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Hope for America’s Future

2013-07-01 22.17.30Last week, the week we celebrated Independence Day, I experience part of today’s America I normally don’t see. It’s a part of America torn apart by poverty, broken families, prejudice, violence, and community breakdown. But more significantly I saw a glimpse into tomorrow’s America, with all its hope, its possibility of something better, of lives transformed, of families strengthened, and of communities revitalized. Yet this America is sitting on the precipice, either to continue today’s pattern of sliding towards the abyss or moving up to a better tomorrow.

In the places I visited last week it’s tempting to write off tomorrow’s America because of what today’s America looks like, believing there’s nothing that can be done to change its course. But after last week, I’m more convinced than ever that tomorrow’s America can be significantly different, better, more like the America we want and, more importantly, one that more closely reflects the values of God’s Kingdom.

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You see my wife Denise and I visited SpringHill Day Camp teams working in three locations in the Detroit metro area. Each team, along with our ministry allies, served children living in some of the harshest and most challenging situations found in America. These children included Iraqi refugees as well as children born in the some of the poorest inner city communities in our country. Yet in each location, with each child and ministry partner we interacted with, we sensed a hope that can only come through the Gospel of Christ.

Now I’m convinced that each of the 300 or so children and their families we served can, with the help of God’s people, have a future reality that is different from their current one. And if their future reality is different, then our country will have one as well. I believe this to be true because I believe, in the core of my being, that our children are the hope of our country, the hope of the world, the hope of the Church.

This is why SpringHill, and so ministries like it, have as its mission to see the lives of kids transformed. And it’s also why I’ve committed my vocational work to this same cause, the cause of Christ and of all kids.

Photo by Todd Leinberger.  John 3:16 written in Farsi welcoming parents to camp.

Photo by Todd Leinberger. John 3:16 written in Farsi welcoming parents to camp.

A Centered Life

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.

Life is a Stool – Living in Balance

My dad has always said that life sits on a 4 legged stool with one leg being work/career, another family, a third friends and service, a fourth being health and recreation, and the most important part of the stool, the seat, representing our faith. Dad says that for life to be in balance, for it to be the way it’s supposed to be we need all four legs and the seat. If we neglect or remove any part we’ve made balance nearly impossible and the entire stool, and our lives, become at risk of falling apart.

I’ve always appreciated my dad’s way of looking at life, partly because it makes sense and partly because I’ve seen he and my mom live their lives in this way with the result being they’ve been blessed as well as having blessed those around them.

It’s this life perspective and practice that we’ve discovered to be an essential quality of people who’ve made a long-term and an enduring impact on SpringHill’s mission. It’s what we simply call “Life/Work Balance”.

Without this balance, life quickly crumbles and one’s ability to make an enduring impact quickly diminishes. When balance is gone health, influence and impact quickly leave as well, only to be backed filled with burn out, broken relationships, and poor judgment. Because like a stool, every part is essential and needs to be in working order or it will negatively impact the entire stool.

So Life/Work Balance is absolutely essential for people to be at their best. And we want and need people to be at their best, whether it’s at home with their families, at church teaching Sunday school, or working at SpringHill.

This is part 2 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.

The Quiet Force

Matt and the two Resurrection Life camp administrators, Trisha and Rachel

I can’t tell you how many times over the past number of months leaders of guest retreats have stopped me to say how much they’ve appreciated working with Matt Hildebrand, one of our Michigan Overnight Hosts, and what a great job he’s done for them and their group.

If you’re not familiar with camping terminology, let me share with you what a camp and conference center Host does (and what Matt does so well).

A Host’s job, just as the name implies, is to take care of guests and groups assuring they achieve their goals for their time at camp. The host is the main point of contact before, during and after a group visits camp. They make sure every detail’s thought through and every department on camp is ready to provide their part of the experience. When the group arrives a host works with them right through the experience, providing for any needs that come up and making any mid-course adjustments so they have an outstanding experience.

For example, this past week Resurrection Life Churches had their annual youth camp with over 600 campers and leaders. When I bumped into Matt, he was on his way to meet with the Resurrection Life Camp administrators in the office space we provide them for the week. Matt’s immediate mission? He was bringing the two administrators card stock for their printers. A simple request, but a necessary one for this group, and one of 100’s like it Matt addressed for Resurrection Life while they were here.

To be a great host, like Matt, requires a desire to serve others and see them succeed, great attention to detail, superb planning and foresight, tremendous flexibility, great relationship skills (and maybe even the ability to walk on water).

So I’m thankful for Matt every time a leader stops me to say what a great experience they’ve had at SpringHill and how much they love Matt, reaffirming what we already know – Matt’s been the quiet force behind their success.

SpringHill Alumni Making A Difference

Last week, while at our Mack Avenue Community Church/Hope Community Church SpringHill Day camp, I ran into former summer staffers Kristen VanderPlas-Selle and Jessica Concannon. I’m always encouraged to hear what God’s doing in and through our SpringHill “alumni” and last week was no different. After graduating from college and finishing their summer careers at SpringHill these two women made decisions to continue to serve and minister to kids.

Kristen (summers 05-08) leads Mack Avenue’s after school literary program (click here to read about one of her students). She and her husband Scott (another SpringHill alum) live right in the heart of 48214 zip code – one of Detroit’s most economically devastated neighborhoods. Their willingness to become part of this community and to serve its residents is having a powerful and lasting impact on the lives of young people and their families.

Jessica (summers 05-10) has been a teacher for two years in a brand new Christian school, Tree of Life, which serves urban students from Kalamazoo, MI. Tree of Life’s mission is educateall children regardless of their socio-economic situation. Tree of Life celebrates the diversity of the body of Christ and equips children to serve God, people, and creation to their fullest potential.” Jess has taught in a small, multiple grade class which has allowed her the opportunity to build strong relationships with her students and their families, opening the door for further ministry outside the class room.

Both Kristen and Jessica told me that their summers at SpringHill were influential in their decisions to work in these important communities and to serve these kids and their families. I’m thankful for Kristen (and Scott) and Jess for their commitment to bring Christ’s Kingdom to all people, and humbled by the small part SpringHill played in their decisions to do so.

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.

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.”

 

More than a Photography Lesson

This week I spent some time with one of my favorite photographers and, more importantly, favorite leaders in the world – Mark Beeson. Mark is the Senior Pastor at Granger Community Church (GCC), one of our key local church allies. Mark, the GCC staff, and their middle school students are spending the week at SpringHill experiencing their annual Granger middle school summer camp.

I snagged some time with Mark with the promises we would do a little exploring in the “backlands” so I could glean some wisdom and practical help in taking better photographs. Mark loves photography, takes incredible photos, and in particular, because he loves the outdoors, does incredible wildlife and landscape photography. So getting him out into the woods for a couple of hours wasn’t hard. And I learned a lot, most of which was basic stuff to him, but for me like gold.

Such things as:

    “Always have a firm foundation for your camera.”

    “What’s a few extra seconds to get the right shot?”

    “Perspective is what makes a photo interesting.”

    “When photographing a person’s face, capture the eyes, because everyone’s drawn to the eyes.”

    “Nobody wants their picture taken, but everyone likes to look at a photo they’re in.”

    “Capturing a moment in a person’s life blesses them more than we know.”

As you can see from these morsels of wisdom, my impromptu photography lesson was more than just a lesson in taking better pictures. It was a lesson on leadership because it gave me a glimpse into the perspective and the heart of this passionate and effective leader.

Click here to read Mark’s blog and see some of his photography.

Being Called Together For Kids and a City

Brian ( on the right) and the staff at Cafe Mosaic, one of Overflow’s non profit social enterprises

In 2007, Brian Bennett (former SpringHill summer staffer) and his wife Cindy packed up their belongings, along with their young children, and moved into heart of Benton Harbor, Michigan to plant a church.

If you know anything about Benton Harbor, it’s a city that unfortunately resembles many small, Midwest cities where the loss of industry, and the work that goes with it, has gutted the life of the community. Abandoned buildings, struggling schools, broken families, and the loss of human dignity and hope that poverty so mercilessly steals away, all fills the Benton Harbor landscape.

It’s into this city that Brian and Cindy have brought the hope and dignity that only comes through Jesus Christ. Their church, Overflow, has brought the Good News to Benton Harbor through the Word and the deeds of its church family. And in 5 short years under Brian’s leadership, significant work, impacting the lives of many in this broken community, has occurred.

This past week, Todd Leinberger, our Great Lakes Vice President, Jeffery Wright, President and CEO of Urban Ministries Inc and Chairman of the board of Circle Y Camp, and myself met with Brian to discuss, pray, and dream about how our respected organizations could help Overflow in its ministry to the children and young people of the Benton Harbor community.

The story of how the four of us, and our organizations, have come together is for another post, but it’s because of this story that we sense that God may be leading us to work together in such a way that the transforming power of Christ is brought to the lives of 1000’s of young people of Benton Harbor area.

I’ll keep you posted to how this story of possibilities unfolds.

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.

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