• SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Is it “Burger Island” or “the Island”?

    It’s the last week of summer camp and Sunday evening I indulged in my last meal at “the Island” or, as so many people now call it, “Burger Island”. As I sat there enjoying my burger (and brat), beans and great fellowship with our resident staff and volunteers, I couldn’t help but wonder “how did the name of this sacred place so inadvertently, so unintentionally (or maybe it was purposefully and maliciously) changed over the years?”

    It’s like the name of the White House slowing changing to the POTUS’ Crib, or The Rose Bowl becoming PAC 12 Field, or Saint Peter’s Basilica becoming simply Pete’s Crash Pad. Sacred and important places shouldn’t have their names change slowly over time without some forethought, right?

    (And yes, you can tell, it’s the last week of camp because I’ve drifted into thinking such “high level and strategic” thoughts, all of which will have serious implications for the future of …. uh, well, such things as t-shirts and property maps)

    So what’s a leader to do in such a situation? How does one undo years of slow creep? How does the popular name get change back to the right and proper title? Should nature take its course or should one fight to maintain what’s right? (OK, maybe I should be asking myself “why would a leader spend more than a minute on such things?”)

    My course of action? I’ll do what so often happens in leadership today – I’ll take a poll and find out what’s the most popular name for this sacred place, and then I’ll make that name the one I endorse.

    So tell me is it “The Island” or “Burger Island”?

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    It’s Much More than a Blob!

    The lifeguard gathered the Copper Country (4th through 6th grade camp) kids around him after an hour of playing on the Gusher. If you don’t know, the Gusher is a high and long “slip and slide” that empties into one of our lakes. One of the things campers like to do is to try to spin (roll over multiple times) all the way down, seeing how many spins they can achieve before landing in the lake below.

    As the campers gathered, the lifeguard asked them a series of questions in what we call a “debrief.” The debrief is where we use the activity the campers just participated in as an object lesson to reinforce and bring to life the spiritual themes of the week. It’s for this reason that we debrief all our activities from the zipline to paintball and even the Gusher, and why debriefs are such a critical part of the SpringHill Experience.

    You see our activities are tools for helping campers grasp and remember the spiritual truths we want them to take home with them. It’s one of the main ways we integrate faith and fun.

    In the best debriefs, the activity staff asks a series of questions, leading the campers to discover the connection between the activity and the spiritual theme for themselves.

    Questions like this lifeguard asked “could you spin a thousand times on your own down the Gusher?” and of course the answer is “no way”. Then the lifeguard asked “can you get to heaven on your own?” and kids answered with “yes”, “no” and “maybe”. Which led lifeguard to explain that to have eternal life requires something outside of ourselves just like spinning a 1000 times down the Gusher would require something outside of our selves. And, of course the lifeguard explained, that something outside ourselves we need to “get to heaven” is Jesus Christ.

    It was a simple 5 minute debrief but it beautifully reinforced an important spiritual truth that these young boys will keep with them for a long time.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Can You Relate to this Camper’s Dilemma?

    “When I came to camp I had a problem. My heart believed in God but my head didn’t believe in Him” explained one of our campers from Copper Country (4th thru 6th grade camp) at our week ending rally.

    He shared that he struggled with this nagging doubt (my words) during the first few days of camp.  But it was at Wednesday evening’s campfire where the opportunity to work out this tension opened up for him.

    You see, during the campfire time, this young camper’s Area Director clearly presented the Good News of Christ and asked campers who had questions or wanted to make a faith decision to stay back after the campfire. And of course this young man did.

    And as he put it “I went straight up to my Area Director and said ‘I have a problem and I need your help in solving it.'” So the he and his Area Director sat down on a log where he proceeded to share how his heart had faith in God but his head didn’t.

    After much discussion, prayer and through the wise leading of his Area Director, this young man was able to announce on Friday to the crowd of 2000 people “Thanks to my Area Director, I now believe in God, not just in my heart but also with my head.”

    Then in a final question, when asked what this new faith will mean to his life when he goes home, he answered “I will read my Bible every day because I want to get to know this God I now fully believe in.”

    Talking with someone whose walked before you and then reading God’s Word is the perfect combination of assistance one needs when navigating and overcoming nagging doubt as this young camper demonstrated.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Where Center Stage isn’t Central

    As I’ve traveled around the SpringHill world this summer one of the things I’ve seen at every one of our locations is the high number of staff who are incredibly talented on stage. Whether it’s speaking, acting, singing, or performing musical instruments every one of our 14 summer camp teams have people who are funny, compelling and clear when they step on stage.

    Now the ironic part of having this wealth of talented people doing great work is the fact that what happens on stage isn’t central to our programming, not by a long – shot. It’s the small group and the intimate communities we work so hard to create that is the center of the SpringHill Experience. In contrast the stage, and the talent that uses it, ultimately exists only for the purpose of setting up, reinforcing and making the small group and its leader successful.

    In other words, at SpringHill, if Jesus is King, then the small, intimate community is queen, the counselor is the knighted ambassador serving both, and the stage talent becomes the trusted advisors to the ambassadors – our counselors.

    It can be deceptive if someone observes our programming in action and sees only the great stage productions, without seeing where the powerful ministry really happens – in the small community. Yet the truth is the small communities we’re able to form in a SpringHill Experience couldn’t happen as they do without the aid of the talented people who stand up on stage and do what they do so well. It’s when these talented people share their gift from stage knowing all along when center stage isn’t central their work becomes its most powerful and effective, opening the door for life-transformation.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    A Camper Shares Her SpringHill Story

    One of our campers, Anne, wrote out her SpringHill story and this is what she said –

    “I learned a lot at my first week of SpringHill. I learned how to zipeline, blob, twist on the water slide, but most importantly, I learned about God. Our theme this week was God has a plan for us! The Bible stories we read were about Moses from when he was born to when he saved the Israelites. I learned a lot from those stories. We learned about sin, God’s plan, forgiveness, and trusting in God. God is always with us, keeping us safe. I also took a lot from Moses’ story. Like how Moses killed an Egyptian, yet God still forgave him! I also learned about God’s love and forgiveness is always there, you just have to accept it. He is always there. In bad situations he is there crying with you. When we sin and then accept his forgiveness, he wraps you up and you start over and he fills you with his love.

    I think all that I learned here at SpringHill will carry with me for the rest of my life. When I get home I think I will be more enthusiastic about God and praying and church. I think I have definitely had a positive change this week. All I can say is I can’t wait to come back next year.”

    Now our prayer is that God will use Anne’s week at SpringHill as a foundational step in her becoming, every single day, more and more the person Christ created her to be so she can do all He created and planned for her to do now and throughout the rest of her life.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Two Boys and Their Hope for the Future

    Gregory and Genesis are best friends who both live in the 48214 zip code of Detroit. It’s one of the poorest, most economically devastated zip codes in Detroit, thus in the country. It was here, in their neighborhood, that I meet Gregory and Genesis this past week while they attended our Mack Avenue Community Church/Hope Community Church Day Camp.

    Gregory has just finished 2nd grade, and thanks to the Mack Avenue’s after school literacy program, Gregory is now reading at grade level. Which means, if Gregory continues to build on this new gift, he’ll not only improve his educational and vocational opportunities, but he’ll be able to make the reading of God’s Word a regular part of his life, both of which will be life transforming for him and his family.

    At the beginning of the week Genesis shared with his counselor that since he was 4 years old he had been a bad boy and was always getting into trouble. But then he accept Jesus as his Savior and since then he’s changed, doing good things and not bad. His counselor said, over the week, that Genesis became like another counselor in his group. He provided leadership and insightful input during their small group times.

    When I asked Genesis his favorite part of Day Camp he responded by saying “I really like the water slide and the climbing wall but my favorite thing is our worship time.” Then I asked Genesis what he learned this week. He told me “I learned about Jacob and Esau. About how Jacob stole Esau’s blessing and then had to run away because Esau wanted to kill him. But after a long time, Jacob came back and he and Esau made up.”

    With the continued follow-up and discipleship of Mack Avenue Community Church and Hope Community Church, and some more SpringHill Experiences sprinkled in over the years, I can envision a bright future for these young boys, and hope for the 48214 zip code.

  • Living as a Leader,  SpringHill Experiences

    Blessed to be a Blessing to Others


    The Northrop’s and the Van Hall’s standing in front of Colin Ridge

    I’ve been trying for nearly 5 days to write about this past weekend’s celebration and dedication of Colin Ridge, our new housing unit for campers with special needs at our Michigan camp. It’s been hard for me to find the right words to both describe the event and how I feel. So I’ve finally decided to share with you some of what I said during summer staff worship on Sunday. It provides a glimpse into this moving event.

    First if you don’t know the story of the Van Hall’s, the Northrop’s and SpringHill (at least told from my perspective) click here to get caught up. Then read below the spirit of what I shared with our staff.

    “SpringHill has a rich history of incredible stories where God has miraculously brought people and resources together to accomplish significant initiatives that He’s used to transform the lives of 1000’s of young people. But the story of Arvin and Darlene Van Hall and a camper named Colin Northrop and his family has become one of my favorite SpringHill stories because of how God has both included me in it and allowed me to see His guiding hand in it all….

    But it’s also one of my favorite stories because of the people God brought together to accomplish His work. You see the Van Hall’s and the Northrop’s do not see the material, relational and the spiritual blessings they’ve received from God as something to hoard or keep, or own. From the beginning of this story I’ve witnessed their desire to share the blessings of their lives with others.

    Arvin Van Hall and Joe Yahner in front of “the seed”, the piece of pipe that started this story.


    The Van Hall’s and the Northrop’s understand the spiritual reality and Biblical directive that we are blessed to bless others, and by doing do we multiply the blessings, and build God’s Kingdom.”

    And the result is we now have a housing unit that will allow us to provide, every year and for decades to come, 100’s of campers with special needs an opportunity to see, hear, and experience Jesus Christ in a life-transforming way. And there’s no better story to be a part of than this Great Story.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Carrying a Backpack Full of Rocks

    Tuesday’s during summer camp is what we call “Sin Day”. It’s the day we help our campers understand the brokenness of the world and the sin found in their lives. We believe we have to share the “bad news” about our relationship with God before we share the “Good News” of Jesus Christ.

    In an attempt to help their campers grasp this difficult concept, two of our staff from Storybrook (our 1rst through 3rd grade camp) shared with me this story from this past week. On Tuesday night during campfire they talked about sin and illustrated it by Gina, the area director, wearing a backpack full of heavy rocks. Gina explained that sin in our lives is like the rocks in this backpack, it weighs you down, hurts your back, gets in the way of truly living, and the worst part – there’s nothing you can do about it.

    Then she went onto say that Jesus came into the world to take our sins away, to take our backpack of rocks off our backs. (On Wednesday, Jesus Day, the girls heard the Good News of exactly how Jesus does this incredible work).

    The next morning, as the girls got their backpacks on and started walking towards their next activity, a camper with special needs started to walk behind one of her cabin mates and began holding up the cabin mate’s backpack. When someone asked “what are you doing?” she answered with complete sincerity “I’m helping her carry her sins”.

    A tangible  lesson about a difficult subject stuck with this young camper, making such a strong impression that she felt compelled to do what she could to help her friend carry her burden. It’s also an example of why I believe so strongly in the life-transforming power of camp in the lives of kids.

  • Living as a Leader,  SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Being SpringHill Pioneers

    The Pioneering Chicago Team of Laura, Zach, Sara and Chelsey

    Pioneers combine the best qualities of explorers and leaders. Like explorers, they blaze new trails and go to places others have never gone before. But what makes them leaders, and different from explorers, is that they also open up the world so others can follow in their footsteps. Pioneer’s not only do what seems impossible but, by doing so, they make it possible, and even desirable, for others to do so as well.

    I know this to be true about pioneers because I just spent two days with a team of them this week.

    You see, under the leadership of Day Camp Director Sara Van Winkle, we’re having our first summer of SpringHill Experiences in Chicago. And it’s a full summer. We’re expecting to serve around a 1000 kids at 9 different locations.

    And this past week Todd Leinberger and I spent two days with Sara and her team where we watched them effectively work with our local church partner, The Orchard in Arlington Heights, to provide a SpringHill Experience to nearly 170 kids.

    It was a blast to witness a church, parents, and kids experiencing SpringHill for the first time. Camp has been so good that parents have already asked about other weeks this summer and registering for camp next year, while the staff at The Orchard has already expressed their desire to double or triple the number of kids attending next year.

    So as good pioneers, Sara and her team have opened up a new trail where, as a result, we expect to have a second SpringHill Day Camp team allying with local churches and parents to assure, next summer, even more children in Chicago can hear, see, and experience Jesus Christ in a life – transforming way.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Camper Stories – Week 2

    In my travels this past week I visited two Day Camp teams as well as our two over night camps where I heard the following camper stories.

    Mattie attended our Day Camp in Toledo, Ohio. She is the only family member to survive the tornado that ripped through Toledo in 2010. She has struggled with anxiety because of her horrific loss, and her new family questioned whether she could even attend Day Camp. Yet, through Gods grace, by the end of the week Mattie stood before her small group and shared that “SpringHill is a safe place for kids” and then she told her group that she has “discovered the joy of Jesus this week”.

    Another mother arrived at one of Day Camps with her three girls. The mother shared with our staff that her husband, the father of these three girls, just left them the night before. She didn’t know if the girls would be able to stay at camp but she wanted to see how it went. The girls ended up staying the entire week, experiencing the embrace of our staff and other campers, and more importantly hearing, seeing, and experiencing the love of Jesus in a life transforming way.

    On closing day at our Michigan overnight camp, I had two fathers tell me their stories about their youngest kids who attended our Junior Explorer 3 day camp (which meant they came home on Wednesday while their siblings stayed at camp for the rest of the week).

    The first dad, while on the drive home on Wednesday, had looked into the rear view mirror only to see his daughter crying in the back seat. He asked “what’s wrong honey?” His daughter answered “I wish camp wasn’t over and I was still there.”

    The second camper, a little boy, told his dad on the way up to pick up his brothers and sister from camp on Friday “Dad I love you, but next year I’m staying for the whole week.”


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