Matthew 25:34 reads: ‘When I was in prison you visited me, when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was stuck on Lynds Hill Road, you pulled me out…’
Actually that last phrase isn’t in the Bible. But the phrase does describe how the Bible came alive last week at Bethany Birches Camp.
I was getting ready to feed Susie when I heard a knock on the sliding door (a common mission impossible destination for many – knocks are not uncommon!). A man I did not know stood outside our door, looking cold and tired. I opened the door a crack.
“Hello, can I help you?”
“Uh, yea,” the man replied. “I’m from VTEL, I’m stuck down the road. Could I use your phone to call a tow truck?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, you may use the phone, come on in.”
“Do you have the number for a local towing company?” The stranger asks sheepishly.
“Uh, sir, you’re in Plymouth, VT. the middle of nowhere. Nothing is local… Let me call my husband at the camp up the road, he’ll know who to call.”
” Oh, just up the road, I can walk up there.”
And after a bit more conversation the cold, tired man trudges up the road towards camp.
About 15 min later, I see Chick on the tractor and Tuna and the stranger in our car driving down the road.
15 min later I see the tractor, the car and a mini van come up the road. The stranger gets out and gives Tuna a hug. The man gave Chick the certificate pictured here.
He wasn’t naked, hungry or in prison. He was stuck. And Chick and Tuna helped him get unstuck.
The words of Jesus continue to come alive at Bethany Birches Camp. Join us on the hill (work days, winter camp, summer camp, volunteering) to experience Jesus for yourself.
The Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) van could be seen in the camp parking lot from April 6-10. Each spring a group of volunteers from Salford Mennonite Church travel in this van to an area that has experienced a natural disaster. The group serves for a week by doing whatever needs to be done to minimize the physical effects of the disaster. This spring there wasn’t an option to head towards a natural disaster on the East Coast so they drove the van to BBC!
A number of the guys in the group joked about bringing the MDS van to BBC. Clearly, this is NOT a site of a natural disaster. And yet something about having the MDS van at BBC last week was so fitting. At times this project has felt like a disaster…
…Attempting to build a large building from start to finish in VT during the months of Sept – June is a bit disastrous…Utilizing as many volunteers as possible to build a commercial building has the potential to be a scheduling disaster…Going 50+ days below freezing when attempting to complete outside construction work feels like a disaster to each worker who can’t feel their fingers/toes most of the day…A spring thaw turning the parking lot into a huge mudpit has the feel of disaster.
The Salford MDS crew did what most MDS crews do. They brought encouragement in the face of discouraging facts. They smiled as they climbed ladders to shingle the roof. They shrugged off the April snow that pushed them to insulate inside. They asked questions about the mission of BBC and worked all the harder. When they finished on Friday the building had more siding, shingles and insulation. The van pulled out early Saturday morning. The parking lot was still muddy. Much of the building is left to be finished. There still isn’t enough money in the bank.
On Monday Ken Hershey, Larry Derstine (Bridgewater, VT), Roy Snell (Woodstock, VT) volunteered time to continue working on shingling and siding. Andy Bird (Bridgewater, VT), Harold Bergey, Will Bergey, Marlin and Neil Bergey (Hatfield, PA) are volunteering all week to continue the rough in electrical work. Today Russell and Nancy Pejouhy (Bethel, VT) came to stain interior boards. Margaret (Lebanon, NH) is here keeping the office in order. A group from Make it Rain will be here this weekend to volunteer their skills and on Sunday a group from Blooming Glen Mennonite Church will start a week of service.
At BBC we normally experience God using people to bring encouragement in the face of discouraging circumstances all summer and this year, all winter. Experience first hand how God does this by volunteering time or giving money to help build the pavilion or sending a kid to BBC this summer!
The MDS Van
Salford MDS Crew
Larry Derstine adds shingles
Marlin and Neil of Bergey’s Electric Volunteer to do the high ceiling work.
Sometimes the task ahead of us looks too big. Monumental. Insurmountable.
When completing a thesis became a requirement for graduate school I wondered if I would pass. (I did.)
When driving over the Killington Pass in the snow became necessary to go home I wondered if I should rent an apt in Rutland. (I didn’t.)
When a group of new summer staff shows up each June and many campers are registered to join us I often wonder to myself, “hmmm, how will this go?” Each summer has gone well, with plenty of lessons along the way. (Except for 2009, that summer was really hard!)
When Tuna told me we needed to have the pavilion packed up, prepared for tear down and host a party the day after 8 weeks of summer camp ended, I laughed. Usually, the day after summer camp ends, I sleep. For a very long time.
The task seemed too big. Monumental. Insurmountable.
Then a large group of people showed up. People of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and camp connections came to help.
I started to realize the day was going to go differently than I expected when one of the Musser Woodcutters (a group of men who have been coming each November to cut firewood for camp for the past 15+ years) walked into the pavi just before 2pm with his wife. They live in central PA. After hugs and greetings they both asked, “what can we do?” Lynette got to work in the kitchen and Merle hauled stuff from the pavilion to various places on the gator.
Board members arrived ready to get their hands dirty. Shoot, they even brought their spouses and kids!
Rouke’s Mom and Dad arrived at the start and took apart the water fountain, the kitchen and some of the walls! Campers from past and present came with their families and cut trees, cleaned out the craft hut, organized and boxed up the nurse’s station, moved kitchen supplies, put the craft hut on trees, and all the while smiled and asked what else they could do to help.
Volunteers who have been around since the start of camp cleaned out the recycling shed (which had not been fully cleaned out for an embarrassing amount of time), took apart electrical things and continued to ask, “what else can we do?”. Sharkbait’s (assistant cook ’14) family spent time moving the cubbies to chickadee and organizing items in their temporary homes. Chad Yoder and Austin Landes started in well before 2pm, moving the ball box, taking apart the mural, and dismantling the sound system. Jeff Rosenberger and Dale Snader drove their trucks and trailers around camp property moving heavy kitchen appliances. They too, did all this work smiling and always asking what else can we do?
Local carpenters salvaged pieces of the old pavilion to sell at the upcoming benefit auction. Althea and Jane inventoried, bagged up and organized the camp store supplies. Phil, Denise and a crew of helpers provided everyone with a great meal, sans kitchen!
It wasn’t long until I had no answer to the continuous question, “what else can we do?” And it has taken me too long to say THANK YOU to each person who came to help with the Pavi Teardown Hoedown.
And now, as various challenges with each step of the building process arise, the task of replacing the Pavi seems too big. Monumental. Insurmountable.
Then I remember the Pavi Teardown Hoedown. I also remember the volunteers who come to help each summer. I remember what BBC shared with campers for the duration of Summer ’14: God will build God’s people up by using God’s people. That is the story of Bethany Birches. God uses God’s people to build a community of love. Bring on the task of building a new Pavi. Only with God are all things possible. May God inspire you to help build the new Pavi.
#We would be building #withGod
Pavi tear down volunteers gather to say goodbye
Camper parents send parts of the pavi to the top of the barn
God is on the move at camp! I write this because there is so much happening and a lot of it seems very good.
As I reflect on this, I think about how we experience things we like, we can easily attribute those feelings to God’s goodness and gifts. Similarly, when we experience things we don’t like, we can easily attribute our feelings to God and say God is against us (sometimes this may be but often, we simply need to re-calibrate our understanding of what is good, or rather, who is good).I really like the fundraising that’s happening at Bethany Birches Camp (BBC) right now. For example, the 11th Annual Benefit Auction that happened at camp in late September raised $60,000. It’s easy to feel a sense of blessing in the wake of that fundraiser. Or, consider the current status of Mission Possible: The Pavilion Project. $1.2 million has been committed to date. These two numbers are historical for BBC.On the other hand, this coming weekend we’re hosting a teen connect. Only 15 are signed up right now. On a bad day, it’s easy for me to feel like God has not blessed this event.
It helps me in the face of what I perceive as wild success and annoying failure to remember a couple things from Scripture. First, in Isaiah 55, God exclaims “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” Second, from Paul in Philippians 4 we learn that it’s possible to be content whatever our circumstances. And third, from Jesus, we come to understand that God’s blessings pour out on the righteous and unrighteous and that often things are reversed (the beatitudes illustrate blessing in tough situations and it’s hard for wealthy people to enter the Kingdom).
Join me in praying for the camp and the many people it serves. Pray for blessing, for effectiveness in ministry, for those of us in leadership to stay near to Jesus and for many campers to experience God’s love.
Many of you know Cheeks. She’s been the Program Director at Bethany Birches for many years (this will be her 9th summer). She also happens to be my wife. We got married after working here at camp together for a few years.
To me, Cheeks has been a gift from God. Let me explain:
Many days I realize this through various circumstances. Today, I realized it again. This time it was related to the fact that she doesn’t get distracted by stuff (you could even say she doesn’t care much about stuff). Seriously. She doesn’t like to spend a lot of money on stuff. She uses stuff until it breaks down entirely. If she looses something, she shrugs it off and mentions that she didn’t really need it anyway. Take her purse/bag for example. Right now, there’s a hole in it and one handle has broken off. She’s still using it. If it broke entirely, she might never get a new one. She might use another bag in the closet or fill her pockets.
I am quite different. I like stuff. I like high quality stuff and I like when it performs well. If it gets scratched or damaged, I like to repair it. Take my bike for example. I rode it today and it was wet. When I got home, I hosed it off and set it in front of a fan to dry. I washed it so the chain was free of grit and used the fan so that nothing would rust.
Here’s the thing. We only get so much time on Earth. Old people tell me that it goes fast. Researching, getting and taking care of stuff takes a lot of time. And, those of us who care about our stuff can at times be on the verge of caring too much for it. This is part of why Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his stuff.
Back to me and Cheeks. She is a constant example of what it looks like to care less about stuff. With her attention not focused on stuff, she tends to focus on people… and she’s very good at considering others! Not only is this a blessing to me, it’s a witness.
I hope you find a way to bless those you live with today like Cheeks blesses me. When that way is unclear, look to Jesus. He will show you.
A lot of snow + campers + BBC= SNOW CAMP!! Undoubtedly campers love going to camp: to see friends, to see the staff, and at BBC- to learn more about God. We (a group of volunteers) had a great time with the campers in a non-stop action packed weekend, but the focus wasn’t necessarily on snow – It was on God.
Something that stands out in my mind from the weekend was a conversation that a couple of us (volunteers and campers) were having. I remembered one of the campers – he has a brilliant mind but had a hard time processing the existence of one almighty God. He and his family tended to be polytheistic and as we talked about the story of Elijah found in 1 Kings in the Bible, he asked some really good questions – like, “Why did Elijah call upon Baal to bring fire down when that wasn’t Baals ‘gift’ or ‘power’? He wasn’t the god of fire so of course he won’t be able to send fire down on the altar.” Hmm, good point. We continued to go deeper, yet at some point he seemed to reach an impasse, to which he said, “I’m a skeptic…” as if he thought that by saying that I would stop asking questions. We pressed on. He said that it would take a REALLY BIG miracle to prove to him that the God of Abraham is real.
It was a blessing to be a part of that discussion. He was processing the Christian story. He was asking good questions. He has a deeper knowledge now than he had before – whether that translates into a trust in Jesus and eventual service of God’s Kingdom is yet to be seen. At least a weekend at camp filled his heart and mind with knowledge of the truth. Sometimes these conversations can be a challenge, but they’re the ones that can also bring about the most change and can give us the most encouragement to keep going, to keep proclaiming the message of the gospel to a world that so desperately needs to hear it, see it, feel it, experience it – and Bethany Birches IS all of those things to EVERY camper!
Among the blogs I read is Generous Matters. It’s largely about generosity, giving and making ourselves rich toward God (rather than just plain old rich). This past Friday, the author of the blog included an excerpt from CS Lewis… I love CS Lewis! Here’s what he wrote in one of his books:
“Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of really being at home on Earth, which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.”
Having read Screwtape Letters, I know that Lewis does not consider it a good thing when we feel “at home on Earth.” Being at home on Earth makes it hard to be at home in God’s Kingdom.
This summer, we hope to have a ton of fun while discovering together this special place some Christians call God’s Kingdom. If we trust Jesus’ words, we know that in that place is where we receive “life to the full.”
So Cheeks and I watched Les Miserables on video the other night. It’s a classic story and the most recent version done on video is very good. As I was watching the scene when Javert decides to drown himself, I realized one of many reasons to learn to love our enemies – so we don’t drown ourselves!
Here’s what he says in the song that made me think of this:
Da.ned if I’ll live in the debt of thief Da.ned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase I am the law and the law is not mocked I’ll spit his pity right back in his face There is nothing on Earth that we share It is either Valjean or Javert!
In short, he can’t handle the fact that his enemy, Jean Valjean, loved him enough to help him in his time of need (Valjean gains permission to release him from behind enemy lines – he would have been most likely killed had Valjean not done this). He can’t stand this kindness so much that he decides to drown himself.
An article from Wikipedia explains the narrative this way:
“Javert wanders the streets in emotional turmoil: his mind simply cannot reconcile the image he had carried through the years of Valjean as a brutal ex-convict with his acts of kindness on the barricades. Now, Javert can be justified neither in letting Valjean go nor in arresting him. For the first time in his life, Javert is faced with the situation where he cannot act lawfully without acting immorally, and vice versa. Unable to find a solution to this dilemma, and horrified at the sudden realization that Valjean was simultaneously a criminal and a good person—a conundrum which made mockery of Javert’s entire system of moral values—Javert decides to resolve the dissonance by drowning in the river Seine; his body is later found.”
Here’s my point – Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies is for our own good. Whether we drown ourselves in an actual river or a metaphorical river, hate causes deep inner turmoil.
One of our goals at camp is to build a community of love each week, each summer and over the lifetime of the camp, with all who participate. This helps each of us learn to love those we otherwise might not get along with. In learning to love those hard to love, we become free from hate. Just one of the many things Jesus saves us from.
This blog entry from Peg Smith, the CEO of American Camp Association caught my attention today. It is in response to the Sandy Hook shooting. It is relevant to our faith. It is relevant to the question: how should I parent? And, am I raising my child well?
It seems to me the heart of her answer is a command: Transform. Or, Grow.
Can I find a way to help parents understand that as much as we may want to wrap our children in a cocoon that we must realize that environments that help young people to engage, explore, and experience how to learn about and understand others are more important than ever? Authentic connections are as imperative as the ability to accomplish math.
May God transform each of us as we seek to love instead of all other alternatives.
Last week this time I was walking the streets of Paris. It was excellent. It was great to be in a famous city on the other side of the world with REALLY GOOD FOOD, but even greater was the time I spent with my in–laws. Back in November Tuna’s mom (some of you know her as Mama Tuna) invited me and her 2 other daughter-in-laws to Paris. Just the 4 of us, no Bergey boys. We went overseas without our common thread: our husbands!
I was hesitant at first, traveling to another country is a big deal and I’ve heard you should be careful with whom you take on that adventure. But in talking with a friend, she said:
“Perfect! You’re mother in law is brilliant. There is nothing to do but bond in another country!”
And that is exactly what we did. I loved the streets of Paris and especially analyzing the streets of Paris with my newest family members. I loved the French cuisine and more than that, learning what my sister-in-laws loved. I loved trying to learn the French language, but I loved even more the acceptance of my mother-in-law and sister-in-laws as I butchered the words time and time again. As I was reflecting on this I was struck with the undeniable fact that this is what happens at camp.
Well, not exactly. We do not take campers to France. I don’t even think we have anything that could be considered French food at camp! What does happen at camp happened to me in Paris. People are in new environments. People are in situations where they can’t help but bond together as they explore new activity and relationship. Campers and staff alike explore new ideas, games and experiences together, in nature, and make memories. Campers bond with others who are experiencing new things. Veteran campers bond with rookie campers as they work together and each brings an experience.
As summer approaches and my time gets tight I’m reminded partly of the reason we do camp. Jesus taught through community and BBC does the same. Don’t miss the opportunity to bond with a community. Whether you come to BBC this summer (or next!) or head overseas with your in-laws, don’t miss the opportunity to share an experience with others in a different place. I believe it’s a taste of God’s kingdom here on Earth.