There were sacrifices made, I’m sure, for Mom and Dad to send me to church camp. I remember worrying the registration fee might be too much some years. To offset some of the costs, our congregation’s group of Skylarks, Orioles and O’Teens would sell Current stationery door-to-door in our neighborhood in Independence as a fundraiser. I’m sure I sold SOME, but as I think back, it seems we had a lot of Current stationery in the desk drawer at home. Another sacrifice made by Mom and Dad.
After having prepared my suitcase and Dad’s heavy, brown sleeping bag with flannel bird-hunting fabric inside literally weeks ahead, the day would finally arrive for camp. Whether our parents delivered us to Camp Doniphan or we rode the old Stone Church bus, my friends and I were beside ourselves with giddiness.
I didn’t realize it then, but we pretty much roughed it back in those days at Doniphan (especially compared to how the campgrounds are at Saints Grove now). In the 70’s, there were no air conditioners in any cabins or buildings, and summers in Missouri were hot. I hated that sleeping bag for sure when trying to sleep each night, but appreciated its weight when the mornings were cool and damp.
The next 3-7 days would fly by, filled with classes, crafts, outdoor adventures, campfires, meals in the old dining hall, cabin devotions, hiking, giggling and swimming. I still have a fondness for a good oatmeal assembly line because of my Camp Doniphan days. Campfire was my favorite thing ever. From the beginning, with all the silly skits and songs, to the end, where other young girls’ and counselors’ testimonies touched my heart in new places…and stuck. I would eventually open up to share my own testimony for the first time at a campfire. It’s true that a spark can get a fire going.
As I grew older, junior high and senior high camps were filled with more new experiences. I remember our counselors being called “parents” over a group of teenage girls and boys, and we met for activities in “families”. Sometimes there would be fussing (drama) between some of the group. I recall our family being taught to listen to each other and work out our problems in positive ways.
After moving to Oklahoma, I was blessed to marry a man who saw how important my camp memories and experiences were. Although he needed to work and couldn’t attend reunion with us at Saints Grove, he made it possible, and was proud for me to take our sons when they were young. Packing and preparing each year for a week’s stay with my boys, I still had that sense of giddiness I had as a young girl.
Camp at Saints Grove these days is in no way roughing it. I sit in the air conditioned sanctuary, often with my two granddaughters near, and gaze up at the high, vaulted ceiling. I imagine the wooden beams telling the stories of the years they’ve observed my family grow and change. From toddlers, having to be entertained during evening services, to teenagers, performing in talent shows, to grown men, sharing their love for camp and our church with their families now.
And I think of all the testimonies I’ve heard. All the people I’ve met. All the faith I’ve seen. All the listening and talking and becoming I’ve done.
No matter what age I am, I guess that place in my heart will always beat for camp experiences. My fervent prayer is that our church people will rekindle that fire, that tradition of making sacrifices to send their children to camp, that tradition of working as counselors, volunteers and directors, and that tradition of attending reunion as a family.
My granddaughter, Cora, who is now 8, was asked not too long ago what holiday she enjoys most. I think there were three favorites, but “church camp” was among the list. She started going to camp with me when she was 3. This Gram’s heart is giddy once more, knowing she and her sister, Magnolia, will be flying from Los Angeles to attend reunion this year with me. What a wonderful faith tradition (and camp-going tradition) we have. Let’s pass it on.
We all have a story to share. Mosaic is a collection of our stories.