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Silver Lake Camp took on a role in fire relief

Kaye Peterson

By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

On Aug. 18, 2023, fire swept through the Medical Lake area, burning more than 10,000 acres and destroying 240 homes before it was finally extinguished.

Since the fires, Kaye Peterson, the guest services manager and community chaplain at Silver Lake Camp and Retreat Center, which is about two miles south of Medical Lake, has constantly felt Jesus' presence.

"We always end meetings with a prayer, asking not to be overwhelmed but always to be aware of the opportunities that arrive each day from God as blessings to meet the needs of the day," she said.

Two unusual happenings turned out to be blessings from God that kept the situation from being worse.

"Most often our contract for incoming groups indicates they will arrive at 2 p.m. On August 18, for some reason the contract for the new group's arrival indicated they would come at 3 p.m., so the other group had left but the new group hadn't come yet. If they had been there, we would have had so many more individuals and cars to evacuate with just the long one-way road coming into the camp. God is so good."

Usually when a group comes to Silver Lake Camp, they use the camp's boat so that in the time between the departure of one group and the arrival of the next, the boat is taken out of the water for maintenance and cleaning.

For whatever reason the group that had left on Aug. 18, hadn't used the boat while at the camp.

"The boat was still in the water and so it was saved," Kaye explained, "and Terry Andrews, executive camp director, used the boat to escape from the fire. Later it was used to shuttle others out of the fire to the other side—a blessing from God!"

Kaye described the efforts of the camp to assist.

"I am so glad the main building survived. It means we can be a beacon of hope for the community. Terry opened up the camp for anyone in need of help after the fire, from providing space in the parking lot, to parking a camper, to letting people grab a bite to eat. He freed me up to work with the community because he wanted to help our neighbors," she said.

"We are now partnering with the town of Medical Lake and Mayor Terri Cooper and Re*Imagine Medical Lake. The members of the community are coming together here to continue as a base for the restoration process," Kaye said.

"We hosted Team Rubicon, a veteran-led organization. For six weeks, Team Rubicon and other community volunteers helped remove hazardous trees from 85 percent of the homes that were destroyed," she explained.

Kaye is new to Silver Lake Camp, having just ended a career teaching high school math in Everett on the west side of the state.

The camp, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God and follows its fundamental statements of faith, was purchased in the mid 1950s and began its operations in 1962.

It is open in the summer for elementary and high school church student groups, in the late fall for college age retreats and in the fall and spring for men's and women's retreats.

"I feel God called me clearly into camping," Kaye asserted. "I was a Baptist preacher's kid and fell in love with Jesus as a child. My father helped start a Christian camp—Camp Judson—behind Mt. Rushmore. I have always loved Christian camps."

She previously worked as a lifeguard at Whidbey Island's Camp Casey, which was purchased from the army by Seattle Pacific University.

Then Kaye became chronically ill, suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome that caused her chronic pain, headaches and lower back challenges along with multiple allergies. This led her to teach math in Everett.

In the last several years, through a healing she attributes to God's power, Kaye recovered from these ailments and thought of working at a Christian camp again.

As things opened up after COVID, a friend kept encouraging her, "Call my brother and talk to him."

That brother was Terry Andrews of Silver Lake Camp.

Finally, Kaye called. He invited her to the camp during her spring break to see the camp and to talk about possibilities.

"He had a series of questions for me: 'Can you work with kids? Can you do group scheduling and work on a computer? Can you be a liaison with a group and respond to needs as they come up?'" Kaye said.

"Answering yes to all of them, I was hired and began work after the school year ended," she said.

"I love the staff here. They are my family, and our volunteers are the coolest people ever," she said.

Before the fire, the facility could handle more than 700 people if needed. Some sleep in its 520 beds, and others sleep in tents. It welcomed about 6,000 campers each summer and about 4,000 the rest of the year.

Among her duties as guest services manager, Kaye was in charge of the student groups that staffed the kitchen, served as lifeguards, ran the café and zip lines, and were responsible for clean-up.

She oversees about 30 to 35 students. She sometimes leads Bible lessons—"because everything we do is under the Lord"—and encourages the student workers as they clean up between camping sessions.

"As we clean up the messes at the camp, God is cleaning up the students' lives," Kaye said.

Since the fire, Terry reported that they do not plan to hold camps until January 2024.

In the fire, the camp lost five homes, five cabins, a yurt, their shop and outdoor equipment. Kaye's home was among those that burned down. The fire burned all the belongings she couldn't salvage quickly.

Immediately after the fire Kaye evacuated to a friend's house in Spokane. The next day she received word that her house was gone and that it would be five or six days before she could get back to the camp.

Once she returned, she sifted through the ashes looking for anything recoverable and was happy to find a piece of rose quartz from South Dakota—only burned on one side—and her dad's brass whistle from his camp years.

"It was beyond gone, but I still have it!" she said.

Kaye praised the many who have helped the recovery efforts since the fire.

She mentioned several of those efforts.

• Lowe's provided pallets of water and Gatorade for the firefighters, as well as wheelbarrows, shovels and buckets for the community.

• The Salvation Army set up their canteen truck, providing lunches for those in the community.

• Samaritan's Purse and Westgate Chapel chaplains helped people sift through ashes.

Regardless of the trauma people are experiencing from the fire and all the work that still needs to be done, Kaye's faith in God inspires everything she does as she continually asks, "How can we help the greater community and show them God's love?"

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January 2024