“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3b
This is my 3rd year to come with my teens to a little town outside of Wausau Wisconsin, to help cook and lead crafts at what I’d like to call a good old-fashioned Church Camp experience. NO bells and whistles. NO super slides, or zips lines. NO swimming pools are even cell/internet reception; just good food, lessons from God’s word, recreation, games, crafts, campfires and a lot of conversation. The 4 cabins don’t’ have air conditioning and the teens share a bathroom in the main building. They don’t care. And here’s the best part, most of these campers’ parents came to this camp, and even some of their grandparents! Or maybe the best part is that it doesn’t cost the campers a dime. Men and women who want to see generations grow in wisdom and stature of the Lord sponsor it all! That is Camp Blessing.
My own children have come since 2010. They wouldn’t miss the week. Some of their best friends and what will be life-long relationships have come from this camp. Claire was already up here, because she served as a Junior Counselor with the Kid’s Camp the week before. (Camp Blessing also offers a week of Special Needs Camp, an Adventure Camp, and a few retreats each year.)
So, Friday evening we packed up the huge car top carrier, the bumper trailer and every nook and cranny of my Navigator and headed to KC to spend the night with my parents. This knocked off the first 2-½ hours of our trip. Early Saturday morning we picked up two more campers from Kearny and started our 9-½ hour journey. I found a Starbucks for my morning coffee and reassured the kids I was travel ready. The fact that QT was where we were picking up our friends delighted all of us. A full tank of gas, loaded with snacks, we were finally off! (And let me just make a plug for the Lincoln makers, I get 4 cup holders up front! One for the shot-gun seat, who was Aunt V on this trip, and three for my personal needs.) Coffee with heavy cream, water, (yes, I actually drank 28 oz. on the road) and my Diet Coke. (Keep your opinions to a dull roar. Yes! I have read ALL the horrible research.)
Just over the Iowa border in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and in time for lunch, is our first stop. We have made a habit to stop at the Petro Trails Truck stop. (It’s kind of like stopping at the Pratte, Kansas DQ when I was growing up.) With its Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, Cold Stone Creamery, a huge Deli, great cheeses, snacks, fountain drinks to compete with any QT, and a gift shop with just about everything, gas pumps and showers, what more could us weary traveler want? (I’m thinking that showering at a truck stop may be something I add to my bucket list…or NOT!) We love this place and even a quick stop takes us 45 minute. It is always crowded and they need more employees to keep up with the mess; but over all, it is clean and never disappoints. If you want fresh Wisconsin Cheese curds; check out the deli case. If you want a purple sequined hat, check it off your list. Looking for State coasters, they’ve got them. From dude-rag biker hats to lace hemmed bell-bottoms, hand quilted jackets and a plethora of slogan t’s; you will find a complete new wardrobe experience.
Arriving at Camp Blessing a day earlier than campers gives some of staffers kids some special time to just chill and help get settled. (Now I probably should make it clear, I do sleep in the main building staff rooms, which are air-conditioned.) We prep food and get craft supplies organized and watch Melissa, this year’s Teen Camp Director, finalize and over-think the last details for the lessons. We stay up way too late! On Sunday morning we head to the top of the hill and go to the Mission Evangelical church. We triple their attendance each year, and it’s interesting to hear from a church that has no pastor and is congregation led. Each sermon I’ve heard over last few years has been unique in style, theme, or presentation.
Around 3 o’clock the campers start trickling in and we have our first staff meeting. Gregg Mathewson has been the Camp Safety Coordinator/handyman/head dishwasher/ insurer of the lights-out enforcement, every year I’ve been here. He stays in his motor home parked in the churches parking lot, but he is always around the camp. He gives us the fire drill and storm protocol, explains the dos and don’ts of camp policy and will do any dirty job necessary. He can also be bribed with chocolate and ice cream. Then Melissa Cannon, who loves her time with these teens, hands out chocolate to pump up us staffers, gives us the themes and the schedule for the week, and reminds us not to be grumpy.
Melissa takes on “Camp Director” with the gusto of a twenty year old. Her energy amazes me and she is determined that these kids will experience the joys she remembers from her years at camp. She writes the lessons, lines up the volunteers and gathers supplies. Since the camp has no internet or cell service, she has to come really prepared, and a last minute run to Office Depot is just part of the traditions we enjoy. I watch her interact with these teens with a genuine compassion and interest in their lives. She’s one of my girls favorite adults and maybe someday I’ll tell you the fun story of how our families met back in 2009. It’s been a friendship that could only be orchestrated by a good, good God.
By 4:30, the cooks are busy preparing the first nights dinner and we are always thrilled to have Roberta Johnson delicacies! She makes camp food from scratch with fresh ingredients and her Italian flare. She has a crew of ladies that make cooking for 40+ just plain fun! I may not be officially in the kitchen, but I’ve been known stick a hat (or hairnet) on my head to slice and dice so I can hang with these ladies. Besides being an amazing cook, she just finished nursing school and will be christening her skills by sharing Camp Nurse duties. Roberta has a way of making all of us feel special and practices hospitality in biblical proportion.
I love watching the campers greeting each other and parents who probably went to camp themselves reunite. I listen to them reminisce and laugh. This is a unique group of people. They come from so many backgrounds and theological prospective, but they come together each year because they don’t want to miss camp. From the shyest to the most gregarious teen, everyone is anticipating the week. They have traditions and routines that have become the highlight of their summers. (And don’t think about a new Camp Director messing with some of these traditions.) I hear boys planning skits and girls discussing the camp romances. Twenty-nine teens; laughing, sharing, joking and getting reacquainted. Playing games, lounging on the couch, checking out their cabins and willingly turning in their cellphones and electronic devises, there is this mystery of Camp Blessing that cannot be explained unless you’ve experienced it first hand.
Crazy Love is this year’s theme. I am excited to listen to what comes out of the lessons and discussions from the rich and amazing scripture she is using. I am waiting with anticipation at how God is going to work in the hearts of some of these teens. But, I am already in absolute awe of how this place draws my heart to reflect upon a Father who has reckless and abounding crazy love for me. I am in the middle of the beautiful Rib Mountain range outside of Wausau, Wisconsin, surrounded by tall fields of corn, nestled in a peaceful wooded campground, and He is whispering; I love you.
I’ve only been a part of this for a few years, but it is a joy to serve along side people who have been around for decades. As the campers get ready for their first night of lessons and worship, it is obvious His sweet evidence of grace is continuing to transform me on my most excellent adventure to Camp Blessing!