Archive for the ‘Donors’ Category

Nevin J Bender, the first camp director at Bethany Birches passes

Marcia Bender, Nevin’s daughter, who still lives near the camp, sent a message to Bethany Mennonite Church saying that Nevin had passed away.  As part of her email she wrote “He visited with mom in the afternoon, ate dinner, then died at the table – very peaceful and quiet.  I got to spend three lovely days with him earlier this month. To have been able to talk with him and sing with him and do puzzles with him was such a privilege, and it makes me smile and remember his loving, peaceful and steady presence.”

As the first director here at BBC, Nevin left his mark in many ways.  The core of the camp program still looks similar to what he created including community and fun and rustic camp living.  We will highlight some of the stories about him from Stories From The First 50 Years: Volume 1 in a coming blog post.

Obituary for Nevin James Bender

Nevin James Bender, 81, died on July 22, 2019 at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.  Nevin was born on July 13, 1938, the son of Nevin V. and Esther Lauver Bender.  

Nevin grew up on a small dairy farm in Greenwood DE.  At a very early age he was eager to learn the skills needed on the farm and spent many long days planting and harvesting baby lima beans.  Nevin attended Greenwood Mennonite School and graduated from Greenwood High School in 1956.  He was the director of the Greenwood Mennonite Youth Chorus and was an active youth leader and congregational music leader at Greenwood Mennonite Church.

On June 24, 1961 Nevin married Lourene Godshall.  They celebrated 58 years together this year.  

Nevin graduated from Eastern Mennonite College in 1961 and went on to earn a Master of Divinity at Hartford Seminary.  He became pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church in Vermont, and a few years later he established Bethany Birches Camp where he was also the camp director for 15 years.  The camp continues to this day.

Nevin’s pastoral career ended in 1979 when he suffered a brain aneurysm.  He and his family moved to Harrisonburg, VA in 1983 where he began working in the maintenance department of Eastern Mennonite College.  This second career lasted for the next 25 years; he was known as a positive, reliable, and energetic member of the grounds crew. Nevin and Lourene were active participants at Broad Street Mennonite Church, where Nevin was on the music team, playing guitar and leading music.

Following Nevin’s retirement from EMC, he spent 10 years at Friendship Industries, working in contract packaging, and did volunteer work at Gift and Thrift.

From lima beans to pastoring to groundskeeping to volunteer work, Nevin demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to his evolving capacities, reinventing himself repeatedly to take advantage of his skills and talents.

Nevin was preceded in death by siblings Lura Benner, Titus Bender, and Mildred Bender.  He is survived by his wife Lourene Godshall Bender; siblings Miriam Jantzi, Paul Bender, Hilda Swartz, Emma Myers, and Don Bender; children Nevin Bender, Conrad Bender, Marcia Bender and Angela Bender; grandchildren Miguel Garcia-Bender, Nikki Garcia-Bender, Marisol Garcia-Bender, Trinity Bender, Anna Hepler, Adaija Bender, Calef Hepler, and Shanta Bender.

The family will host a time of visitation on Monday, July 29 at 3:00 PM, followed by a memorial service at 4:00 PM at the Detweiler Auditorium at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, 1501 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802. 

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Bethany Birches Camp, 2610 Lynds Hill Road, Plymouth, VT,  05056 or make a donation on their website: www.bethanybirches.org

Be Still And Know That I Am God…. even in the chaos

Hi. I’m Flora, or at camp I’m Gigi.

This summer I’m the Day Camp and Leadership Training Director. Every summer I’ve worked here I’ve seen God clearly in the campers, in nature and the community among the staff. This summer I’ve seen him in each of those places, but I’ve also been challenged by the scripture- “Be still and know that I am God” in Psalm 46. If you’ve never been here when there are campers, still is not the word you would come away saying. Camp is great with campers, and it’s energetic, and loud and a little crazy. Not still. During orientation Cheeks had us do a practice where we found somewhere quiet and repeated “be still and know that I am God”, then reduced the phrase to “be still and know that I am”, and then “be still and know”, slowly removing words until we were just repeating “Be” to ourselves. I really enjoyed this practice, but had trouble thinking about how that scripture could be true for me this summer. This scripture kept coming up for me the next couple weeks, friends would send it to me or it would come up in my devotionals but it didn’t seem possible. When I decided to listen to a sermon from my home church in Burlington, VT, and the sermon scripture was “be still and know that I am God” I felt like God was yelling at me to obey that scripture.

That sermon changed my idea on what being still looks like at camp. My pastor talked about the Hebrew word Rapha, which he described as a calm confidence in God. Being still became more attainable to me as he described peace coming from posture of Holy awareness, instead of what had been in my mind, which was being alone and finding long periods of time for God, which this job doesn’t always allow. Since then I have been able to find Rapha in some of the least still moments of the summer, by expanding on the scripture. During the many times when it feels like my patience is running low when I’m with campers who may require extra attention I remind myself to be still and know that God is God who provides patience and love. I don’t need to be all those things, because God is for me. And on the days when I get woken up by the radio in the night and don’t get the sleep I need to make it through the day I am reminded to be still and know that God is God who has energy and is the life in me. When I’ve had this posture I’ve seen myself being more full of what I should be empty of and more aware of God giving me what I need.

This summer I had the opportunity to lead a three day backpacking trip with seven campers, and two other staff. The morning we were leaving for the trip I woke up at 4am with every worst case scenario running through my head. Thunderstorms. Medical emergencies. Behavioral issues. No logic could solve the stress I was feeling. I had solved these problems when I was planning the trip earlier that summer; we had extra tarps, I have wilderness medical training, and I know how to deal with campers, yet I was still stressed. I was physically still in bed, but my mind was not still. As I laid in bed I knew what I needed wasn’t more backup plans, but rather the peace of Christ. That week as we hiked along the Long Trail I experienced God not just in the stillness of nature, but in the conversations and riddles that kept us hiking. As I led with a calm confidence in God I found myself knowing that He was there, and providing for each need of each person on that trip.

Flora “Gigi” Dewar

Leon and Rupert Try The Way Of Jesus Together

The other week I returned to the adventure that is counseling at Bethany Birches Camp. I left the routine of my job as the facilities manager and once again became Counselor Rupert. Our cabin group that spent the week in Robin all arrived together on a bus and were part of the Camp Agape program. I didn’t know who was going to be in my cabin until I walked into the pavilion and saw six middle schoolers and Wade, a long-time Agape volunteer, waiting at a picnic table. We marched down to Robin, bags in tow, and moved into our home for the week. 

The children who are part of Camp Agape have experienced the incarceration of a parent. Most children who experience the loss of a parent have extra hardship in their life. Some of my campers that week used harsh language towards others, told crass jokes, and tried to get ahead whenever possible. It seemed that some of them felt that whoever was physically, emotionally, and socially superior could get others to do things for them and was the top dog.

Monday afternoon during rest time all six campers fell asleep. After the 30 minutes were up two of the campers wanted to go on sleeping. Wade and I got them to get up and go onto the next activities, but by the end of dinner, which took place at another cabin, they were asking to go to bed. I was glad we decided to break from the schedule of games, songs, and activities and Wade took them back to the cabin, because those two boys slept over twelve hours straight through to breakfast the next morning. I don’t know what their lives were like the week before camp, but in the solitude of the Robin cabin, down the hill surrounded by trees, they were able to rest.

One camper, who I’ll call “Leon,” was obsessed with the concept of being the “alpha male.” To him this meant being the superior in a way that allowed him to protect others and also meant he could get others to do things for him. He went about this by declaring feats of strength and challenging other campers in the cabin, boasting about his prowess if he were to get in a fight with someone who might try to harm him or his friends (he often would refer to the other boys in the cabin as “my men”), and by talking about the different girls at camp he was talking to. It almost seemed like a more primitive or tribal way of approaching relationships with others. Leon was never the butt of jokes and always could get others to do his dishes or carry things to and from the cabin. I often had an image of a great lion who lazed about while the rest of the group did everything and could only be bothered if some threat needed to be chased off.

At the beginning of the week I wasn’t sure which approach would be best for working with this cabin of boys. I didn’t think I could change who they were with a few words and explanations and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t respond well to loss of privileges and multiple trips to the director’s office. I made sure they were safe, didn’t harm each other, and kept the insults to each other as in check. I tried my best to take care of any needs they had. I listened when they spoke and asked questions when I could. I had this idea that if I could be an example of a way to act they would see that it was a better way to live and pick up a few things. 

I was trying to follow the way of Jesus. I was trying to lead by serving, build up the people around me, and produce good fruit. The way I was acting seemed to me to be a sharp contrast to many of the behaviors of my campers. I tried to live into what I wanted to believe and told the campers why as I did it. I wanted to treat others as I want to be treated, I spoke calmly and respectfully, and I told them that in order to lead others you must serve them. I hoped the campers would see that how I lived was more life-giving, and also ask what was the source of my motivation.

 By the middle of the week, I felt tired, used up, and I wasn’t sure that what I was doing was making any difference. I was questioning if I should have started the week off differently by enforcing strict rules about language and behavior. I was annoyed at all the little things the kids did to each other and how hard it was to get them to do anything helpful. I was worried that one of the campers would hurt themselves, each other, or a camper from another cabin. Wade was only able to volunteer until Tuesday morning and I immediately felt his absence. I felt I wasn’t living up to expectations.

 I found myself doing a lot of praying. I prayed for strength. I prayed for my campers. I prayed for guidance and assurance. I realized that although I pray often I don’t expect my prayers to be answered. I usually ask God for help, strength, or to work in others, and then I continue on expecting to be able to do it on my own. I got to a point where I needed God and, to my surprise, found I was being provided for. I was able to identify an inner strength and peace that I didn’t think was my own. The other camp staff supported me when I needed it and I started to notice some changes in my campers. 

I remember sitting at the table and one of the campers telling the other they were stupid and then another said,”Hey, can we not say they that? It’s not a real cuss word, but it sort of is and it isn’t nice.” He then mumbled something I didn’t hear about wanting to try doing something different for once. The other campers just sort of sat and thought for a moment about what he said. Some of the campers also began to help with the meals, serve the food, and carry things up and down the hill. They also stopped listening to Leon and didn’t want to do what he told them or follow him. Leon started doing things himself and even volunteered to help the cabin carry the food and water a few times. I think maybe they were starting to see a different way to relate to each other. Even more amazing was Friday when Leon got in an argument with another camper concerning a girl Leon was now talking to and the other camper was determined to fight him. Leon walked away. I couldn’t believe it. This was the exact situation he had been talking about the whole week and seemed to be a big part of his identity. Afterwards he was quite conflicted and said he wasn’t sure why he walked away. By the end of the week the insults, language, and yelling over each other to get attention were mostly replaced by conversation and laughter. Thursday evening, the cabin even joined in during fireside linking arms and singing with the rest of camp and then sat through listening to the shepherd.

By the end of the week, I was honestly sad that it was over. I had a lot of great conversations with the kids and felt like I got to know each of them a little bit better. Generally they came from tough situations and coped in a variety of ways. Some would follow whoever was in charge and settle into the role of the victim. Others would seek to dominate their peers and be strong enough to keep themselves safe. Still others wouldn’t say much and never let others get too close. The last few nights before bed were spent sharing life experiences and what we believed in. None of them appeared to have any strong faith in anything though some expressed they believed there was good and evil in the world as well as ghosts, spirits, and such. I told them that God made them, loved them, and wanted to know them and wanted them to know God. I also said that God wanted us to care for each other as we would want to be cared for.

I asked them during our last meal together how they felt about the week and they said they had a great time at camp and looked forward to returning. They also told me I was very nice and did a great job. This made me feel pretty good. They all got back on the bus and were smiling as they waved goodbye. I’m not sure where they are going back to, but I will look forward to seeing each of them again next year. 

After the week I felt drained emotionally and physically but I was content. I realized looking back that the campers were usually respectful to me, even if they weren’t towards each other, and confined their more challenging behaviors to the shelter site.  I realized that I didn’t encounter anything I wasn’t prepared for or couldn’t handle. At the beginning of the week I couldn’t have imagined the tired contented happiness I would feel by the end of Friday. I’m looking forward to the next time I have the opportunity to be a counselor for a week. I know it will be another opportunity to invest in the lives of young people and I will grow as a person through the challenges.

Patrick “Rupert” Graber

Staffing crises point to the Body of Christ

Greetings friends!  Been a while since you’ve heard from us via the blog.  That’s because in April, our Program Director, Courtney, fell ill and could not continue her duties!  Please pray for her health and healing.  Where did that leave us at camp?  Restructuring!  In terms of the summer camp leadership team, the restructuring seems to have worked.  We were able to shift leaders around and call Amber “Cheeks” Bergey back into service as Camp Director.  She is mentoring some newer leaders including the Day Camp Director and Resident Camp Director.  All are learning and growing and doing good work.

Come June, it started to feel like we were going to make it through the summer excelling and hosting the many campers as good as always.  As that feeling set in, a second crisis struck in the male counseling team.  We lost an assistant to a broken leg, another to a change in heart.  We lost a male counselor to anxiety and another to a concussion.  We are still down all four of those guys.  How could we go on?!

Many summer staffers talked with friends and one of those friends came to BBC for the first time and did a great job the first week of camp (and will be back twice this summer).  We reached out to other Mennonite Camps and uncovered two brothers who were trusted counselors and could give us a few weeks.  A long time counselor said he could return for a week or two.  Our facilities manager who used to counsel, said he could counsel as needed.  Things are starting to look up!  I was reminded of the “Body of Christ” and how together we can function as a cohesive community and in so doing Jesus would meet us and help meet our need for “daily bread” (in this case, having qualified counseling staff for each camper).  Keep an eye on our youtube channel this weekend for how we made the picture of a body at the top of this post.

Personally, this pair of crises stretched me and my family quite a bit.  I found early morning wake ups common, some tears in talking with God, and challenges at home as the kids got used to their nanny (so thankful for her and my strong wife, Cheeks, who is leading the program team in her third pregnancy!).

I find myself stretched, challenged, thankful and looking forward to uncovering who the next camp director will be.  If you know someone who would be a good fit, tell them of the opportunity to live and serve in the Green Mountains!

Brandon “Tuna” Bergey

16th Annual Benefit Auction

The 16th Annual Benefit Auction was great fun and raised over $51,000 for the work of Bethany Birches.  Specifically, that means that many campers who could not afford camp could still come and have a powerful summer and winter camp experience. I am so thankful for all of you generous and gracious people who make camp possible.  Thanks to everyone who donated items, who came out to the event,  who bid on-line, who made food, and who volunteered in numerous ways. We couldn’t do it without you!

On Saturday, we were blessed to enjoy beautiful fall weather for auction day.  The sun was out and the leaves were starting to display their autumn glory.  The morning began with a delicious breakfast of Phil Lapp’s famous donuts (bet you didn’t eat just one), an amazing selection of quiches, fresh fruit,  funny cake, shoe-fly pie (pies courtesy of Landis Supermarket), and lots of coffee and apple cider (thanks for the apples Jeff/Jane and for pressing Mike!).  It was just the thing to fuel everyone up for the active bidding that was to come.

We unveiled this year’s mug design as well as the new auction logo – and both were received with enthusiasm.  Plus – all those who joined the “mug club” got to enjoy endless beverage refills throughout the day. What a deal! 

The preview hour was a great opportunity to check out the silent auction tent, as well as to start strategizing which items to bid on in the live auction.  Once Sandy (of Sanford Alderfer Real Estate), the auctioneer, took the microphone we were were off and running.  He has such a great energy and he keeps the bidder numbers popping up all over the room.  There were certainly some items for which the bidding was quite competitive, and that was really fun to watch (I, Wonder Woman was very excited to win one of the Penn View Farm Chocolate Milks that I had my eye on!).  Here’s a list of all the items in the live auction and their selling prices.

The event wrapped up with a fantastic lunch spread, and time to savor good food and conversation around the picnic tables.  The kids enjoyed running around at the playground as well.  We all had full stomachs, and even fuller hearts.

There were many special moments last Saturday.   Two of my favorite moments were listening to a supporter who talked about reconnecting with childhood friends at the auction and watching two current campers attempt auctioning for themselves!  In fact, here they are:

Posted by Bethany Birches Camp on Saturday, September 29, 2018

Here’s another take from the budding auctioneers:

Posted by Bethany Birches Camp on Saturday, September 29, 2018

So go ahead and mark your calendars for next year, September 28, 2019.  See you there!

On behalf of the auction committee,

Tuna and Wonder Woman

(Brandon Bergey, Courtney Hollingsworth)