Sunday, July 16, 2017

Camp Nathanael - Why I Love This Place

A few weeks ago I brought my youngest to Camp Nathanael for a 1/2 week "Father-Son" camp.

Camp Nathanael means quite a lot to me because I was a camper for three years (1981-1983), a counselor (called "non-com") for two years (1984-85), and it truly set my moral compass in my youth that guides me yet today. This was my third father-son camp (I brought my oldest there twice about 10 years ago), and these weeks bring back so many memories of when I was there back in the 80's...

...but this blog isn't about those memories (I'll save those for another day)

I'd like to reflect on what I saw...

...through the photos I took...

...that make Camp Nathanael so unique, effective, and essential in preparing boys to become Christ-centered leaders in our world.

The Sign
...small and unassuming...but well cared for...

Just like Camp. There is so much love poured into this's not about how big or impressive or modern it can's always focused on how to best serve the boys that will pass this sign...and take one step closer to becoming Jesus-believing leaders throughout their lives...wherever their journey takes them.

The Paths
...quiet, essential to connect one part of camp to another...

That's what happens on these paths. Campers become friends; quiet, meaningful (and gut-busting funny) conversations happen...connecting one growing young man with another to quickly become trusted friends.

What this doesn't show is the non-coms who are on grounds crew each week making sure the paths are clear even during the wildest weather.

Oh, and at night? These paths also turn into a delightful location for jump-scares when your non-coms are least expecting it! (not that I've ever done that :-)     )

The Cabins and Grounds
...rustic, lively, secluded...designed to create memories...

I first stepped foot on these grounds 36 years ago and now each year it's like I'm stepping back in time. I know there have been changes physically (some trees are gone/grown, some cabins are new, but most are still there!) but the spirit of this place is never ending: a wide open expanse to run, play, talk, study the Bible, share devotions, and learn how to become a young man with character.

I can't help but see what's just beyond the photo: the grounds crew, the fall/spring volunteers who wield their trade (for free) in support of this place.

Most important? The memories. Some are etched into the cabin walls (I found my etching "Greg H '81" in one cabin), some are shared between best friends that didn't know each other last week, and some are the epic 'telling the tale' to fellow cabin-mates of the day's adventures.

The Skills
...dangerous, engaging, challenging...FUN...

Life is full of danger, risks, challenges, and (hopefully) delightfully engaging moments. Camp prepares young men for just that. I LOVE that most every session starts with, "OK, you could die or get severely damaged lets teach you how to do it right!".  Guns? could die. Rock climbing and rappelling? could die. Canoeing and Sailing? could die. Woodworking? Well, to quote the leader, "this saw here can really damage your finger...that saw there can cut your finger off before you feel any pain".

The reason I love this is that it prepares young men for the real world. There are countless things that could damage/kill/hurt them, but if they prepare, train, buddy-up, and proceed with confidence, they'll be successful. And if not? Most likely they'll have a belt sander burn to remind them for weeks that there are consequences for even the briefest moments of losing focus.

The Waterfront
...prepared, ready for adventure, awe-inspiring...

To me, the waterfront is a direct reflection of the non-coms that arrive 2 weeks before campers, prepare to guide, train, bond with, and lead campers to believe in Jesus.  I am in awe seeing these great young leaders dedicate a whole summer to make a difference in the campers (and dads) that engage in this waterfront.

These photos struck me because I love how peaceful the water looks, how majestic the steam rising around the docks look, how orderly the canoes are lined up...I love precision...

...yet, once the campers engage with the waterfront, it's not peaceful, not orderly, not precise...

...and that's where memories are made. That's where non-com leaders impact the lives of the the chaos. It's quite a lesson that while most of us like order and peace, it's only in the chaos and messy relationships are we truly going to make an impact for Jesus in this world.

The Board
...keeping everyone accounted for...

This camp, the non-coms, don't leave anyone behind. Just like this sign...we need to account for everyone, and if you look closely, you'll see this board requires campers to buddy up. The campers need to buddy-up as we engage in any of these activities. When campers want to swim in the deep end? They need a buddy. Sailing? Need a buddy. Yes it's impressive to sail on your own, but it's not safe, not as fun, and who are you going to impact? Nobody. You may impress someone but not make an impact on another.

This teaches (forces) young men to buddy up, to depend on and help one another, even slow down while the other catches up. Will it make you look the most impressive? No. Will it make a life-long friend that you can impact (and who may impact you)?  Absolutely.

The Gazebo
...a great place to prepare to go fishing...

This is where all the staff and non-coms meet before breakfast for morning devotions. I think it's more than fitting that while this the place to find your rod and reel for the day's fishing, it's also where the staff arms the non-coms daily to have meaningful spiritual conversations with their for eternal outcomes.

The Bugle
...looks simple, requires a lot of effort, sets the tone

The bugle is what wakes us, notifies us for all meals and special events, and ends the day for us (lowers the flag) sets a great tone for the whole week. But lets be's the program director who's doing that...and while this responsibility may look simple, the program director requires an amazing amount of effort to be the 'face' of the camp to all the campers.

The program director sets the tone. I had the pleasure to watch this current program director for a few days, and he was up before anyone else so he could bugle the camp awake, he was always preparing for the next thing before the campers even knew it was nearing time, and he seemed to be always happy to be serving the camp.

What a great example...he sure set the tone for all the non-coms and campers to follow.

Oh, and this tone/behavior/sacrificial attitude has been here since I saw my first program director, Herb. Imagine...the work he put in back in the early 80's to show what it looks like to serve campers, non-coms has lasted all these years and has impacted 1000's of campers...I'm sure at the time he wasn't thinking of his legacy, just "how can I love and serve these young men today?"

The Moments
...fleeting yet remembered for years...

The smallest moments can be the most impactful. These create the memories that stay with a young man for years. Whether it's in the cabin, at the gun range, or on our "Monday Night Cookout" where we hike, find wood, make a fire, and create a delicious "hobo-meal" cooked over the coals....the non-coms and campers spend so much time together that inside the "Big Events", hundreds of micro-moments are what truly make camp spectacular.

It's not the "I shot guns" event, it's the micro-moments of a non-com teaching how to load a gun, fixing a jammed bullet, the "great shot"'s the non-com, who, when his team is "skins" in the "skins vs shirts" game,  comes up along side a self conscious middle-schooler and makes his day with, "I'm so glad I'm on your team...lets go get 'em".

For me, my hope is that these memories will trigger a young man's future action: "Oh yeah, I remember when I was really afraid to try, I found I could at Camp...especially when I had trusted friends and mentors guiding me....and now I'm prepared for new challenges and adventures all the time!"

As I said...I love Camp Nathanael.

...but not just the place...'s the leaders

...the spirit

...the attitude

...the love for God, campers, serving, adventure, mentoring, training, learning...

...most of all, I love Camp Nathanael because young men get to experience what it means to truly be a leader...and how we can impact the world if we trust Jesus deeply.

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