Those are two words that we don’t often like to hear in our everyday work world, but up at camp, Monday mornings are a time for celebration! This Monday morning started off no different. Campers awoke to a beautiful sunrise surrounded by the mountains and the noises of all sorts of animals- buzzing bees, humming crickets, and zooming hummingbirds. One of my favorite things about camp is the location and the way in which that location exemplifies the beauty of God’s creation. Each day I am continually in awe of God’s love, magnificence, and mystery. One of my favorite authors (and people), Bob Goff, writes,
“…it makes me wonder if the trees and mountains and rivers are things He planned in advance, knowing they would wow us. I wonder if God returned over and over to this world He placed us in thinking what He had created was good, but it could be better, even grander. I wonder if He thought each foggy morning, each soft rain, each field of wildflowers would be a quiet and audacious way to demonstrate His tremendous love for us” (Goff 24).
Not only does this quote demonstrate how great God’s love is for us, it also exemplifies the Grace that is so present in all places. Whether it be a Monday up at camp where fellow campers encourage one another on low ropes or a Monday down in the office where you find yourself in a cubicle responding to emails and making phone calls.
These moments, whether gazing at the alpine glow on the Mummy’s head, or watching a new group of campers lead Sondance, are the everyday indications of God and the way in which we are embraced, cared for, and loved for who we are and where we come from.
Everyone was holding their breath as 8 year old Owen stood up near the fireplace in the backpack center with one arm draped across a counselor’s shoulder who was knelt down holding the bible and the other using his finger to trace the words he was saying. Matthew 3: 13-17. Owen’s voice rang out clear and strong as he read the story of Jesus being baptized in front of not only his own family, but others who were gathered for the week at Sky Ranch as well as two service groups. I had tears in my eyes as he confidently read it, his young voice clear and strong as if he had all the knowledge in the world about the God who he was growing closer to every day.
The past few days have been full of wonderment, adventure, new friends, relaxation, and inter-generational connections as our family camp is up and running! Happening only once in the middle of the summer, family camp presents families the opportunities to come up to this place and experience God’s creation while learning about the power of not only each individual coming as they are, but also as a family. This week also gives our staff the chance to share God’s word and our programming with various ages, pushing them to become more creative and opening up their eyes to witness camp from the perspective of many ages ranging from 1 – 75. One of our service groups, a high school group from Illinois, and another group, well over the hill from Texas, have come together to form their own kind of family and have enjoyed interacting with the families that are up here when they are not cleaning up some of the trails around camp.
It had been awhile since our staff had heard readings spoken from a voice younger than a 6th grader, and as much as we love our summer campers, there was a profound and overwhelming power to hear a young child of God speak the gospel. Owen reading for our worship service last night has been only one of the ways we have been caught off guard by the power of family camp. We look forward to an incredible second half of the week with our many families that are up here.
Onsite Coordinator – Counselors
Last night (Tuesday), we took some time to help our campers reflect on the idea of bondage and freedom, a topic we have been living into through our confirmation intensive bible story of Exodus, and how it relates back to their own lives.
Six groups had in depth discussion about what bondage may look like in the life of a middle/high schooler and created a skit that they shared with the community during our campfire worship. It was unbelievable. Although all of the skits were powerful two groups in particular stood out. The first group centered their skit on the idea of identity and how society molds us into who they want us to be. One camper looked in a “mirror” while her reflection, played by another camper, mirrored what she did as another narrated the struggles she was going through with self-image. At the end of the skit all of the mirrored characters broke the mirror and hugged “themselves” telling them they are perfect the way that they are. Wow. The other skit was completely silent aside from a drum and a guitar. A camper was blindfolded and different groups of campers approached her with signs depicting expectations such as “family”, “achievements”, “school”, “depression”, and we saw how each one affected the blindfolded camper. Finally, a camper walked up with a sign that read “Child of God” and removed the blindfold from the camper’s eyes revealing who she truly was. Talk about powerful.
If that wasn’t enough, onsite was blessed to have Pastor Terry Schjang, a pastor and chaplain at a women’s prison in Denver, come and speak with us after all of the skits were completed. Pastor Terry offered stories and shared some of the reasons as to why the women were in the prison but closed by stating that unless a woman shared her past with Pastor Terry, Pastor Terry never looked up what the crime was, instead wanting to see the woman for who she truly is and not what society claims her to be. Pastor Terry gave us insights into the challenges and blessings of her job. She touched on the idea of how difficult it is to share God’s love and freedom in a place that is so closed in and built for restrictions, but continuously reiterated how fulfilled and meaningful her work was in forming relationships and being there for the women and staff at the prison, not imaging anything else that she would rather be doing.
Both the skits and Pastor Terry’s offering were extremely powerful and started various conversations that lasted well into the night as cabins had devotionals. It is through these conversations that campers can start visualizing how the lessons they are learning up here can be taken back down the mountain. We look forward to these next few days of living into the Exodus story with our middle school confirmands and for more powerful nights like yesterday.
Grace and peace,
Hailey and Alexa
I’m going to teach you a new singing grace that your campers learned. It is to the tune of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”:
Oh the weather outside is frightful, But God’s love is so delightful!
And since He loves us so, Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
We thank You for this food, It puts us in a really good mood!
And since we like to praise You every day, Thank You God Thank You God always! Amen!
Yesterday the lodge was transformed. After walking under a “blizzard” (A blue tarp staff members held up and waved around at the doors into the lodge) your campers found themselves eating lunch in a space surrounded by snowflakes and a green tarp Christmas tree, song lyrics altered to fit our counselors names in them hung from pillars, Christmas music was blaring from a corner in the room and a big banner read “Nurtured In A Winter Summer Land!” to tie in our theme for the day. Your camper’s counselors facilitated conversations not only about your camper’s favorite Christmas songs but also about the meaning of Christmas and how Christmas fits into the theme of being nurtured.
Sometimes the best moments at camp are those that happen without warning, or occur spontaneously. It is the time when your camper gives an incredibly profound prayer at breakfast asking God to walk with him on trail just like God walks with him throughout his life, when your camper overcomes her fears and completes all of the high ropes elements knowing God has her back, when your camper makes a connection from the bible story back to her life at home that resonates with her cabin mates making the transition back down the mountain easier, or when your camper leads a song during worship because he is confident in using one of his many gifts within the community.
It is only Wednesday. We have a day and a half left to allow your campers to be in conversation and discussion, challenging them and placing them in settings for growth and an understanding of God’s unconditional love for them. We also have a day and a half left to have our sprits filled with the spontaneous and wonderful words, actions, and moments your campers share with us and we could not be more excited or thankful.
Thank you for sharing your campers with us, we cannot wait to see what the rest of the week will bring as we continue to “Come As We Are” even with Christmas in June!
Monday night at camp is our “Created” worship. One of the activities during worship is the creation of “I am” flags. Campers create a prayer flag of some of their unique gifts that they bring to our camp community in an expression of their unique identities as children of God. Later in the week these flags are hung up in the worship space so that campers remain a part of the Sky Ranch community even as they are sent out into the world.
Last night at worship, there was one cabin group that was a little rambunctious and was finding it hard to settle down. But once the prayer flags were handed out and the activity began, these campers settled down and became more invested in the worship service, both the “I am” activity and the rest of the songs and prayers in the service. Watching campers as they open up throughout the camp week and become more engaged with the different activities, especially our many different worship experiences, is a highlight for a lot of our staff.
– Kristen Lee
Dear Sky Ranch,
What happened? You used to be such a calm and peaceful place. I miss the days where I could wander the meadow at my leisure, when I was able to take a walk without being disturbed. But now, when I walk by the lodge early in the morning adults are already outside chatting. When I head into the meadow, hoping for my morning meal, campers are singing and yelling at the forest, which disrupts my eating habits. I want the quiet back! I want to be able to stroll the woods late at night without running into campfires or people walking around with pesky flashlights. What happened?
A moose who just wants to be left alone
Thanks for your presence here at camp. You are a great example for my campers of what God’s creation is all about. When I go on a morning walk with my cabin group, and we see you moving through the trees, we are able to have a discussion about how God created all living things with different gifts and strengths. My campers get to see that this world is not all about them, and that their actions influence other creatures. Thanks for being so hospitable and making this first week of summer so great!
A happy counselor
(Written by Kristen Lee – Weekend Coordinator)
Tuesday at camp was busy as ever. With the strongest winds I have experienced at Sky Ranch, the campers were blown from collecting natural items for art projects to high ropes to playing Malagasy games with Daniela, our international staff member. After a whirlwind of crazy activities, exploring the bible, and discovering the dynamics of the Sky Ranch community, the campers were offered a snack. While snack is intended as nothing more than apples with dip or chips and cheese, snack time is often unexpectedly transformational. It is a time for all the campers to come together into a shared space and freely interact with one another to share stories of the day, goof around or simply interact without being told what to do. However, I have found that the campers are typically hyper aware of how others around them are acting during snack, and therefore feed of each others’ energy.
Connected. Loving. Awkward. Accepting. These are the terms that I find best describe the energy of the snack time space on Tuesday. As the groups gathered in the lodge, the cabin of high schoolers had clumped by the piano and took turns playing a little something and then singing along as a community. But as others heard the music, they too approached the piano to first listen and observe and then join in. By the time one song had been played all the way through, the entire lodge full of campers were singing and swaying together, arms on each others’ shoulders, simply smiling at one other and taking in the moment note by note, breath by breath. While this may not have been a bible study or worship experience directly, I believe that the campers were transformed in that moment. The community came together into a collective, shared, genuine experience. In fact, the theme of the summer, “Come As You Are, Be Transformed for the World” may have best revealed itself through this song jam moment as it opened the space for all campers to come, regardless of their varying backgrounds and experiences, and invest in one collective goal—belting songs. The energy was shared, the music was genuine, and that time and space will never be created again. But that is ok. I am content with knowing that little moments of transformation develop into a life of faith, meaning, and community.
Onsite Coordinator – Specialists
The lodge was crowded and I could barely hear Kenzie, a camper sitting across from me, talking about her double jointed-ness as the rest of the table listened in both awe and disgust. Camper Maddie, sitting to Kenzie’s right, reached her thumb out nice and proud, presenting how one of her bones stuck out in a weird fashion. The table was in an uproar as hands clasped mouths and “EW!” “OH GROSS!” went flying out of her cabin mate’s mouths. I sat and allowed myself to watch as the girls continued interacting with one another giggling like crazy as they inspected their own thumbs, their counselor Kaari laughing loudly at the end of the table shaking her head, and my ears happily enjoying the sound of clinking silverware and staff member Forrest serenading us in the princess version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to earn some Lucky Charms.
After 17 days of staff training, camp has finally arrived and I am overcome with anticipation and joy for the days and weeks to follow. Sky Ranch has found its property full of brothers and sisters in Christ of all ages with anxious hearts ready to witness what the staff has been preparing and to learn and grow in faith alongside one another as we illuminate our summer theme “Come As You Are”.
Today’s theme, created, became obvious as I sat listening to the Seekers cabin talking about the “weird” gifts that they possess as they, perhaps, unintentionally, invited their peers to witness their genuine self. I sometimes find myself overthinking this day’s theme, trying to explain to my counselors how to facilitate meaningful discussions that reach deeper levels of thought in regards to being created in the image of God. While those conversations are incredible and life-giving, I also believe there is something to be said for the small conversations that take place at the breakfast table, or walking from low ropes to the cabin to grab a jacket. Being vulnerable and authentic starts with acknowledging the little aspects of self that seem so insignificant; it is truly those specific things that give us our individualism, something created and molded by God.
It just figures, here I am trying to teach campers things and yet they have once again taught me so much in such a short amount of time about living into our authentic selves. I am looking forward to being enlightened in the weeks to come and growing in faith alongside these incredible people. Sending grace and peace down the mountain on this beautiful Monday from Sky Ranch!
This weeks spotlight features Heather Pulley, Northern Colorado Volunteer Coordinator for Harvest Farm and the Fort Collins Rescue Mission.
Harvest Farm is a long-term addiction recovery program located in Wellington, CO. We have 72 men living on our 209-acre farm. A working farm, we raise livestock, have a large garden and offer a free thrift store that is open to our community. Volunteers live in our cabin and work alongside our participants. Each year, we partner with Sky Ranch to host volunteer groups for 3-5 days of service. This is a special partnership that allows us the opportunity to meet folks from around the United States who love Jesus and want to make a difference in the lives of others.
Volunteers serve an important purpose on the Farm. Not only do they help get our work done, they also provide a safe space for our men to share their stories. Many of these men have never been heard or accepted, so talking with our volunteers is very useful in their recovery process. Volunteers gain a greater understanding of addiction, grow in their faith, and have the chance to talk with and learn from people they may otherwise never speak to.
We love having Sky Ranch volunteers join us because they are always so enthusiastic! Sky Ranch is a valuable community partner throughout the year and has hosted staff retreats and provided us with much-needed donations. It’s a pleasure to work with them each year, and we look forward to partnering with Sky Ranch for many years to come!
For more information on Harvest Farm, visit www.harvestfarm.net.
Joining the high school Rendezvous campers for lunch during our second week of summer programming, I was greeted by a familiar face. Ethan was one of my first campers when I began at Sky Ranch in 2012. After a week of enjoying camp onsite, Ethan volunteered at his home congregation for Traveling Day Camp where I once again got to work with him. Throughout his week this summer, I watched him take part in Rendezvous as he and other campers hiked to Emmaline alpine lake, went rafting down the Poudre, and made candles by the campfire. At the end of the week, I was encouraged to hear that Ethan was considering joining camp staff in the future.
Out of the daily themes from this year’s bible study, I find myself most often contemplating connectedness. Ethan is just one example of the many familiar faces I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with at Sky Ranch. Seeing campers return and go on to become staff members, has caused me to realize the breadth of Sky Ranch’s community. While it can be challenging to observe the impact camp has made in the span of a week, the continuous community flowing in and out of this place is a testament to the rejuvenation and personal growth occurring at Sky Ranch. In meeting volunteers, sponsors and campers with deep connections to camp, I enjoy reminiscing on what makes their experiences distinct and what continually draws them to Sky Ranch. This summer, we are blessed to share this community with each camper driving up the winding dirt road. Even for those who only attend camp once, Sky Ranch offers a chance to live with a greater awareness of one’s connection to nature, peers they may not otherwise interact with, and God’s enduring presence in their lives. Each visitor, whether it’s their first or twentieth week at Sky Ranch increases my own sense of connection between Sky Ranch and the greater church community. I pray the heightened sense of connectedness I feel when visitors arrive is shared and dispersed down the mountain as they depart.
Written by Dan Chell, Offsite Coordinator