Wow. Bethany Birches supporters showed up in a big way! Looking down the list of all the bidders and donors of items warms my heart. More than 100 persons banded together to contribute items and dollars and time to raise $113,000! That total includes matches, mug club, fund a need, online auction, live auction, people covering credit card fees, and rounding up their payments. That is almost double a normal auction. While the pandemic is wreaking havoc accross the world and erasing some businesses and non profits, it apparently isn’t going to erase Bethany Birches Camp. The BBC community has proven that!
We will do our best to honor your support and care for this ministry and continue on our current path of providing a high-quality, Christ-centered camping experience at an affordable price for all.
If you haven’t read about our experience this summer you can get a glimpse here. Reopening is one thing. Doing so with a goal to have no virus transmission, especially when living together in groups, is another thing. We are delighted with the results and so glad that we were able to pursue our mission fully. We all need to connect with what matters in our lives and see God for who he is more now than ever. It was a joy to share with young people this summer that God really does love and care for them and all they need to do is reach out and begin to experience the grace, purpose, peace and rescue that God has planned for them. This message seemed to be especially relevant amid these unprecedented times. Accomplishing this came at a cost, of course. We spent over $16,000 for our pandemic response initiative and took in about $70,000 less than usual in summer camp revenue. While we were able to cut costs by $20,000, there is still a gap!
I invite you give to “Where Most Needed”, “Kids To Camp”, or, “Pandemic Response Initiative” categories. I also invite you to join us for the annual benefit auction in November. Learn more about the auction. Together, we will keep providing programming (even hopefully this winter) so that young people continue to develop a sense of hope, joy, and love.
(Reading this after Easter Sunday? The links below will still take you to the video. Enjoy anytime!)
He is risen?! He is risen indeed! You may or may not be familiar with this Easter call and response phrase. We say it together on Easter Sunday. Someone says he is risen and someone replies that he is risen indeed. Sometimes, I think about the call “he is risen?!” as though it is a question. As though the asker needs reassurance. Then the responder affirms very boldly, that it’s true! Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead!
I digress. That’s only part of what this email is about… this email is an invite to join us at 7pm Easter Sunday for a ~20 minute reflection and song service. You’ll hear music from Elvis, Sprocket, Meatball, Tom, and Nugget. Reflections from Chick, Gigi, and Gwen Groff, pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church. Join us on Youtube here www.bethanybirches.org/easter-yt and on Facebook here www.bethanybirches.org/easter-fb That will take you to the respective platforms for live a real-time event starting at 7. Hope to see you there.
Ask those who were on staff or came to camp as campers in the 1960s and 70s about their Bethany Birches experience and they will almost certainly reference the rustic and challenging moments that became so deeply engraved in their memories. Back then, the Bethany Birches experience had to be rustic and challenging. Camp was just getting started and there were minimal dollars being invested and limited machines and tools to use to carve the camp out of a grown-over farm. Those missing dollars and machines weren’t important to Nevin Bender. He and his family were called into action by a sense of vocation, faith, and by Lloyd and Alice Moyer. Quite literally, when the Moyers had the idea to open Bethany Birches they asked Nevin to run the camp. He said yes and was the first camp director serving from 1965 to 1980.
Nevin J. Bender passed away this summer. His willingness to forge Bethany Birches with minimal resources created a lasting culture and while he has recently joined the great cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1), his mark was made and is still visible today, here at camp. You can see his personality and work in the Core Values of BBC. We named our core values just last year after conducting research with many different stakeholders (over 150). The core values are found in this word picture. Interestingly, in 2010 Marcia Bender (one of Nevin’s daughters) was asked what she felt was important to her father. In her reply she touched on community building, learning to trust each other, nature, building consensus and trying new ideas. Here we see the values she saw in her father’s behavior match some of the camp’s core values. At a dinner in 2008 Nevin was honored at his place of work and his colleague, Will Hairston said of Bender, “Nevin’s passionate faith, intense work ethic and model of service have been an inspiration to all.”
Weaving these two comments we get a sense that our core values are closely linked to who Nevin was. Here at BBC we use the phrase “With Over Watch.” It was coined by Michael Brandwein and is a comment about leadership, influence, and how to have a relationship. You don’t “watch” a 10-year-old from afar and expect to have much influence, or connection with each other, you go to be “with” them! It is by being together that individuals get to know each other, have shared experiences, and influence one another. Nevin was a “with” kinda guy! You see that in Marcia’s comments about her father and the stories that abound of Nevin connecting with others, leading from among the various camper and staff groups. I have met many people who shared about the influence Nevin had in their life.
Here we are today, still working with fewer resources than many organizations have, still cooking over the fire as they did that first year, and still our Directors spend a lot of time “with” people. We see relationships and community building as central to how we go about our mission just as Nevin did. We trust that God enters in the midst of this special camp experience, just as Nevin did. Today we are thankful that God (and the Moyers!) called upon the Bender family and thankful for their service. Nevin, please continue to be “with” us from the great cloud of witnesses!
When Nevin passed, his wife Lourene requested that gifts be made to Bethany Birches in lieu of flowers and gifts to the family. Please join her and many others in giving to the camp in memory of Nevin. Learn more about Nevin at www.bethanybirches.org/Nevin
Having been a camper at Bethany Birches for six summers (and a Counselor In Training for one), I knew that I wanted to be a counselor eventually, and I finally got that opportunity last summer, as the youngest member of the 2019 summer staff. Camp had always been one of my favorite places in the world. At camp I always felt like I could connect with God. Interestingly, my first staff experience was a lot like what I expected it to be. However, “being on the other side” of camp helped me better appreciate how special Bethany Birches is. Even if I sometimes struggle with my faith while at home, I can always see how God is working at camp.
As a camper, the main feeling that I experienced was joy, regardless of what I was doing. During my time as a counselor, things were more topsy turvy than I remember them as a camper. I enjoy working with kids (one of the main reasons I applied!), and the skill I improved the most over the summer was patience. Whenever I was stressed out, I would take a deep breath and remember: I’m not just doing this for myself. I often remember that when I was a camper, I got a little sad when my counselor went on break. Now, even though I love being with my cabin, I get a little excited whenever I get to take a break, partially because I know that it gives me time to relax, making me better at my job once I go back. The further into the summer I got, I noticed how some of my campers reminded me of my younger self, which gave me great joy. It’s always good to know that whatever you are doing, it can ultimately have an impact on someone — and that’s what I think I enjoyed the most about working at camp. Being a camper was constant fun, every single day, but being a counselor still contained many of the great joys of camp. From the pig trough to hikes to the treehouses, many of my camp experiences remained the same, but being able to lead others made them far more rewarding.
Over the last few years Bethany Birches has been committed to partnering with academic organizations researching the benefits of Christian Summer Camps. Last year the Hope Study (University of Oklahoma) measured whether campers experienced increased hope as a result of their camp experience. The Hope Study 2018 found “The results of this report continue to provide support for the positive impact the participating Christian camps are having on the boys and girls attending those camps, not just in terms of Hope and Well-Being, but also in social connectedness and interest in their Faith.” Fifty-six percent of campers had increased hope scores after coming to camp. This was most closely correlated with making friends and having developed some faith.
This year The Power of Camp study (POC) has given us preliminary data about campers’ engagement with faith, relationships with peers, and connection to staff as a result of their camp experience. Based on early data from this summer all of the parents surveyed said their child made friends at camp and 67% of campers said they were strengthened in their faith. Only 24% of parents reported reading the Bible with their children and 87% of parents felt we were “effectively teaching Christian faith.” All of the parents surveyed said they would send their child back to camp and 90% of campers ranked “the entire camp experience” as their most enjoyed part of camp. The initial data we have received from this summer is very encouraging and points toward significant mission accomplishment. We are excited that 100% of parents surveyed were pleased with our “system of addressing bullying/ conflicts.” We see Jesus’ teachings of “Love your enemies” and “treat others as you wish to be treated” in this statistic.
2019 was the third summer in a row in which our seasonal staff participated in The Power of Camp. POC was conducted by Wheaton College looking at how staff of summer camps are affected by the experience. We have received data specific to our staff’s experiences and are able to compare this with the average of camps participating in the study. Participating in these studies allows us to quantitatively identify our areas of strength as well as opportunities for improvement. For example, between the 2017 and 2018 staff studies we saw a significant increase in how staff felt supported by their supervisors. We improved from being on par with other camps with a 4.1 out of 5 rating to a 5 out of 5 average rating from the staff. Also improving in the same period were the percent of staff who experienced growth in the teamwork and emotional intelligence areas assessed by the study. These and others had been identified as areas for improvement by camp leadership and the following year increased by 22.5% and 21.5% to be on par or higher than the average camp in the study. Between the summers 2017 and 2018 we improved parts of staff training, intentionally sought ways to provide more support for staff, and had better and more frequent meetings to improve communication. These improvements have been continued this last summer and we look forward to the forthcoming 2019 research study results.
It is encouraging to have data to inform our decisions and confirm what we are doing is consistent with our mission. We were able to see that staff was improving in areas of spiritual growth, leadership, and resiliency similar to other camps and pinpoint what we could improve the next year. We feel both affirmed by the research and able to identify potential areas for improvement next year. We will continue pursuing these research opportunities because they have been and will continue to be part of making Bethany Birches Camp better at achieving our mission to help young people develop their relationship with God.
I am constantly surprised and sometimes overwhelmed by the generosity of the community that supports Bethany Birches Camp. A past board member and spouse, who was a long time camper, do lots of preparation for the auction each year and even work hard starting early the day of the event. After that they sit down and bid as high as they can. This is just one snapshot of those who are passionate about this place and work.
Another snapshot from Saturday are Sandy and Vernon, the auctioneers. Some years they bring their wives, other years Sandy has come alone. Well this year, Sandy and Vernon left in Vernon’s Prius at 12:02am Saturday morning. They pulled into the camp around 6am to catch the sunset and a couple Z’s. By 8:30 they were out having coffee. They did their usual excellent and entertaining work, and after lunch got back in the car to head home to Pennsylvania.
I have so many snapshots like this from Saturday. Those images range from young Counselors In Training helping with food service to bidders who bid high and traveled from near and far to some of our youngest campers eating LOTS of popcorn. It is all of you, who give of your time, energy, and money who make it possible to provide camp to all. Our unique tier pricing both provides this possibility and also requires significant fundraising. The auction goes a long way toward those fundraising goals.
As you may know, each year we try to include some sort of program in addition to the rest of the festivities. It’s usually something simple. This year, we were curious which Mennonite breakfast treat would be more popular. So, we set out pieces of Old Fashioned Shoofly Pie and pieces of Funny Cake (all donated by Landis Supermarket). Participants placed a ticket in one of two jars signifying their preference. Get THIS! It was a tie! 28 votes for Shoofly and 28 votes for Funny Cake! One of the auction committee members commented “that is so Mennonite. We wouldn’t want to cause any conflict or bad feelings.”
While the preferred breakfast treat may not be clear, we do know that this year’s auction raised a whole bunch of money for campers who need it. Initial tally shows more than $54,000! Here’s the list of items with winning bid prices. We are humbled by this result and deeply grateful for each person in the room that day as well as those who bid from afar. Mark your calendar for the end of September next year. We hope to see you there!
On behalf of the camp board and auction committee,
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