“I just want to say thank you. SpringHill has just been fantastic for my son. I only wish the rest of the world could be more like SpringHill.”
This statement to me and a small group of our year around staff during the closing day of camp by a father of a camper with special needs. The father went onto explain that his son has been coming to SpringHill for a number of summers and it’s always the high light of his son’s year. It’s the week when his son feels accepted and loved like a “normal” kid.
I believe it’s this acceptance and love that the dad was referring to when he said, almost to himself, “I only wish the rest of the world could be more like SpringHill”.
Of course it’s always great to hear this kind of unsolicited feedback from a parent. Our goal is that every kid will feel like this camper, to experience the love of Christ through our staff and in the small communities we create.
So with summer camp just ending (and I’m already starting to miss it), this father’s wish has had me thinking. I’ve realized his wish really isn’t a wish at all, but instead it’s our ultimate mission.
You see at SpringHill we exist to create experiences (we call them SpringHill Experience) where Christ can transform the lives of young people. These experiences include embracing all kinds of kids, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done or where they’ve come from. Yet, as powerful as this is, the SpringHill Experience isn’t an end unto itself; it is part of something bigger.
That something bigger is the Church’s work of bringing the values and reality of Christ’s Kingdom into the world. In other words, we haven’t thoroughly done our job unless our campers and staff are leaving SpringHill and bringing a little of it back into the world, making the world a little more like SpringHill, which really means making the world little more like Christ’s Kingdom.
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 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.