from people, that summer camp is like a year’s worth of Sunday school,” said Bob Baker, executive director of Lutherhaven Ministries, which is in its 60th year.  “It takes them away from television, computer games, the Internet, cell phone and other distractions, and puts them in a faith community where they grow in relationship with other campers as well as adults and mentors who help their journeys.”

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Service Adventure Camp at Lutherhaven includes whitewater rafting.

Many youth who experience church camp say it’s the best experience of their summer, he said. Busy with swimming, hiking, playing games, canoeing and doing numerous activities with other young people, they forget about technology at home that may prevent them from being in relationship with others.

Faith-based camps can be transforming for youth, said Bob and other camp directors, but the challenge is drawing them to camp.

Summer camp was once a tradition for many faith communities. Of baby boomers—born from 1946 to 1964—40 percent regularly attended church camps, according to the Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA).

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Adventure campers serve seniors.

That percentage, however, goes down significantly for Generation Xers.  Only 20 percent of those born from 1965 to 1980 attended summer church camps, according to the CCCA. That’s likely why they haven’t encouraged their elementary- and high-school-age children to be part of a decades-old tradition.

“Church camp is not part of their vocabulary or in their realm of awareness,” said Bob, who has worked at Lutherhaven for 15 years.

That’s why summer camps seek to reach out to everyone: families who regularly attend church and young people who are not in a congregation.

Of the more than 4,000 youth who attended Camp Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d’Alene last year, about one-third were responding to word of mouth, Bob said. Another third were members of Lutheran (ELCA and LCMS) congregations in Eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  Others traveled from outside the region.

“We encourage people to bring friends,” Bob said. “It’s imperative that we look at new ways to reach out to new campers.”

Camp Gifford, a camp owned and operated by The Salvation Army, knows a lack of funds sometimes prevents youth from going to camp.

About 90 percent of the 875 children and teens who come to the camp are from low-income households, said Jeff Potts, camp director. For them to participate, The Salvation Army offers a sliding-scale fee that starts at just $60 a week and even less in some rural areas.

 “We always have enough people who want to go to camp, but we have trouble supplementing costs so there have been times we’ve turned some campers away,” Jeff said.

Experiences in nature and with other campers in a safe, nurturing and faith-based environment can make a difference in children’s lives, said camp directors and managers interviewed for The Fig Tree.

While the transformation is evident among some after a week at camp, most experience the spiritual and emotional change over time, they said.

Summer church camp is about planting seeds, Jeff said.

“As much as possible, we try to tie it in to the big, powerful Creator God and how much God loves them, no matter who they are or what other people think of them,” he said.  “For some campers, that’s a life-changing perspective.”


The following summaries describe some of the new programs at several church camps in the Inland Northwest:

Lutherhaven offers Servant Adventures

Along with outdoor adventure, community service is the emphasis of Lutherhaven Ministries’ new program, Idaho Servant Adventures.

Campers will spend a week on projects such as working on National Forest trails, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, spending time with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, leading sports day clinics and helping seniors with household chores.

When they’re not helping in Coeur d’Alene or the Silver Valley, youth and their families can go white-water rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking or find other ways to enjoy the outdoors.

By combining community service and outdoor adventure, the program “challenges young adults to cement lifelong relationships,” says the website. It provides opportunities “for God to work in the hearts of God’s people.”

More than 600 high school teens from around the United States have signed up. Each week, space is limited to 100 to create a close-knit community that encourages youth to bond with each other and their adult mentors.

“The program is about servant leadership and rearing young people to be leaders in their communities and churches,” Bob described.

“It’s about reaching out and helping others connect with one another and God.”

The goal is to build the church and commitment to ministry.

In addition to the Idaho Servants Adventures, the Lutherhaven Ministries programs also include Camp Lutherhaven on the East side of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Shoshone Base Camp in the Bitterroot Mountains near the Idaho-Montana border  and community day camps in Idaho’s Silver Valley and throughout the Inland Northwest.

For information, call 208-667-3459 or visit www.idahoservantadventures.com or www.lutherhaven.com.

Camp Gifford serves low-income campers

Seven volunteers from 18 to 26 will travel thousands of miles from such countries as Australia and Zimbabwe to The Salvation Army’s Camp Gifford this year.

About 20 volunteers work with 50 staff members.  They are from Salvation Army youth programs in their countries.  As part of their training, they spend two months at Camp Gifford on Deer Lake.

“They add value to our program,” said Jeff, the director. “They’re mature, spiritual people who set an example with their lifestyle.  They have an opportunity to minister because the campers are drawn to their charisma.”

This year, Camp Gifford launched a year-round mentoring and discipleship program for young adults.  They will spend a year at the camp, doing community service and intensive Bible study.  They will spend time in Spokane with the homeless and people in Salvation Army transitional programs, Jeff said.

Last summer, 876 youth from the region spent a week in different age-group camps—ranging from five- to 17-year-olds—from mid-June to mid-August, canoeing, swimming, hiking and doing other outdoor activities.

Depending on talents of staff, Camp Gifford will offer classes on such topics as French, cheerleading and journalism.  At night, they gather around a campfire for fellowship and devotions.

Camp Gifford’s mission is “to use nature and the great outdoors as a setting to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, teach environmental awareness, encourage pro-social behavior and safely provide an opportunity to every camper for fun and adventure.”

Many teens are foster children or from Salvation Army shelters or transitional housing.

“Most come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said. “Many are needy in ways beyond financial need, so it’s an opportunity to minister to children with broken foundations.

“They are drawn into deeper waters and learn more about who God is and how God can change their lives,” Jeff said.

For information, call 233-2511 or visit www.campgifford.org.

N-Sid-Sen campers focus on caring for creation

“Handle with Care” is the theme this summer at N-Sid-Sen, a year-round camp and conference center on Lake Coeur d’Alene.  It offers camps for children from kindergarten through high school and for families.

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Campers join in worship at lakeside chapel.

“We will explore many ways we are called to care for God’s creation and ways we can make change to preserve this glorious creation,” said Randy Crowe, the camp’s managing director.

One program at N-Sid-Sen, “Camp to Belong,” is for foster children separated from siblings. It’s a chance for them to build positive memories to carry them into the future, he said.

“Many have been badly wounded, and the chance to build a relationship with a sibling or two or three is powerful,” he said.

Owned and operated by the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, N-Sid-Sen was established in 1935.

Since then, the camp has grown to 270 acres and almost a mile of shoreline.  It includes sports fields, a cove with swimming and boating, a ropes course, hiking, cross-country ski trails, an outdoor chapel, picnic areas, basketball and volleyball.  It has quiet places where one can enjoy “this piece of God’s creation,” says the website.

The name “N-Sid-Sen” came about in 1939, when church leaders turned to elders of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in Plummer for guidance.  Learning the camp was a place for youth to learn and grow in faith, the elders spent months reflecting and suggested “N-Sid-Sen,” which means “a point of inspiration” in the Coeur d’Alene language.

“Our mission is to provide the space and atmosphere for folks to come and find their N-Sid-Sen,” said Randy.

For information, call 208-689-3489 or visit www.n-sid-sen.org.

Camp Spalding offers horseback riding in 2008

At Camp Spalding on Davis Lake, participants can ride horses and sleep in a Sioux tepee, can focus on music, arts, drama or dance, or can bond with siblings and parents at different camps.

Since 1957, thousands of campers have gathered in this wooded, mountain lake setting to deepen faith and have fun outdoors.

Campers from second grade to high school take part in boating, swimming, crafts and other “classic, summer camp fun.”

In addition to canoes and pedal boats, Camp Spalding, operated by the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, offers a Frisbee golf course, a water trampoline, rock climbing and the “Blob,” a water toy for the lake.

For the first time, a few campers will go horseback riding as part of a horsemanship program.  Youth also spend time around campfires and in cabins talking about God and spirituality.

For information, visit www.clearwaterlodge.org/campspalding.html or call (509) 447-4388.

Zephyr campers help improve the campsite

Last summer, the 28 high school students who spent a week at Zephyr Conference Center decided to do more than the usual camp activities of swimming, hiking and roasting marshmallows.

They were inspired to give back by painting cabins, picking up debris, fixing benches around the campfire and doing other chores to keep the camp’s grounds beautiful.

“It looks renewed,” said Nico McClellan, Zephyr’s manager and facilitator.  “Their hard work helped make the camp look fresh and cared for.  It also gave them a sense of accomplishment.”

This summer, teens will again do service projects in their week at the camp on Liberty Lake.

“They’re here not just to learn Scripture, but also to live out what they’ve learned,” said Nico. “They’re trying to learn by giving back to the community.”

In addition to the teens, several dozen middle-school and elementary-age youth also came to Zephyr last year.  More will be back this summer, she said.

For the first time, Zephyr will offer a program that allows second- and third-graders to join the fourth- through sixth-graders. The children will join their older siblings to help them “feel more at ease and not so homesick,” Nico explained.  The younger children will stay at camp for four days, while the fourth- through sixth-graders will spend six days.

She hopes these youth gain “a sense of stewardship and acceptance of everyone, a sense of community and family while bringing God into the picture.”

A ministry of the Northwest Regional Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), camps at Zephyr are open to people of all faiths and backgrounds, Nico said.

For information, call 255-6122.

Twinlow celebrates 80th year of camping

Twinlow Camp and Retreat Center will celebrate its 80th anniversary with a reunion from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16, at the camp at Lower Twin Lake just north of Rathdrum, Idaho.

Visitors will take part in a barbecue feast, swim, boat and share stories and memories of their experiences there.

A ministry of the United Methodist churches of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, Twinlow draws about 500 campers and volunteers each summer.  In addition to overnight camps for second graders through high school seniors, children ages five to 12 can participate in day camp.

Many of the camp’s outdoor activities center around the lake, said Brian White, Twinlow’s director for the last four years.  Campers canoe, sail, water ski, wake board, and enjoy the water and sunshine.

For nine years, Twinlow also has offered the Pacific Northwest Cross Connection.  In addition to having fun, participants also go to nearby communities to do service work—painting a home, doing yard work, performing minor repairs and other jobs and chores to help those in need.

Emphasis is on interacting with the families to show that people have many types of needs, not just visible, physical needs, according to the camp’s website.

Besides experiencing fellowship, campers gain confidence in their ability to fix houses and take part in a life-changing and holy experience of mission outreach.  The youth service teams help families in Rathdrum, Spirit Lake, Athol, Coeur d’Alene and other communities in North Idaho.

Twinlow seeks to “create sanctuaries where people have freedom to explore faith and be in community with others,” said Brian.  It’s where individuals can “grow closer to Jesus through different programs and groups.”

For information, visit www.twinlowcamp.org or call (208) 687-1146.

Chabad Center sponsors Camp Gan Israel

Jewish youth in Spokane will be able to take part in a two-week summer camp in August through the Chabad Center of Spokane.

Rabbi Yisroel Hahn and five other volunteers will provide opportunities for children ages five to 10 to learn Hebrew and Jewish songs, do arts-and-crafts and participate in other activities to learn about their faith.

Some Jewish youth in the Inland Northwest take part in camps in western Washington and other cities, said the rabbi.  Locally, however, younger children who are not ready to stay overnight didn’t have many options.

So he and others from Chabad have planned a two-week day camp.  Volunteers from the Chabad headquarters in New York will help with the Hebrew lessons and activities.

For information, visit www.jewishspokane.com or call 443-0770.

Camp Cross welcomes new campers and groups

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Sunken canoe race at Camp Cross.

Welcoming new people and groups to the beauty of the setting of Camp Cross on 107 acres on Lake Coeur d’Alene is camp director Chase Shield’s emphasis for the 2008 season.

“We want to share our facility and our positive community of living together joyfully,” he said.

The outreach takes two forms: 1) encouraging campers through a discount to invite a friend and 2) opening the camp for other groups to use.

Chase said Camp Cross, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, is offering a $30 discount for both the camper and a friend the camper invites.

“It’s easier to invite someone to camp than to church.  Here we meet people where they are without judgment or expectation.  We just want to include more people so they enrich our community.  More people makes camp more fun,” he said.  “Living the Gospel means sharing this place of peace and acceptance.”

In August, Camp Cross will host a four-day Camp No Limits for children with prosthetic limbs and their families.

“We have wheelchair basketball and the beach is full of prosthetic limbs when children go swimming,” Chase said.

Camp staff help children learn to tie shoes or put a scrunchie in their hair.

Speakers share how they have overcome their limitations.

Chase is also scheduling an Inner City Outings Camp in September, a weekend for children from West Central Spokane to enjoy archery, romping in the woods and campfires as part of this Sierra Club sponsored program.  Children will come without cost.

For information, call 624-5780 or visit www.campcross.org.

June 2008 © The Fig Tree