Meet Erin. She is originally from Dubuque, Iowa, and has been coming to Camp Bear Creek since she was 11 years old. “My first camp was Pioneer Tent camp, and I returned every summer after that. In fact, the very next summer, I met a boy in Pioneer Cabin Camp who would end up being my husband!” Erin and her husband Ben now live in Toronto, ON with their son Joey, who is a year and a half old. They’re expecting their second child this summer! Erin still fondly remembers all of the years she spent going to camp. “As a teenager I would save my money throughout the year so I could go to additional sessions. I was an LIT when I was 17, and worked on staff for 5 summers after that. After my staff years, I helped with the LIT program and volunteered for various other camps. Ben and I come back to camp to visit as often as we can.”
Originally, Erin says, what attracted her to Camp Bear Creek was the thrill of all the activities. She loved being outdoors, going creek stomping, sliding down the mudslide, and exploring in the caves. “But when I got there and the week got going, camp quickly became something much bigger than the activities. I found myself coming out of my shell, making close friends, talking and asking questions, being creative and silly. I think the nature setting, the friendliness and acceptance of the staff, and the space away from school teachers, Sunday school teachers, parents, and adults in general, made it a place where I could discover on my own and take risks I wasn’t willing to take in my away-from-camp life. Camp helped build my confidence, and showed me that there was another side to “church” that was fun and exciting, and that could be part of my life every day.
“I think the most important thing I gained in my experience at camp was a real sense of God’s presence. I felt God with me in the songs during morning worship and in the guitar during campfire. I heard God’s voice in the prayers of my friends and I sensed God’s joy in all the fun we were having. Forgiveness became more tangible in the Rose Cross ceremony, and Jesus spoke to me more clearly in the Christwalk. I watched my older and much cooler counselors cry as they talked about God. And I let those cool counselors wash my feet. I remember Deer Meadow singing with crickets and glowing with fireflies at dusk, and looking up at the stars as we all walked back to our cabins and having an overwhelming sense of God’s peace.”
In her adult life, Erin says, she’s continued to sense the presence of God like her experience at Camp Bear Creek taught her to do. That is what led her to work for a non-profit organization called Sanctuary Ministries. “We reach out to a downtown neighborhood plagued by homelessness, unemployment, drugs, prostitution, and AIDS. Part of my role is to spend time in drop-ins, eating, visiting, and hanging out with people from all walks of life. We offer meals, showers, clothing, hygiene supplies, a health clinic, and the use of phone and computers. But more importantly, we strive to build friendships and lasting relationships with people who are living in the margins; the city’s most poor and excluded people.”
Erin looks back at Camp Bear Creek as a place where her life started changing, her faith started growing, and she began to seek God in the everyday. “Camp sessions are only one week long, but I believe those weeks are vitally important and life-changing for kids and teenagers. Aside from my personal experience, I can’t really say why. I just know that God got to me at Camp in a way that hadn’t happened before, and it has had a lasting impact on me in my life!”