Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Our Incredible Camp Properties

I have been to many Christian summer camps and am always amazed at the stunning properties that God has provided for us. Sure, a few of our camps are a simple field with an above-ground swimming pool. But many are fabulous waterfront properties with mountain views, worth millions (or at least million-dollar views).

One of these is on a small, remote island on the West Coast of British Columbia. When I first visited Copper Island in Barkley Sound, it was owned by a man named Nelson Dunkin, who had lived there with his wife Mina for 19 years and, after her passing, remained for another 11 years. Their dream was to have a community of believers live there and operate a camp for children. When Nelson's health failed, he passed on his vision and his property to a newly-formed society that has now run summer camps for First Nations children on the island for the past 35 years.

I decided that Nelson Dunkin's story is worth telling. I first met him in 1978, when I was working for a camp at the north end of the famous West Coast Trail. We would occasionally take campers to his island property to encourage him with our presence and complete a few chores. This past year, I interviewed dozens of people who knew Nelson, and I gathered up their stories, photos, letters and memories into a book.

The Island and i: Nelson Dunkin of Copper Island is now available, either by contacting me or online at Amazon. Proceeds from the book will go to help kids get to camp this summer who otherwise could not go.

Have you ever considered writing up the story of the person(s) through whom God gave you your amazing camp property?

Monday, August 14, 2023

Give Up On Weariness

Have you ever returned from a backpacking trip, sweaty, dirty and tired? You arrive back at the parking lot where you started, and there are all these clean people getting ready to set out. Their packs are trim and tidy, their boots aren’t muddy and they’re talking together excitedly. You try not to, but you kind of strut past them, wearing your dirt, your smell and your tired limbs like badges of honour. You’ve done it! These new guys have no idea what’s coming. You’re tired, but you’ve earned it!

I hope you feel that way right now: sweaty, trail-stained and tired—but wearing it like a medal. Three-quarters of the way into a summer of camp ministry, you are all veterans now, even if this is your first summer. Go ahead, strut a little!


But there is another kind of tired that I hope you’re not: the kind that’s not just tired, but tired of. Tired of late nights and early mornings. Tired of campers who don’t listen, a bunkmate who snores and maybe even camp food. This kind of tiredness is called “weariness,” and it’s a killer: it chokes motivation, dissolves empathy and derails good intentions.


Weariness is like that pair of shoes mom always threatens to throw away because they are so worn out and ugly. But so darn comfortable too. You can wallow in weariness and not realize it’s draining the life out of you. I wish tiredness on you, because you’ve earned it, but I would never wish weariness on you. Neither does God. His word says it straight out: “Don’t become weary of doing good...” Then it tells you why: “…because, at the proper time, you will reap a harvest, if you don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).


The cool thing about a harvest is that it’s not one of those “you will get out of it only what you put into it” kinds of things. If you plant a bushel of wheat and—come harvest time—you gather only a bushel of wheat, you’re not much of a farmer. Whatever you plant, you should expect many times as much in return.


Here is how to defeat weariness! Look up and see the harvest that’s happening all around you. Every little act of kindness toward a camper produces something new and astonishing. Every frustration you have put up with was well worth the trouble. That’s because God takes everything we offer him and grows it into something much bigger and better.


So don’t give up! Instead, give up on weariness and embrace your tiredness. The return on your investment will be worth every effort made in Jesus’ name. Take time today to strut a little.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Neighbors: A Quarter-Summer Reflection on The Good Samaritan

Let me tell you about my neighbor.

This summer, we are staying in a friend’s carriage house in a remote area with a few houses strung along a beautiful river valley. It sounds idyllic, but it has proved far from serene. In particular, there is one fellow who thinks nothing of blaring loud, aggressive music while using his chainsaw—at 10:30 in the evening.


So who is my neighbor?


That is the question a lawyer once asked when Jesus agreed with him that the two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor. As he often did, Jesus answered the man with a story that has become the quintessential depiction of neighborly love. But there is one problem: Jesus got the story all wrong.


It should have gone like this: A Samaritan is attacked and left for dead, and a Jewish man finds him. The Jewish man condescends to help the unfortunate fellow even though he is a Samaritan. This story would have answered the Pharisee’s question, Who is my neighbor? And this story would have justified him, which is what he wanted.


Instead, Jesus tells a very unexpected story, one in which a Samaritan—not a Jew—is the hero. And Jesus changes the question to this: Who was the neighbor? This story forces the self-righteous Pharisee to admit that, in spite of his feelings about Samaritans, if he was in trouble he would want to be treated well even if a Samaritan was the only guy around to do the job. In this situation, he would want the Samaritan to be his neighbor, even though in all other circumstances he would not.


Going back to my loud neighbor as an example, one might think, Well, I don’t want this person to do anything for me. I would rather have nothing to do with him. Though that seems reasonable, Jesus’ parable would say that my attitude precludes me from loving my neighbor. Until we get to the point where we are willing to be loved by unlovely people, we will never know how to do for others as we would have them do for us.


Your campers are your neighbors. Some will be easy to love. Big deal! Anyone can love the nice ones. What about the campers that are hard to love, the ones that—if you were willing to admit it—you would rather not have in your cabin group? In other words, you would prefer that they were not your neighbor.


What would you be willing to have those campers do for you, if you were in need? Whatever answer you give to that question limits the level of love you have to offer them. When Jesus told the lawyer, “Go and do likewise,” he didn’t mean he should become a compassionate Samaritan. He meant that he should become a Jew who was willing to receive the compassion of a Samaritan. Only then could he learn to love his neighbor as himself. 

Monday, April 3, 2023

How To Use The Camp Liverwurst Series At Your Camp

Have you ever listened outside the door as a cabin leader does their best to lead the devotional time with their campers? The conversations you hear can be heartwarming. But often, what you hear can be disheartening and even alarming. What did we expect, after loading kids with cookies and hot chocolate right after the night game and sending them off to bed?

Consider how Jesus captivated the crowds that followed him. Sometimes he preached, but more often he told stories. He didn't usually even explain what the story was about. He let the story speak for itself, tweaked the imagination and provoked a response.

My new series of novels can be read aloud by cabin leaders to spark discussions about Jesus. Imagine campers sitting on the edge of their seats instead of swinging from the rafters! The use of story is a pretty simple concept, but I realize it is new to some camps and will take a while to catch on. Here are a few ways to use the Camp Liverwurst series this summer:

1. Try it out. There is no better way to determine the effectiveness of this resource than to sit down with a middle-schooler in your life and read one of the books out loud to them. Backers of this project have made it possible for me to mail out some samples. All you need to do is ask.

2. Order books for your cabin leaders. I suggest ordering enough books that at least half of your cabin leaders could borrow a copy for the week. The first book in the series, The Search For Bigfoot, is about a young guy who is new to camp; the second, The Lost Compass, is about a girl from the first book. Each stands alone, so they don't have to be read in order. And there are more in the series to come! I can order as many books as you need at 20-30% off, and cover taxes and shipping. Just contact me.

3. Coach cabin leaders on how to use the book. Here are some suggestions, plus there are more tips in the blog post below:

  • Every 10-minute chapter can be used to spark conversations about God. 
  • Questions and activities are provided at the end of the book to be used as prompts (not a script!) for discussion, as needed.
  • Plan on reading two to three chapters per day—for cabin devotions, during wake-up, after a meal or on a break. 
  • Campers will likely ask you to read more each day!

4. Order books for your camp store. Display them on the final day of camp. If campers enjoyed the book, they may want to bring a copy home, which means that they (and other family members) will read it again and stir up memories of their camp experience. Also, cabin leaders sometimes don't make it to the last chapter, and campers don't want to be left hanging!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments about the Camp Liverwurst series!