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Thou Shalt Go Camping

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

This is the message that was shared with churches about Camp Mardela in the spring before the 2023 summer camp season. A more extensive report from this year's summer programs will be out soon. Subscribe for updates so you don't miss any of this exciting news!

Camping Memories

Many of us have memories of camping. Maybe you remember the first time you went to camp - with fear and excitement you stepped into your cabin for the first time, claimed your bunk, made friends with your cabin mates, and buckled in for a week of learning, fun, adventures and challenges. Maybe you remember that one CRAZY week of camp when the power went out, or when you found a black rat snake outside of your cabin. Maybe you remember the lessons you learned - simple lessons like never leave snacks in your cabins unless you want mice and ants for roommates. Or deeper lessons, like what it means to worship at vespers, or how much God created you, and how much He loves you.


Biblical Camping

We all have unique and individual reactions when we hear the word “camp”. What is so unique about camp is that no 2 camps are the same. Even 2 different weeks of camp at the same camp can have wildly different experiences. Even various church camps have very different personalities and traditions, but we all have the same goals - to give campers hands-on experiences, adventures and model a Christian lifestyle where they can learn to live in community, learn about nature, and learn about the love of Jesus in their lives.


While camp is fun, and we can learn lots of new things, in Christian camping, there is deeper purpose behind our mission. In the Bible, there are many scriptures that talk about the importance of camping for individual, communal, and spiritual growth. In scripture, what I am referring to as “camping” is often called “the wilderness”. Wilderness experiences in the Bible were pivotal moments in character development.


Jacob Camping

When Jacob was preparing to encounter his brother, who he thought was coming to kill him, he sent his family across the river to safety and spent the night camping along the other side of the river by himself. There, he wrestles with an angel, and that is where he receives his new name, Israel, because he wrestled with God and overcame. This name was not just significant to Jacob, but this name defined an entire nation of people, and this name still endures today. This all happened at a location Jacob aptly called “Mahanaim” - God’s camp.


Israelite Camping

Later on, the Israelites were escaping Egypt to head towards the promised land, but spent 40 years in the wilderness as God was preparing them, teaching them, and refining them before they would be ready to enter. They lived and worshiped in tents and tabernacles for this entire time in the wilderness. Through this, the Israelites learned to rely on God for provision and guidance, and as a result, God commanded them to celebrate a holiday that would commemorate this time, so they would always remember the lessons they learned in the wilderness. This was called the “Feast of Tabernacles” or “Sukkot” and was one of the 7 commanded festivals in the book of Leviticus. Part of this celebration involves setting up temporary shelters and living and eating in them for 7 days to remember the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Doesn’t that sound a little bit like what we do when we go to camp? If this type of festival was important enough to be a Levitical command to the Israelites, then God seems pretty serious about the importance of setting aside time to disconnect from ordinary life to take time to refocus on what’s really important.


Jesus Camping

Even Jesus spent some time camping during His earthly ministries. He spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and praying in preparation for His ministry, and frequently was found separating from the disciples to pray and worship in the solitude of nature. In these times, He was able to rest and refocus on His mission, resisting temptation and strengthening Himself to continue to spread the gospel throughout Israel. He even called His disciples to camp with him - asking them to only bring along the necessary supplies, and to trust God for provision along their journey. He urges them not to worry about material possessions or earthly worries. He urges those he preaches to to also relieve themselves of these worries and place them upon Him so that they can find rest in Him.


Camping Today

These wilderness/camping experiences were important in the individual, communal, and spiritual development of these Biblical characters. Camping is important for the individual, communal, and spiritual development of children and youth as well. Over the past 2 years I have been at Camp Mardela, I have seen the testimonies of campers who have experienced this growth through their time at camp, and these experiences have become important pivot points in their own faith journeys.


In a world that is becoming so busy, loud, and confusing, camping is more important than ever. Our children need time to unplug and experience the peace of nature. They need to get out of their comfort zones and learn that that can live with a lot less than they think they need. They need to meet new people who will teach them and challenge them in new ways as they learn interpersonal skills from making new friends and living in community. And quite frankly, as adults, we need a lot of these things, too. We need more time to be able to retreat from our busy lives and be reminded that all things are in God’s hands.


Camper Testimony 1

We had a camper come for the first time last summer who didn't know much about Camp Mardela and didn’t know much about church. They had a wonderful time at camp, made a lot of friends, and especially enjoyed Bible Study and worship times. At the end of the week they told us that they wanted to learn more about faith. Bibles were offered to the campers and 2 took them, including this camper. Later this camper returned for another week of camp and took on some leadership roles, helping to teach crafts and lead activities. After that week they said they wanted to come back next year as a counselor. It was amazing to see in less than a month the transformation that had happened in this camper’s life


Camper Testimony 2

My first summer at Camp Mardela, we had a Me & You camp, where campers can come to camp with their parents for a short weekend. During this camp, on Friday night we walked up to the pavilion at the end of the night to look at the stars before heading to bed. I was walking with one of the young campers. They were very talkative and loved to sing, so we got along great. We sang some camp songs, Benny and the Jets, and then they started singing a song I hadn’t heard in a while - “I want to know you, I want to hear your voice”. I tried to sing along as I was remembering the words to the song. I asked why they wanted to sing that song, and they said “I want to know YOU more”. I thought they were talking about me, and I was flattered. I said if they come back to camp, they could get to know lots of people at camp better, but then they clarified “No, not YOU, Jesus”. I then responded and said that there is SO much to learn about Jesus, that they could spend the rest of their life learning about Him and not run out of things to learn. At that point, we had arrived at the pavilion and were looking at the stars, and all I could do was say a prayer of gratitude. This camper who was barely in Kindergarten, through this worship song, genuinely wanted to get to know Jesus better, and was getting to learn about Him at camp.


Camper Testimony 3

We had another camper who was not new to camp, but new as a camper. We knew that they had a rough home life, and were prepared for some behavioral issues. While we did have some challenges with this camper, the counselors and staff were extremely patient and understanding, helping this camper whenever and however they could. At the end of the week they were crying because they didn’t want to go home because they had so much fun at camp. Later, the grandmother told us that their week of camp was probably the best they’d been treated in their life. Knowing that camp can have that kind of impact on a child makes everything we do worth it.


Camp Mardela Statistics

There are countless testimonies from camp, and every time I hear them, or get to be a part of them, I am humbled and honored that God has put me in a position to get to steward the spiritual growth of these campers, and I am grateful for the work God does in their hearts while they are here, and pray that work continues for the rest of their lives. I came into camp at a very interesting time - in January of 2021. We had many obstacles to overcome in the past 2 and a half years, but it is these stories that remind me of why what we do is so important, and that it is worth all of the work we do to make this space where we can steward the spiritual journeys of these campers.


Camper Numbers

In the past 2 years, we have not returned to our pre-pandemic numbers yet. Before 2020, we averaged 125-150 campers in a season. In 2021-2022 we averaged 100. Of course, we were grateful for every single camper who came, and God worked in each of their hearts uniquely and significantly, but we would like to see more campers positively effected by our camp’s ministry. Our goal is to have 125 campers this year, and we’ve added discounts and incentives for more campers to join us. Campers get a 10% discount if they register before June 1st, and an additional 10% off if they bring a friend to camp. We also offer church scholarships where participating churches pay 50% of a campers tuition. And we have scholarships available if paying for camp is a barrier for anyone to come. Donors have given money specifically to set-up a scholarship fund to pay the tuition for these campers.


Volunteers & Staff

Of course, with higher numbers of campers means we need more help. We are still needing cabin counselors for most weeks of camp. We also have 2 open staff positions - kitchen staff and lifeguards. Starting salaries for summer staff is $400/week this year, and we are glad that this year, we are able to offer a competitive wage to our staff.


Our counseling staff is entirely volunteer, and we are constantly recruiting cabin counselors for all of our summer camps. It typically takes about 50-60 volunteers to make summer camp happen, typically with different volunteers coming in for each week to help. It’s all hands on deck for the summer. If you are at all interested in helping with our camp programs, there is most certainly something you will be able to help with!


Rental Numbers

Although our camper numbers haven’t totally bounced back, we have been seeing growth in other areas, particularly rental groups! We’ve seen the amount of rental groups almost double from their pre-pandemic numbers, and this has opened up new doors of ministry. Many different kinds of groups come to camp, and we get to share our values of living peacefully, simply, and together with those who come, and we’ve seen some more campers join us for our programs from those rental groups.


Financials

We have been really blessed in the wake of the pandemic to be in a good financial position, which is due in large part to the generosity of our donors. Because of the donations we’ve gotten in the past couple years is why we are able to start making needed improvements to our facilities, like adding climate control to our dining hall and offering competitive pay to our seasonal staff. We are excited to see more people see the value of our space and our ministry, and we are grateful to everyone who enables us to make these improvements so that more people can enjoy camp for years to come.


Final Thoughts

I believe that outdoor ministry is so important, and I am grateful for the opportunities to share this passion of mine, along with the exciting things we are doing at camp, as well as the areas we need more help and support. We often ask for volunteers and financial offerings, but equally as important are your prayers. With the challenges of running camp in a pandemic in 2021, and the challenge of facing a damaging wind storm in the middle of the summer in 2022, I truly believe prayer is what has sustained us. We’ve overcome the odds, and God always works all things together for His good, and I believe the faithful prayers of our supporters play a role in that. I do hope that you prayerfully consider supporting camp with your time and your resources, but even just praying for our ministry is hugely helpful.


If you want to learn more about what Camp Mardela is doing, the events we are hosting, the camp programs we are running, our physical and financial needs, subscribe to this blog to get our bi-monthly newsletters, as well as blog updates on more specific topics. Thank you for your support of our ministry, and may God continue with you in your walk - peacefully, simply, and together with Him and this community.


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