The mist is tucked in around the mountains like a soft blanket. The day is already rich with color, deep blues and greens of varying shades, with the bright pinewood octagonal chapel in the foreground. It’s only 6:30 AM. These few minutes of quiet I enjoy with my Bible and prayer journal on the back porch of the lodge may be the last truly quiet minutes of the day.

As a kid attending Heritage, I would look forward to Grace Bible Camp all summer as the “last hurrah” before school began again. I remember the hilarious fun of putting on a cabin “lip sync”, rock hopping a long section of the creek with mud war paint and splashing frenzies, catching crawdads, and pounding stamps into leather to make key chains.

The part of camp which always stuck with me the longest beyond the week was Chapel, led by our very own Pastor Tony and Miss Sue (who occasionally took on the aliases of Li’l Tony and Aunt Bessie).

Chapel was an incredibly woven tapestry of songs, puppet skits, object lessons, and direct Scripture teaching which all brought together key truths. Snatches of songs, compelling visual illustrations, and Bible verses were stuck in our heads for weeks (or years).

Years later, when I returned to camp as a junior counselor, I would work hard to support the camp behind the scenes. I also enjoyed working alongside a senior counselor and learning from their example how to invest in kids. I began to see the great intention put into, not just giving the kids a fun week, but teaching them biblical truths and helping them grow spiritually.

Now, I’ve been a senior counselor for several years. I still love leading kids in special “camp” activities, especially outdoors ones which connect them to God’s beautiful creation. I hope some of the campers’ core childhood memories will include singing around a bonfire or kayaking on the lake. Or maybe, they’ll remember pushing a full wheelbarrow up a big hill to enjoy the best views in camp for our dinner of hotdogs and s’mores.

The week at camp always has challenges, but there are also moments that prove how valuable the time is. I’ve seen one of my campers decide to follow Jesus after several conversations related to chapel and cabin devotions. I have seen other girls stretched in their faith and grow in spiritual disciplines and in character. I have had other girls open up and share honestly about struggles, fears, or doubts.

It’s also amazing that this week of camp is potentially the beginning of a long term investment. Many people have described camps as “mountain top experiences” which are important and special, but isolated from real life. I agree, but there is one distinction about our camp. Most camps are staffed by people who work at camp for the summer, with little to no connection with the campers before or after. When Heritage goes to Grace Bible Camp, volunteers from our church are the camp staff.

So even though camp may feel like a spiritual high point, the counselor at camp is still at church with the camper after, maybe even serving them directly in Kids Ministry.

I’m so thankful for this incredible opportunity to get to know a group of girls from our church each year. I not only enjoy continued relationships with the girls the following year, in time, it is also exciting to see them move from Kids Ministry to Student Ministry. Many of them choose to serve in Kids Ministry as a volunteer or even come back to camp as junior counselors. One of the girls from my first cabin is now a senior counselor alongside me! It is such an honor to be a witness to long term growth. When the camper comes down from the mountain, we are right there with them in church, offering support and investment in other seasons of life when the Christian walk might not feel as easy. We can look back together at the memories from the mountaintop. And we look forward to climbing it again next year.

by Chelsea Barnwell