About twenty years ago Regina, my wife, asked me to go to Spring Mill Bible Camp with her and my children, Rachel and Zach. I was raised going to Boy Scout camp and immediately frowned and said, “No, I don’t think so.” And I didn’t go. I thought how fun could that be? I loved going to Scout camp and being in the outdoors and doing Scout things.
When they came back from Spring Mill that first year, they were alive with the place. They were full of stories, how they enjoyed it, and were walking around singing camp songs with love in their hearts. And I knew immediately that I missed something very special.
So next year I went. Zach was 8 years old and in the Hebron cabin. Paul Short was the head counselor. We had a schedule with just enough to keep you busy, but there was time built in for fun – for playing basketball, ping pong, tetherball, and having fun with everyone.
There were classes about God, great singing, and chapel talks, and 3 great meals per day together with everyone. We went creek stomping at the Spring Mill State Park. We went cave exploring and had contests to see how long someone could immerse themselves in the frigid water. There were many people I knew because I had been worshipping with them for years. There were some that I did not know very well, but by the end of the week everyone is well acquainted.
At night we had to get the kids to sleep in the Hebron cabin. I thought. “How on earth are we going to get these 12 to 15 kids to sleep?” They are having too much fun. We are going to be up all night. But Paul pulled out a book and read to the kids. I thought that is smart, because I watched the kids settle down and listen to the story. And after a hard day running around, playing, learning, singing and eating well, they were ready to go to sleep. But their brains didn’t know they were tired, because they wanted to run around the cabin and jump on the beds. But now they were listening to the story, and their heart rate was settling down. Pretty soon they were dropping off, one by one, to sleep. Soon they were all out! Paul Short in my eyes was a brilliant man!
It was about 10 years later that I learned that Spring Mill Bible Camp is actually run by a paid staff all summer except for one week: the week of the 4th of July when Southeastern church of Christ comes and runs a “family” camp. Evidently years ago, someone at Southeastern, or some people, decided that they’d take all their kids to Spring Mill Bible Camp, and the parents would staff the whole camp. The parents would be the counselors in each cabin (I think of myself as a “Cabin Dad”). The parents would be the teachers, the activity coordinators, the crafts person, the nurse, the cooks, run the canteen, and be the camp director. No paid staff! Wow! These people had to be staunch, formidable people to decide to take on that responsibility. What a great idea. And here I thought the whole summer long at Spring Mill was run by the parents of one congregation. I had no idea that the rest of the summer was run by a paid staff.
And so I’ve gone to Spring Mill Bible Camp every year except for one or two, for the last 14 years or so. Regina stayed in the “Family Cabin” when Rachel was too young to be in the “Regular Cabins”. Micah has been at camp since he was two years old. He stayed in the cabin with me, Zach (10 years difference), and the other boys. I told the boys he was our mascot, and we had to all watch out for him and take care of him. At that age, Micah was hard to get to sleep, and I was again dreading how to get all these boys to sleep and get Micah to sleep. To top it off, the first night was the 4th of July, and people in the next property shot off a bunch of fireworks. It was noisy, the fireworks were going off, and these middle school boys had a mind of their own.
I had adapted the book reading that Paul taught me, to read different Christian books like Jonathon Livingston Seagull, Point Man, or the Bible (boys love the battles of Joshua and King David.) But the boys didn’t fall asleep during the story, and Micah was still awake, and I was worried. But all of the sudden Cameron said, “Let’s sing some devo songs.” And Ryan Draper jumped right in and started signing. And all the boys were singing, and I was singing, and fireworks were shooting off. I looked over and Micah amongst all the noise and singing was asleep! I smiled and thought, “Am I in an incredible place, blessed by God, or what!?”
My kids are dunked in love and Jesus all week with me and other families at Southeastern and it is great! They have been sad to leave camp and look forward to it every year. They come home and we all sing devo songs for no particular reason for a week. And the numbers of baptisms that happen in the weeks after camp are noteworthy.
But it has changed in the last few years. There are fewer families at Spring Mill. There are more and more volunteers who come and give their week, their vacation days, to love and teach the children. We have had volunteers that did not have any children there at camp, but are dedicated to keeping this wonderful tradition going strong. Last year over half the boys in my cabin did not have a regular father figure in their homes, so it was a lot more work and a lot more discipline to provide, and I had to build a relationship with them in short time. So it has turned into more of a mission trip for me. But I still love it, and it is rewarding to hear the boys tell their parents when they get home how much fun they had and how much they want to come back again next summer. That is what camp is about! We are there so kids can experience the “aroma” of Christ in a beautiful outdoor setting away from the distractions of our busy lives.
Every year we are blessed to have young adults that were once campers, to give back to the younger generation. It is a blessing to see the tradition being passed on. If you have children of school age or even younger, I encourage you to come to Spring Bible Camp this year. You won’t regret it. Your kids will love it! It may change your life and the life of your children! Really.