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.
With the report from Penn State’s internal investigation of the Sandusky affair released this week, we’re all reminded once again of children’s vulnerability to abuse. Yet, as important as the reporting about this horrific situation is, there are two facts that are continually reported that can cloud our vision about the nature of child abuse.
The first fact is that most of Sandusky’s victims were from broken homes, where no father was present, and the economic challenges were great. The second fact is that the abuse was the result of a known public figure swooping in and taking advantage of these children living in difficult situations.
Both of these facts are true, but this cannot lead us to believe that this is the most common scenario for child abuse. Because the reality is that abuse happens in every corner of our society including to those kids who come from families that look like, on the surface, that they have it all together. And secondly, the perpetrator, more often or not, is a family member or close friend, not a public figure.
We know this to be true at SpringHill because nearly every week during summer camp our staff discover campers who have been or are being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by family members or close family friends. They’re from rich families and poor families, and families from the city and families from the suburbs. It happens within families who attend church faithfully and those who’ve never entered a church building in their lives. The harsh reality is – where there are children, abuse is always a possibility because kids, being who they are, are by nature vulnerable to predators.
Fortunately, because SpringHill is a safe place, kids feel the freedom to share with our staff their experiences, including many who’ve never shared their horrors with anyone before doing so at camp. This allows us to do what Penn State failed to do – first, report these situations to the appropriate authorities, and second to assure these young victims receive the support they need to move forward and ultimately be healed.
So let’s not be lulled into believing child abuse only happens in certain segments of our society. Instead let’s always diligently look for signs of abuse and then, when we see them, to have the courage to do what’s necessary to protect all our children from these horrific evils.
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 educate “all 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.
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.
Last week 2 helicopters fly over the historic castle at Glen Eyrie every 30 seconds in an effort to contain the fire and protect this sacred place. (photo by Jack McQueeney)
When a big catastrophe hits the news it can often seem distant and far away. But the recent fires in Colorado and in particular the fires around Colorado Springs are very close and personal. The reason is my close friend Jack McQueeney and the ministry he leads, the Navigator’s Glen Eyrie Group (which includes Eagle Lake camp and Glen Eyrie conference center), have been in midst of this horrific fire.
Jack’s demonstrated great faith and courageous leadership during what he has said is the “worst thing that I’ve ever, ever, ever seen!” Please read and pray through his list of prayers below, though the fires contained they have much to do in recovery. Then consider doing two things that would bless Jack and his team.
First, post this blog to your Facebook and encourage others to pray.
Prayer Requests for Glen Eyrie, Eagle Lake, and the Navigator Family
from Jack McQueeney, Executive Director, the Glen Eyrie Group
” . . . just as you share in our sufferings,so also you share in our comfort. . . [God] will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf.”
–2 Corinthians 1:7, 10,11
Pray for the 50 kids that received Christ during the first few weeks of camp, and for the more than 2,400 disappointed ones who wanted to be with us at Eagle Lake this summer. (We had to cancel our on-site camp season.)
Pray for the morale of Eagle Lake summer staff who will be leaving for home and our displaced Glen Eyrie and Eagle Lake full-time staff.
Pray for the seven Navigator staff families who have lost their homes. Dozens more are still evacuated.
Thank the Lord for Focus on the Family who has provided temporary office space. Pray that our essential service staff team and the many others working from home would be able to take care of critical operations.
Offer a prayer of thankfulness for the host families that took in our evacuated staff. They are feeding them, providing housing, and ministering to them.
Pray that we would know how to be light and salt to others as we work through our own grief.
Praise God for His hand upon our properties. So far it seems we have little structural damage but serious smoke issues.
Pray for us to have wisdom, discernment, and the favor of God as we begin to look forward in hope towards the great amount of work before us.
Pray that we would stand shoulder to shoulder through this and that God would continue to watch over and protect us. Isaiah 41:10
Let’s continue to pray together for the men and women who are still battling this fire.
Our trust is in the faithfulness and character of God. Psalm 145:3,4 says, “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.”
We trust God to preserve the history of His work in this place from one generation to another, but we also recognize that He is doing something new. We resolutely continue to trust that Jesus is at work, and His plans are always for our good.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.