Story by Chris Meehan. Photos by Andy Bowar.
Click here to view a musical slideshow on the Servant Camp web site.
Nearly 400 campers and counselors from eight branches of the People of Praise came together near Cannon Falls, Minnesota, in early August for Servant Camp. This year’s camp was the largest in a decade, thanks to an infusion of 97 people who made the trek northward from South Bend, along with a handful of campers who came from Appleton, Colorado Springs, Muncie, Rockford, northern Virginia and Saskatoon.
“It was a fabulous week,” says camp director Pat Ficker (Servant Branch). He says one of his personal highlights was a time of singing at the camp’s closing meal. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a more joyful place in my life. The kids all had smiles on their faces, and young and old were singing camp songs together. There was a little chaos, but it was as close to the kingdom of God as I’ve ever experienced.”
The camp included young children—first- and second-graders who came to camp during the day and returned home at night—all the way up to high school juniors and seniors who served as assistant counselors.
Paul Rice (Saskatoon), 15, has been coming since he was a first-grader. He said he liked the skits and the sharings around the campfire. "I felt that the spiritual part of camp was stronger this year, now that my group has matured."
Fifteen-year-old Mary Raway (Servant Branch), says she made three good friends her age from South Bend, and also appreciated kayaking and shooting model rockets. “This year’s camp was livelier,” she says.
Dietrich Balsbaugh (Servant Branch), 14, another veteran, says his age group had only four guys from Servant Branch, but adding campers from other branches brought his group up to 10. Additional campers also meant more couples for the swing dance class that Dietrich and other older campers enjoyed.
There were plenty more activities. Aidan Couch (South Bend), 11, liked the climbing tower; Anna Balsbaugh (Servant Branch), 12, appreciated the ropes course. Activities also included archery, riflery, swimming, a nightly sharing time around the campfire, and a campwide game based on the television program Let’s Make a Deal. For many, like Ben Maslow (Servant Branch), 12, Jacob Heintzelman (South Bend), 10, and assistant camp director Jeanne Oberg (Servant Branch), the closing ceremony, with its quiet procession and sharings about encounters with the Lord during the week, was a high point of the week. Chris Newburn (Rockford) wrote a song about this year’s camp theme, “Whom shall I send?,” and campers sang it often during the week.
Celeste Dal Pra (Rockford) has been coming to Servant Camp for 15 years. This year she came with her daughters Juliana, 22, Emilia, 17, and Mariana, 14. Celeste says that it's a big deal to come from a smaller branch to spend a week in a larger community setting. "Servant Camp is a great community experience. For my kids, going to Servant Camp is like it was for me as a young person going to conferences in South Bend in the late '70s. It's mind blowing to see that there are so many other committed Christians out there."
The addition of campers from South Bend came about after leaders in South Bend and Servant Branch noticed a demographic decline that would produce fewer children coming to both camps in the future. The two branches decided to join forces, creating a camp that took advantage of Servant Camp’s location at Phillippo Scout Reservation and a very experienced staff, while blending in some traditions developed at South Bend’s camp over the years. (These included an ongoing skit at daily flags, a morning news report, and a group of young men who led the campers in boisterous, spirit-lifting song in the dining hall after meals.) John and Mary Behrens (South Bend) spent many hours planning the logistics of transporting the South Bend campers. They and other South Bend camp mainstays such as Larry Day and Roy Somerville joined the Servant Camp staff. Mary Sgroi, 12, and her sister Lucia, 10, both commented on how comfortable and enjoyable the bus ride was. “I was excited on the way there and looking forward to coming home on the way back,” added nine-year-old Ben Zusi.
It was a week of fun and making friends that campers, counselors and leaders all appreciated. “It was wonderful and unifying,” says Pat. “It was an experiment that was really blessed,” John Behrens added.” A number of younger campers from Servant Branch put it this way: “It was a blast!”