As I write this little blog I’m out on the dock of a friend’s cottage across from Ontario Pioneer Boys’ Camp with Girls’ Camp to north and Adventure camp to the south. The Boys Camp Band is doing an amazing job of leading a couple of hundred young men in worship as a part of their time of Bible study. I love the fact that I can clearly make out all the words and hear the passionate singing right across the lake. It’s stirring. It’s nostalgic. It evokes some very deep and raw emotions … the guys are singing, Mighty to Save: “Saviour, He can move the mountains, He is mighty to save, mighty to save!” And it’s echoing with power across the lake. Wow!
Yesterday I tweeted a few of my thoughts, as I enjoyed this cottage across from Pioneer. The response I got back spanned the decades from recent campers to those who haven’t really been a part of camp for decades. And their comments were every bit as emotional as I was feeling right here at the cottage.
Comments included, “Truly a magical place;” “Oh, I wish I were there;” “So jealous. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy;” “Man I miss that place;” “If I could get a cottage on that lake, I probably would!” My daughter Meagan reflected on writing her application for Med School at the Girls’ camp site, crediting the location with the writing of an application that got her in!
There’s the old Camp Song that we used to sing with passion, yes all three verses, that today occasionally they sing the first verse. I get it, the tune and words are a bit geeky for today’s sophisticated youth, but hey, it says a lot:
Hail to thee, Camp Pioneer
Camp of camps the best
Where in fellowship united
Every heart is blessed
Far from burning heat of city
Here the woodland dreams
Darkling pines and silver birches
Shelter cooling streams
Hear the glories of the Northland
Praise the Lord of all
Here we too can learn to love Him
And obey His call
Geeky or not, the Pioneer Camp song captures the ethos of what’s been happening at Christian camps like Pioneer for the multiple decades of the Christian camping movement. For so many camp is or has been a place where deep life long friendships have been forged, where personal growth has catapulted forward and self worth has been bolstered. And most of all it’s been a place of spiritual encounter and life transformation, discovering that the God of all creation is irrationally in love with me, wants to walk with me personally and has a mission, a purpose beyond my wildest imagination for me to pursue.
For me it’s been camps like Pioneer and Mini-Yo-We in Muskoka where I have been a camper, served as staff member in my formative high school and college days, and later had the privilege to serve full time, being the Director of Mini-Yo-We for two years and the Administrative Director of Ontario Pioneer Camps for almost five years. For many in the Thunder Bay area where I now serve, it’s camps like Dorion, Round Lake and Manitoba Pioneer that evoke that same deeply raw and wonderful emotion.
I really like the Celtic concept of “thin places.” In the days of Patrick of Ireland and the Celtic spirituality that he spawned, the Celts had a deep appreciation for special places of spiritual encounter, where the line between this world and things of God are indeed very thin, an environment that invites us to experience spiritual transformation. Camps are truly “thin places.” So much so that I’m convinced that one week at camp can have a far deeper and more profound impact on a life than a couple of years in church – and hey I believe in church!!
As I wrap up writing this little blog, the boys are singing, “Oh happy day, happy day … I’ll never be the same, forever I am changed.” That’s my story. Because of my experiences at camps like Mini-Yo-We and Pioneer, my life took on a whole new trajectory and I was forever changed. My calling to and passion for full time ministry came from camp. Even how I approach ministry is profoundly shaped by camp.
Thank you Barb and Jim for letting me use your cottage, it’s truly been a “thin place” for me. And all of you on staff at and leading various Christian camps, know that as a part of my study time away form Thunder Bay, I’m praying for you and the great work you do!