What do you get when you mix cardboard, tie-dyed stockings, guitars, running across a field trying not to be tagged, stars across the expanse of the sky, and an opportunity to grow in faith with children, youth and even adults over age 50? The answer is Western District camps.
While most of the District’s camps are held at Mt. Morris Camp and Conference facility in Wautoma, Wis., Western District camps can also be found in California (see accompanying story on page 17) and Camp Minddy (for youth who’ve finished grades 3-5 in Minnesota and North Dakota) which has a new location this year at Luther Crest. Regardless of the location the overall goal of all our camps is to reach as many people as possible with an experience of God in a Christian community. This includes the campers as well as the staff.
The camps all have a similar format. The staff arrives before camp to get organized, set up and oriented to the program and schedule. Each camp begins with registration and a welcome of the campers.
Usually the first evening will have a special event to help assimilate the campers to the staff and each other. For example, the Junior Camp (grades 3-5) will have a wagon ride through the camp so the campers will see the layout of the camp, while Chetek (9th grade through 21) will have some “Wacky Olympics” for the small groups to begin to work together. Each day’s activities include a program time, devotions, worship, crafts/special interest groups, all camp game/activity, campfire, and vespers all done in a manner fitting the age group.
While there is a schedule, camps are flexible enough to embrace the spirit of the moment. Last year at Winmor (for middle school students), a lovefeast got moved up a day when during the evening activities the staff recognized the spirit moving right then and there and got the supplies out at that time for the camp to share food and beverage in an atmosphere of love. At Chetek, Brian Dixon was leading vespers and opened up a feather pillow and flung the feathers all over the campers creating an outpouring of delight. The mess was a bit of a challenge to clean up but the spirit of joy was worth it.
One of the ministries of our camps is to incorporate younger adults into leadership positions. The Junior Camp, 4M camp (for children in grades 1 and 2), Camp Minddy and California camping all make room for high school and college age young adults to not only be cabin counselors and small group leaders but also lead other ministries such as vespers and evening games. Last year Junior Camp, was led by Dan Miller and Greg Behrend (age in mid 20’s), and the director of Junior Camp is Beth Behrend, also in her mid 20’s.
The Camp and Conference committee for the Western District camps is chaired by Kathy Liebenow and includes Rev. Jane Gehler, Justin Rabbach, Tom Harberg, Staci Wickert and Amy Anderson as members. The committee oversees all the camps by installing directors, establishing the cost for each camp and support including: supplies, training materials, promotion and registration. Working through the District office, the committee also began a more formal process for background checks of staff for last yearís camps.
Jane Gehler serves the camping ministry as the registrar for all the camps. This centralizes the registration process and overall management of the finances. New this year is the distribution of debit cards for directors to make purchases for camps, so that directors and/or staff won’t have to wait for reimbursement for supplies purchased as all our camps are staffed by volunteers. The committee oversees the resources of the voucher program the District is blessed to have available to help make camp financially accessible for everyone.
Promotion and information about camps is evolving as we learn about new technologies. Registration is almost all done online now through the camping ministry website, wdcamping.com. Each camp is to develop their own web page to offer specific information and updates about each camp. Several of the older age camps have Facebook sites as well and offer encouragement to the campers throughout the year.
Visit www.wdcamping.com to learn more about the 2013 Western District season.
Kurt Liebenow is director of Chetek, while Kathy Liebenow is chair for the Camping Ministry Committee.