• Living as a Leader,  Marriage and Family,  Summer Camp

    Two Unintended Father’s Day Traditions

    I’ve fallen into two different but related, and unintentional, Father’s Day traditions over the last 12 years. The first is that, as a result of not thinking about Father’s Day when planning my summer schedule, I’ve spent most of the past 12 Father’s Days at our SpringHill Camp in southern Indiana. And of course this means that I’m not with my dad or with my kids on Father’s Day.

    Now don’t feel bad for me, as I told one of my kids on the phone today, I rather be with them but if that’s not possible then this is the place I’d want to be (as I write this blog, on the evening of Father’s Day, I’m doing so on the deck of our guest lodge listening to campfires songs being sung around Rust Lake – believe me, it’s a pretty good gig if you can get it, even if it means you work Father’s Day).

    The second tradition is our administrative staff here in Indiana, led by Amanda Wolf, has always given me (and a few of the other dads) a Father’s Day card and gift. This year, because of the length of time I’ve been away from my family, their thoughtfulness and the words in their card have touched me more than usual.

    So in honor of all fathers, and because the following words also express, on many levels, my own feelings about being a dad, let me leave you with the quote, from General Douglas MacArthur, the staff put on the front of the card they gave me.

    “By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder – infinitely prouder – to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys.”

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Courage to Take Steps to Go Deeper

    Yesterday marked the end of week 1 of summer camp and I spent closing day with campers, families, and staff at our SpringHill Indiana camp. There were a number of moving testimonies by campers and staff during the closing rally, but there was one in particular I want to share with you.

    Ariel is a returning SpringHill camper and this year she was a part of our Inpursuit middle school camp. According to her area director Sara, Ariel came to camp with anticipation, because she believed that God was going to do something tremendous in her life. In the past she had committed her life to Christ but felt that somehow God was going to take her deeper this summer.

    So this week, before her counselor and her cabin group, then before an amphitheater full of campers, staff, and families, she announced that she was going to go deeper in her relationship with Christ by reading the entire Bible through in a year. This young woman, who, like all junior highers, has a thousand things competing for her time and trying to steal her life away, has decided to go “against the current” and to do something that will forever positively transform her life – read all of God’s Word.

    So, as I listened to Ariel tell us of her commitment, all I could do was sit back and thank God for her courage, and for the good work of her counselors and her area director Sara in challenging Ariel to a new level of faith.

    And like Ariel, after hearing so many incredible stories yesterday, I’m full of anticipation at what Christ is going to do in the lives of our campers and staff this summer.




  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Marriage and Family,  Summer Camp

    What Has Eternal Value? By Mark Olson

    Lisa and Mark Olson, 1984

    In remembrance of Mark Olson, past President of SpringHill on what today, May 20, would have been his 54th birthday, below is one of his last published letters.

    “Smiles are the outer representation of the long-term impact camping has on kids.”

    I will never forget hearing the doctor tell me “this [disease] goes quickly. If you do not get treated soon, you could die within the next four months.” Over the next few weeks, while determining the best course of treatment and emotionally preparing for the road ahead, I also reflected upon how I have spent the time given to me. Inevitably, the question arises, “what of my life has eternal value?”

    My initial response was to create two mental columns, one with the heading “eternal” and the other “temporal.” I then tried to distinguish those parts of my life that had eternal value and those which did not. This proved to be a difficult and basically unhelpful exercise.

    Upon later reflection, I also found this approach contrary to what Scripture teaches. At the core, creating columns to dichotomize our existence is rooted in the type of thinking that John addresses in the first chapter of his first epistle. “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life.” (I John 1:1). John was addressing dualistic thinking in which people persisted in dividing the components of their lives into that which is spiritual and that which is not.

    In our vernacular we use the term “spiritual” to refer to that which is most important. We often attach great eternal value to activities such as leading a bible study, preaching a message, working at a Christian organization for “God’s purposes,” etc.

    From my present vantage point (that is, struggling with a life threatening disease), I have come to believe that the faithful execution of the most menial duties of life will, in the end, have the greatest eternal value. Washing dishes with my wife will have a value that extends into eternity. Going fishing with my sons while listening and chatting about the realities of being a first and fourth grader will have a value that extends into eternity. Going to my daughter’s dance recital has a value that extends into eternity. Going to breakfast with a group of guys on a regular basis, getting to know them while they learn to know me, has a value that will extend into eternity.

    Eternal value can never be defined by simply listing those things that are perceived as spiritual and those that are not. The “Word of Life” was something handled, touched, and seen. So, that which has eternal value is anything that is done in a spirit of faithfulness and service to our God. We demonstrate our faithfulness, gratitude, and love to Him by being faithful, grateful, and loving to Him as a husband is to be toward his wife by following through in the seemingly mundane and “earthly” aspects of our life. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he so closely links love with obedience – “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)

    It is within this context that I have come to believe that everything we do to bring glory to ourselves has temporary value. This brings us back to the very first commandment, “Do not worship any other gods beside me.” Anything we do with the purpose of bring glory to ourselves (whether it be a basketball game, a business deal, a makeover, or academic excellence) is simply a form of idolatry. Everything we do with the purpose of bringing glory to God is worship of the only true God. As a friend once told me, there is a god someplace in everyone’s life.

    Furthermore, this journey has confirmed for me the value and the importance of camp experiences like SpringHill and InPursuit in the life of a child. At camp a child goes through the day with a counselor, a friend, a role model. This counselor is reminded constantly that they are here to serve and to be “Jesus” for a child who may never have the opportunity to see Him again. They go to the archery range, climb a tower, go to the craft shop, eat a meal, ride a zipline, canoe in the lake, have a campfire, go to ‘club,’ sleep in a teepee, while the counselor bears testimony to who Jesus is by serving and loving the child in the midst of daily activity.

    Because of this relationship, the counselor has a “voice” in which they can share in word and action the “good news.” As a result, the child experiences the love of Jesus and may respond by placing their trust in Him to remove their sin so that they can know their Creator who loves them dearly. A life is changed for eternity.

    It is because of this I have very few regrets. I would not have changed my involvement at SpringHill and InPursuit, which continues to be a very rewarding way to serve my Savior. When I walk away from this disease, though, I will aspire to do less of that which is seemingly spiritual, and do more of that which is seemingly temporal but in the end has great eternal value. I will spend more time fishing with my sons and friends, take the girls to the golf course, and listen more carefully to the person with whom I am sharing a conversation.

    Also in honor of Mark we have a limited number of copies of Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust – A Ragamuffin’s Path to God (one of Mark’s favorite authors) I’ll send a copy to anyone who subscribes to my blog while the supply lasts.  If you’re already a subscriber and would also like a copy let me know  and I’ll send you one as well.

  • Organizational Leadership,  SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    What Inspires “New and Improved”!

    People often say that they can’t wait to return to SpringHill to see what’s new and improved. We’ve developed a reputation for not sitting comfortably on the current state of our properties, facilities, activities and programs. So people come to our camps with anticipation.

    I believe this is true because SpringHill staff live with two types of dissatisfactions. The first is we continue to have that artist’s “dissatisfaction with the present” that we inherited from our Founding Director, Enoch Olson. It’s that God-given desire to create, with the belief that there’s always room for something new that will add more beauty to the present.

    The other dissatisfaction, which I’ll admit may be more closely related to the first one than I’m acknowledging, is the dissatisfaction that comes from always wanting things better, more exciting, bigger and faster. It’s driven by our desire to “wow” our campers and guests the second and third time they’re at camp, not just the first.

    It’s also why I looked forward, with anticipation, to visiting our camp in Indiana last week. It’s been a few months since I last visited, and I knew there’s been a lot of good work being done by our team, all inspired by these two dissatisfactions. And I wasn’t disappointed.

    I saw the improved dining hall and large group meeting area with its better acoustics and stage. Also one of our campers’ favorite activities, the “Party Barge”, went through a major renovation. Then our team’s added a giant’s swing that will propel campers high into the sky, and finally, though maybe not as exciting but just as important, we’ve added electricity to all our cabins.

    So I left camp confident that our campers will not be disappointed, just as I wasn’t, when they return this summer, and see what’s new and improved.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Embracing All Kids

    SpringHill’s very first campers were from an orphanage. These kids had no family and thus no resources to attend summer camp. But through the partnership of individuals and local churches, these kids had the opportunity to be the very first SpringHill campers ever, and for many of them to hear, see and experience Jesus Christ in a way they never have before.

    So you see, from its start, SpringHill’s board and staff committed to be a place that would welcome all kinds of kids from different places and backgrounds. This is why we have one of the only inclusion programs for special needs campers in the country. It’s also why we serve kids from the city, from the suburbs, and from rural America.

    It’s why when we ask students “why do you come back to SpringHill every year?” they often respond “because it’s the only place I can go and be myself, I can leave the box I’m in at home, and be accepted and loved for who I really am.”

    But to SpringHill, to be a welcoming place includes assuring that no camper would ever be turned away from a SpringHill Experience for financial reasons. We want to welcome all campers, including campers who cannot afford to attend camp, just like Enoch Olson and his team did for those first campers in 1969.

    It’s because we’ve stayed true to this commitment over the past four economically challenging years that we’ve seen our camper scholarships grow from $380,000 to nearly $900,000 for this upcoming summer. And just like that first summer in 1969 we’ve been thankful for the many partners who have help meet this growing need.

    So, in my only ask I’ll ever make on my blog, if you’d like to help send a camper to SpringHill this summer please click here. Know that you’ll have a part in giving a young person an opportunity to be a SpringHill camper and, like those kids from the orphanage, to hear, see and experience Jesus Christ in a life changing way.

  • Marriage and Family,  Resources,  Summer Camp

    Sacred Places

    There are many places in the world that are grand, many more that could be described as stunning, and of course, the world’s full of historic sites. Yet there is only a hand full of places that one might call sacred.

    Places become sacred because they have history, they’re beautiful, and most importantly, because something significant happens in the lives of people when they visit.

    This past week I had the opportunity to stay at one of these rare and sacred places – WinShape Retreats, on the property of Berry College in the mountains of northern Georgia. WinShape Retreats occupies the old Normandy Dairy buildings built and used by Berry College students to study dairy sciences.

    Even the bricks used to build all the Normandy Dairy buildings were produced by Berry College students in a brick factory donated by Henry Ford. Each building we toured oozed with history and beauty.

    But it’s what’s now taking place in these buildings that’s moved this place from historic to sacred. You see, when Berry College made the decision to consolidate their dairy sciences program, and move it closer to campus, the Normandy Dairy no longer had a purpose.

    In stepped the WinShape Foundation, led by the Cathy family, the founders and owners of Chick-fil-A restaurants. WinShape renovated all the buildings, turning this old dairy into a retreat center that offers marriage saving conferences, boys and girls camps, women’s and men’s retreats, and leadership summits.

    Yet places become sacred through and because of people. People who’ve dedicated such places for grand and noble purposes, such as helping build strong kids, marriages and families. Our group experienced firsthand such people, the committed and talented staff of WinShape, who’ve made a historic dairy into a sacred place, a place where lives become transformed.

  • Organizational Leadership,  Summer Camp

    Summer Camp Prep and Painting a Room

    The hardest part in painting a room is the prep work. Prep includes all the things I dread so much in painting – taking down pictures and then patching the walls, taping the trim, moving and covering the furniture, and finally cutting in all the edges with a brush. Only after the preps competed do you get to use the roller. And using the roller is fun because you get a lot done in a short period. But the prep, on the other hand, is just plain hard and tedious work.

    A friend who farms for a living reminded me of this fact recently. We were both sharing how busy our springs are as we prepare for our big summer seasons. He said that he always felt that farming was like painting a room, spring was the prep and summer was the rolling of the paint.

    It’s also describes of our work at SpringHill. Starting around April 1 we’re kicking it into high gear doing our final prep for the summer. I always tell people that spring prep is busier, more stressful and more pressure filled than actually running of summer camp – if we do a good job of prepping. And that’s a key “if”. Because to have a smooth summer, like painting, requires doing a great job in prep. The better the prep, the easier and better the painting, the better the spring, the smoother and better summer camp will be.

    So the SpringHill staff is in the middle of prepping – hiring our last staff, filling our last camp spots, making sure our property, facilities and equipment is ready, finalizing training, and completing our programs and curriculum. But when the preps done, we’ll get to paint, that is, we’ll get to provide life transforming experiences to over 20,000 campers, and that makes all the prep worth it.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    A Letter of Anticipation

    I love it when we receive letters from campers telling us about their summer camp experience and thanking our staff for all they did during their visit to SpringHill. But, up until this week, we’ve never received a pre-camp letter written in anticipation of a child’s visit to camp. But, as they say, there’s a first time for everything and one of our campers, Brynn, sent such a letter to her future counselor.

    In it Brynn thanked, in advanced, her future counselor for a great week, for also becoming her good friend and affirming what a great counselor Brynn knows she’ll be. It obvious Brynn’s been to SpringHill before because she knows what to expect – great staff, new influential relationships, memorable experiences and transformational moments.

    I, as well as the SpringHill team, are both humbled and challenged by Brynn’s confidence in us.

  • Organizational Leadership,  SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    What I Believe to Be True!

    In The Leadership Challenge the authors Kouzes and Posner recommend an exercise that helps clarify one’s vision. They recommend writing on paper “what I (we) want to accomplish” followed by asking the question why, writing down your answer, and then keeping asking why until you’ve run out of reasons. The result is an insight into your core motivations and the beliefs behind what you want to accomplish.

    When I did this exercise, answering the “why” behind what we do and what we want to be at SpringHill I ended with a core set of believes that I then articulated in a form of a confession.

    Though this isn’t an official SpringHill statement it does, I believe, hit at the heart of many of the reasons behind why SpringHill staff are so passionate about what we do and why we do it.

    What I Believe to Be True!

    1. I believe the most transformational moments in a person’s life begins with a saving faith in Jesus Christ and a vibrant, growing relationship with Him.


    2. I believe that the most likely time for a person to have these transformational moments is when they are a child.


    3. I believe these transformational moments in a child’s life best happen through the partnership of parents, local churches and ministries such as SpringHill.


    4. I agree with Bill Hybles, that the local church is the hope of the world.


    5. But I also believe that the future hope of the local church rest with children. Therefore, if we want to strengthen the local church and thus change the world, the most important thing we can all do is to focus our time, energy and resources on the spiritual development of children.


    6. I believe that, through the partnership of people and organizations that share these same convictions, we can create more opportunities for more young people to have these transformational experiences, thus preparing them to join us in creating a better world.


    7. Finally, I believe God has called SpringHill to create significant transformational experiences for young people where they can know and grow in their relationship with Jesus. I know this to be true because I’ve been privileged to be a part of and witness to 1000’s of young lives being transformed every year.
  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    The Power of a Fresh Context

    In my last post I wrote about the transformational power of a fresh voice heard in a different context. That fresh voice is an essential part of a transformational experience. But it’s the fresh voice in a new and different context that makes all the difference.

    What makes a context different and thus such a powerful combination with a fresh voice?

    First, a different context requires, well, getting out of an old context, even if it’s for a short time. Going away, leaving the routines and the familiar behind is the only way to step into a new context. This is why going away to camp is so powerful and transformational for kids. I’ve heard of parents doing “camp” at home for their kids. This maybe a good and fun summer activity but it can’t replace going away to camp, because it will not have the transformational power that leaving home, and going to camp, can have in a child’s life.

    Second, a transformational context includes excitement, adventure, challenge, and novelty. It’s why SpringHill and so many other camps have activities such as zip lines, climbing walls, blobs and horses. These are exciting, challenging and novel activities. They’re things kids do not do in their regular, everyday life. When a child or student does something for the first time, such as scale a 40 foot climbing wall, they’re also more likely to do and make positive spiritual and life decisions for the very first time. 

    The power of a fresh context is also what drives SpringHill to have something new at camp every year. People come to SpringHill expectant, expectant of something new to see or do, and thus expectant of a new and fresh perspective on life and the possibility of a different direction to take.

    This is The Power of Camp, and it’s why I believe all Kids Need Camp.

    What’s your camp story?

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