Everyone centers their life on something. Whether it’s on a pursuit, purpose or goal, our lives become energized by our “center”. Some people center their life simply on surviving day by day, while others, on the opposite extreme, center their lives on consuming material goods, experiencing pleasure or living for excitement and highs. Yet others center their lives on an idea or a cause. But regardless of what it is, everyone’s life’s centered on something, something that drives them and gets them out of bed every day.
At SpringHill we expect our staff to be centered on a person – the person of Jesus Christ. Of all the personal qualities and professional competencies a person needs to have to make an ongoing, positive impact at SpringHill, this is the most important one, because it’s who we are and what we do. We call this quality “God Immersed”, which simply means that a person is Christ centered and thus living their lives in a Christ like way and from a Biblical perspective.
When you consider our mission and our core values this only makes sense. If our mission is to create life changing experiences where young people can know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ than our staff has to being growing in their own relationships with Christ. And if one of our organization’s highest values is “Jesus Christ and His message of grace”, than it needs to be a living value of our staff as well.
So what do we expect to see in a person’s life to know they’re “God Immersed”? It’s simply participating in such spiritual practices as prayer, Bible reading and study, as well as attendance and involvement in a local church. All of which leads to a Christ centered life that reflects Biblical and Kingdom values, and, in the end, multiplies the fruitfulness of our work.
This is part 5 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.
This past weekend we had a SpringHill board meeting held at our Indiana camp. Keith Rudge, our Indiana Operations Director, gave a devotion to kick off the meeting. In his devotion he shared this video he found packed away in his desk and thought it was a great illustration of God’s faithfulness, His timing and His direction in guiding our lives and our work. It was an excellent way to start to a productive meeting.
On the last Sunday worship of summer camp I spoke to our Michigan overnight staff on Luke 15:1-10 focusing on the parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. We talked specifically about the “unrelenting approach” of God when we’re lost.
I ended the message with one of my favorite CS Lewis quotes found in his book Surprised by Joy, the story of his spiritual journey and his conversion to Christianity. It captures well this “unrelenting approach” of God.
“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape?….The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
I know I’ve written about this before, but every time I witness our philosophy of inclusive camping in action, I’m inspired and humbled beyond words. There’s nothing else I can think of that better defines us as an organization than this commitment to include campers with special needs in all our camps.
Monday evening, as I walked home, I came upon one of our TST teams tackling our New Frontiers’ climbing wall. On the wall was one of our campers with special needs being “assisted” up by two of our special needs counselors as the entire TST team watched and cheered.
The scene beautifully shows why we believe so strongly in inclusion and why we insist on being a welcoming experience for all kinds of young people. We believe that every child’s created in the image of God so we work hard to assure all kids have equal access to the entire SpringHill Experience. In addition, we believe we’re to create a little “heaven on earth” because in heaven there will be all kinds of people, races and nations shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, together in the worship and service to God.
The scene also demonstrates a second reason our Special Needs program is an essential part of who we are. You see, one of the most impactful parts of this approach to camping is that it transforms all the campers, not just those who have special needs or come from different backgrounds. Why? Because it powerfully reminds every camper and staff member that, at some level, we all have “special needs” and require “assistance” in climbing the wall of life and, more importantly, being in a relationship with God.
So if you ever need to be inspired, come visit a SpringHill Experience, and no doubt you’ll witness a scene like the one above, and you too will never be the same.
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.
“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.
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.
This past Friday was April Gann’s last day as a SpringHill staff member (I know she’ll always be an ambassador, volunteer and advocate for SpringHill for as long as she and SpringHill are both around). It was a bittersweet day as staff and campers took the opportunity to celebrate her 12 years of ministry (in two different stints) with SpringHill.
One of things I have always appreciated about April is her love for children, and in particular children from urban areas, and her love for our summer staff. These two loves, combined with her love of Christ, have led April to be a part of two significant startup teams during her tenure at SpringHill. First, April was on the start-up team, then the second director, for Storybrook, our 1 thru 3rd grade camp in Michigan. April helped cement the culture, program and focus of Storybrook that still exists today.
Secondly, April has been instrumental in the startup and growth of our Day Camps ministry. Once again her love of kids and staff has helped this program grow to become a significant ministry of SpringHill. It’s become significant not just because of its reach to children but also because it’s become a desirable summer ministry opportunity for 100’s college students.
Now April’s moving to inner city Detroit where she and her soon to be husband Josh will be taking up residence. Their goal is to continue, as April stated in her blog, “loving and serving the kids in our neighborhood” which, of course, is no surprise knowing April and the things she loves.
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.
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.
For over twenty years Michael Perry has made it his mission to bring young people closer to Christ through his Bible study publications, his capacity as the President and CEO of SpringHill, and his recent book, Experience = Everything. Over the last fifty years, SpringHill has changed over half a million lives—proving that it is more than just camp, or a place, SpringHill is a transformative experience.