Following World War II, the Christian camping industry exploded, not as a fad, but as an intentional way to inspire youth to come to faith in Christ, to grow in their commitment to know Him and to take His message to the world. Hundreds of camps sprung up on the backs of camping pioneers who believed that God would bring victory. These men and women served sacrificially so that the next generation would experience transformation like had happened in the second great awakening of the 19th century. Lake Ann Camp was one of those camps.
When we speak of intentionality, there is a tension that surfaces reflected by two verses in Proverbs 21. Verse five says, “The plans of the diligent leads to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” The businessmen and pastors who started Lake Ann Camp didn’t just rush about throwing money at the property and hoping that good things would happen. They had a plan. A plan that was conceived and tested before the property was purchased. But, we can’t just trust our plans.
The second verse that must be recognized in this chapter is verse 20, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory is of the Lord.” God expected them to do their part of preparing for impact, but if God had not shown up, it would have just been recreation. But He did show up – big time. They committed their plans to the Lord guided by him (Prov. 16:9).
Their plans include having powerful speakers for chapel much like the heyday of the Bible Conference movement. They even started out using a large tent with a sawdust floor. Speakers would include missionaries and evangelists who knew how to connect the scripture to the heart of young people. They were carefully selected to call campers to “choose this day who they would serve.”
The other part of their plan was to provide opportunities for wholesome fun. They knew that campers would be drawn to having a good time. If young people didn’t want to come to camp, they would never hear the speakers. It had to be fun. They started out with activities that were part of the resort that they purchased – swimming, boating, horseshoes, and shuffleboard. They added two softball fields, tetherball, and miniature golf. Handicraft was introduced early on with one of the popular items being plaster plaques with Bible phrases on them. The campers introduced pranks that were enjoyed by all (except the victim) some taking on almost legendary status.
This went on for about twenty years when along came “Dad Brock”. As a veteran pastor, he realized that the plan which he inherited was at best divided, and at its worst was counterproductive. For instance, the competition often built barriers between the staff and the campers instead of being a tool that could be used to shape lives. A dress up “banquet” on Thursday night put pressure on campers to couple up. The anticipation of the Friday night campfire produced conversations about “who are you going to take to the Glory Bowl?”
Counselors were men and women from the churches who loved the Lord, wanted to impact campers, and often would take a week of vacation to be there. Way too often they were lined up at the last minute and sometimes a “warm body” became the criteria for placement. There was never time to provide training or even orientation to the significant task in front of them. It was amazing what God did accomplish, but Eldon believed with effective training and a more intentional plan they could get deeper into the hearts of campers. He believed that the activities of the week could be as useful a tool for speaking into the hearts of campers as the chapel platform.
He introduced the intentional hiring and training of counselors. While keeping chapel “hot”, he began to eliminate counterproductive activities. That did not always make him popular. He introduced the value of choosing activities to intentionally give counselors access to the hearts of campers. Some activities that were introduced proved to be no more helpful than the old ones so they were quickly replaced. In his mind, he would continually ponder why are we doing what we are doing, and how can we do it better.
In his new role as administrator of camp, he read extensively, attended conferences and took special training from other camps in an effort to refine the process of intentional programming. He wasn’t alone in adopting the best practices of other camps but he was in the minority of those who intentionally used them. This was what drew me to be involved as a board member of Lake Ann Camp.
Let me give you just one example. One fall, a few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with a couple, both of whom had been on different camp staffs the previous summer. I will call them Jack and Jill. They had loved the experience, had grown in the Lord, and were eager to share “war stories” about what they had done. Both camps had developed a Challenged Course. Each week the counselors would lead their campers through these relatively low-risk apparatuses which called on campers to work together to solve a task. However, I was struck by the dynamic difference in their strategies.
Jack’s cabin each week would see how fast they could get through each of the activities. Sometimes they would make a mistake and would have to start over on that activity. They would try and make up time on the next one. Jack would keep “score” from week to week so that they would know what the was the “time to beat”. At the end of the summer, he wrote to all the campers in the winning cabin to celebrate their victory.
Jill listened, somewhat impatiently, until she could share her experience at Lake Ann Camp. While Jack’s cabin would complete about ten activities in two hours, her cabins often completed three or four in the same amount of time. She explained how she would introduce the parameters of goal, task, and rules for each activity. Numerous times during an activity, she would have her cabin stop and circle up to reflect on what was going on. If they made a mistake, they would take time to explore what that had meant. In the process of reflection, they would explore values, temperaments, and attitudes. Sometimes, they would repeat an activity that they had succeeded in to allow for other campers to suggest their ideas.
As I reflected on their experience, I concluded that for Jack, the Challenge Course was “recess.” For Jill, it was an intentional classroom allowing her to access the unguarded hearts of her campers.
Ken Riley learned well from Eldon Brock and has continued to champion intentional programming. He insists that the tools for the six graders be unique to their needs and abilities and distinct from those that we use with tenth graders. Every year he looks to introduce some new tools, but only if they will give the counselors a more strategic avenue into the hearts of their campers.
In the summer of 2017, we made a serious upgrade to the handicraft activities with the opening of Laura’s Crafts. Ken has believed for a long time that handicraft will touch some campers better than the waterslide. He is putting some muscle into that conviction with a new craft building in a more strategic location with multiple new options for campers to engage in. This will not just be a summer activity, but available year around. God has blessed his vision with the provision of new resources and staff. We fully expect God to bless his vision with increased impact in camper’s lives. But, it’s not just about crafts. For Lake Ann camp, it’s about intentionally getting deeper into the hearts of campers.