While I am attempting to put all my logic into play, let me be very honest and clear that this is absolutely written from the standpoint of emotion. I often let my emotions get the better of me. Let them somewhat control me. So I have been trying to get that under control with this situation and give myself time to respond. But there are some things that will always be strongly tied to emotions.
Camp Jo-Ota is like a home to me. I have a history there. When I was young and first went to camp as a camper it was scary and new. I probably cried and was really annoying to my counselors. I remember very little about that experience aside from a few friends and names that have stayed with me. People who I was later able to reconnect with and that experience at camp was what brought that connection.
When I was in middle school I started going to camp with a director named Dave Jones. This camp carried me all the way through graduating high school and at it I formed some of my most significant friendships of my formative years. More importantly than those friendships at camp I was introduced to the love that the Lord and His people have to offer. This laid an important foundation so that when I was in college and my friend Katie Stetson told me that the story of Jesus was not a story but a Truth and that Jesus died for me personally all out of love, I had the capacity to believe it because I had experienced that love at camp. You see, I didn’t really have a STRONG local church to back up and support what was happening at camp.
In high school I was a counselor for a few years for a younger kiddos camp. That laid the foundation for me to step into a counseling role when I graduated from college and moved home. Ben Mulford, perhaps one of the most influential people in my life to date, invited me to join Metamorphosis. Being a counselor there and the people I met and the relationships I formed and the things I learned and was able to teach altered the course of my life. I also realized quite quickly that while counselors were there to aid the campers, the Lord was still there to meet with ALL of us—camper or counselor.
After a few years I switched to helping Carrie Brandriff who has a passion for camp that pours out of her with a 3/4/5 grade camp. The next year that became my camp. So I now direct Faith Treasure Hunt Camp and picked up FROG camp for the little bitties just this past summer. Directing FTH has been the way in the past few years that the Lord has stretched me and challenged me and continued to meet me where I am. And again, He showed up for me. He brought new friendships into my life. As an adult it is kind of rare to make new friends. Actual friends who you can count on and love and be loved by. Joey, Madison, Amanda, Andy Tilsworth, John Akins, Mikenzie Beckley and Christian Finck are all actual friends—not just camp friends-- that I now have. Along with several others. Their impact in my life is immeasurable.
I have been a camper, a counselor, a director and an observer. So, just to be clear I have a strong emotional connection to Jo-Ota, as I am sure many people do to other camps. I can not imagine that place, that location not being Camp Jo-Ota. I am firmly aware that the Lord can meet us anywhere. I myself have encountered the Lord in the middle of the grocery store in a way that brought me to my knees. But when you have a place already, why walk away from it? Are improvements needed? Absolutely. But what about the millions of dollars that have already been spent on things like a new dining hall, cabin renovations and new signs?
Furthermore, if this honest to goodness has been a conversation that has been ongoing for two plus years then the camp board and those involved in this decision have done a huge injustice to the camps, the people serving them and the churches supporting them. You want the local churches to be strong and support the camping ministry? Great! What about the ones who already are? The ones who have spent their congregation’s money to help with improvements, buy new signs, donate money to the building fund for the new dining hall, provided manual labor on the renovations? What about them? You basically just let them pour money into a place to help you prepare it to be sold. That is unfair to them when they chose that specific project as a way to help the place they view as a sanctuary. Why were those projects not put on hold and only necessary projects completed while this “review” process was going on?
And here is possibly one of the biggest things that is not sitting well with me. As is obvious by my reaction and many others, camp is a place people are emotionally connected to. If ALL camping moves to Central Methodist (as I understand is the plan—which don’t get me started on small children in dorms on a college campus) then middle school to high school aged children will be spending at least one week of their summer each year at Central Methodist (CMU). Arguably the most emotional week of their summer. Thus forcing an emotional connection with that place. So when it comes time to pick a college that will steer their future where do you think is going to be one of the first places they thing of? You got it. CMU. It took me all of ten minutes to come up with that conclusion and scenario, so please don’t tell me the camp board has not at least considered that and the positive impact that would have for the beloved university. Is CMU a bad school? Absolutely not! It is a great place to get an education. But I fear people will choose it based simply on an emotional connection that they will find is no longer prevalent once college begins.
This past summer at FTH camp I had the privilege to see nine (yes, NINE!!) 3/4/5 grade campers come into first time relationship with Jesus and ask Him to live in their heart forever. I stood in tears with Christian Finck and prayed for their future and that God would build that spark into a flame that roars for Him. I wonder now how their future will be impacted by the loss of “their camp”.
God will still move. He does not need us. But I believe He wants us to be a part of it. And I believe there is a better way. I am praying and fasting and believing. I am begging the Lord to meet with me here and make my heart a sanctuary so I can serve those He puts in my path and help ease the hurt the conference has now caused.