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Spring 1999 · Vol. 28 No. 1 · pp. 120–25 

Ministry Compass

Ministry at 8500 Feet

Karol Hunt

I have always been intrigued with camping as a ministry, an interest that started early. As a young person, my week at camp was the major highlight of my summer. I was exposed to many of the details of organizing a camp since my pastor-father often directed the weeklong camp which our church youth attended. In college after my camping days ended, I enrolled in the camping course offered through the Christian Education Department. Even after graduation I spent two summers in programming for a Baptist camp in Illinois.

Sometimes in ministry the tangible rewards are not in direct proportion to the effort extended. But I experienced enough rewards to keep me bounding out of bed every morning ready for a new experience.

As I considered options for a sabbatical leave from my teaching, coaching, and recruiting responsibilities at Tabor College, I needed to be somewhat creative. I could step aside from teaching my physical education and recreation courses and from my Physical Education Department Chair responsibilities. However, as Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country and Track and Field Coach, I did not think I could realistically be away from either team for a semester or both programs for a year.

At the same time, I had a desire to renew my hands-on experience in Christian camping. Therefore, as a portion of my sabbatical leave during the summer of 1998, I served for seven weeks as a volunteer summer staff member of Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center. {121} Highlands, at Allenspark, Colorado, is at 8500 feet elevation in the shadow of Rocky Mountain National Park.


Ministry, in whatever form it takes, is serving, giving of one’s self to others in a setting where one’s talents and abilities can be effectively utilized. I report here some of the concepts I learned, or had reaffirmed, about Christian camping as a vital ministry for the church.

Upfront Activities

Camping ministry is performing the tasks which are highly visible to others. I had numerous opportunities to exercise this type of ministry. During the first week of the summer, I assisted with staff training by teaching and applying leadership principles and by facilitating team building activities. I was a member of leadership teams which directed the senior high camp and one of the fifth/sixth grade camps. I jumped at the opportunity to lead a daily Bible study on teen issues and to teach outdoor survival skills for the high school campers. In addition, I planned and led numerous small group and all-camp activities throughout the camp season. Basically, I had the opportunity to do what I try to teach college students to do.

As one of the directors in helping plan a fifth/sixth grade camp, I remembered one of the activities I greatly enjoyed as a camper. Around the campfire before calling it a day, one of the camp leaders would read a chapter or two from a book. Invariably, the chapter would end at the most exciting moment. Off to bed we would go wondering what would happen next. I wanted to replicate that.

In preparation I read several books and picked out what I thought was the perfect book. It included something for both boys and girls that I figured would keep both genders captivated. In reality that activity was a disaster. As I read the carefully selected book, I did anything but capture their attention. I ended up cutting out complete chapters, summarizing some portions, and editing the rest. We did finish the book, sort of.

Do I still think reading a book around the campfire is a good idea? Yes. I am an educator. Would I try it again? Maybe. I learned a valuable lesson about the impact that technology—the Internet, computer games, videos—has on young people. Even transporting them to a majestic mountain environment does not alter that influence. An author’s words and a child’s underactive imagination could not compete with the already created visuals of a computer or a VCR. {122}

Behind-the-Scenes Activities

Much of ministry is carried out in the public eye, but a good portion may never be known to others. Ministry is so daily; it is often so routine. It is all those mundane activities that must be repeated regularly, such as sweeping and mopping the dining hall, or mucking in the horse corral. Does anybody really notice that these tasks are completed? Probably not, at least most of the time. But it sure is evident when these activities are not performed or are put off.

My summer included many more of these routine tasks than the visible ones. God answered my prayer to be used in any way possible soon after my arrival. Early one Sunday morning several of us females piled into the camp van to travel to Denver to promote the camp at one of the supporting churches. The men left in another vehicle. As the Program Coordinator was driving a tire blew out somewhere on Interstate 25 south of Longmont. Up until that moment I did not have a specific assignment for that morning’s ministry. I grabbed the manual out of the glove box and figured out how to change the tire. I gave out some instructions and, with some assistance, I changed it. We even arrived at the church with time to mingle before the service started. As planned, the other staff members presented the skit and the missions moment.

Ministry is often just pitching in and doing what needs to be done. Also, 7:00 a.m. staff meetings were vital. We reviewed the day’s schedule and our assignments. Depending on the weather, sometimes we had to prepare for plans B, C, or D. We shared our challenges. We prayed for the campers. We prayed for the needed resources for ourselves.

Those Not-So-Fun Tasks

Camping ministry is attempting to help campers want to live within the camp’s guidelines. As one of the directors for senior high camp I often felt much more like a “police officer” keeping order than an activity leader, my planned major focus that week. The police role started on the first evening of camp: while leading music during the opening service, one of the summer staff approached me and asked if I would make my presence known in the back of the chapel.

It took more than one prompting to encourage several freshman boys to become active participants in worship. After the third night of their repeat performances, one of the campers explained, “We are only testing you, you know.” They were watching to see if I would be consistent.

Later in the summer, one of the senior high campers returned as a junior counselor for a fifth/sixth grade camp. When we had an opportunity to talk during a break on our “midnight” hike on the final evening, {123} our conversation reverted back to senior high camp. I shared how disheartened I was with my “police officer” role during the week. I was encouraged by her response. She conceded that defining boundaries and expecting each of the campers to stay within them was positive and what they needed. Apparently, shifting boundaries and changing rules had been a problem the previous year. Even though the campers outwardly wanted more freedom, inwardly they respected us for the accountability.

Letting God Use Our Mistakes

God can take our efforts and use them for good even when we make a mistake or a seemingly wrong decision. Wednesday is hike day at Highlands. In order to minimally impact the natural resources, the campers are divided into their Bible study groups to hike. Each group leaves the trailhead at fifteen-to-thirty minute intervals. For this mid-high camp our destination was the summit of Estes Cone in Rocky Mountain National Park. None of us had taken this route before so I thoroughly studied the map and read all the information in my hiking book.

Since I was the most experienced hiker among the summer staff, I decided to go with the first group, the boys. I continually consulted my map and followed its route. Throughout the whole hike we never saw the two girls’ groups. In case of an emergency, we carried radios. But that day we had a problem with ours and could not make contact with the other counselors. I became really concerned that the girls were lost and not on the right trail.

Late in the afternoon all three groups returned to the trail head to wait for the bus ride back to camp. What I discovered was that the girls hiked the right trail. I misread the map and took a wrong turn. Even though I made the mistake, we decided that it worked out for the best that the boys and girls were on different routes. The dynamics between these seventh and eighth grade boys and girls was unique and not always the most positive. I have to admit that I did waste a lot of emotional energy that day. I also took a lot of ribbing the rest of the summer.


Sometimes in ministry the tangible rewards are not in direct proportion to the effort extended. But I experienced enough rewards to keep me bounding out of bed every morning ready for a new experience.

Watching a camper get excited hitting the archery target for the first time or making a bull’s-eye was fun. Seeing a child’s eyes light up when she figured out how to maneuver the orienteering course made the hours {124} I spent laying out and setting up the course worthwhile. Fielding questions during Bible study time helped me realize that I had given the campers some concepts to think about.

Another benefit of the summer was the friendships I was able to develop with the permanent staff, the summer staff, and the weekly volunteers. It was a change of pace to work with a group of college students for whom I did not need to evaluate projects, papers, or exams, nor to figure out how to improve running speed.

My favorite week of the summer was the final one. We incorporated sixteen respite care young people with varying developmental challenges into a fifth/sixth grade camp. Maybe it was my favorite because I had the most responsibility of any week: I helped direct the camp and served as the speaker. But I think I enjoyed it more because everything was new and fun for those campers. Even playing a simple game like “Duck Duck Goose” in the chapel produced big grins.

My most humbling experience also occurred that week. Steve was a physically challenged, wheelchair-bound high school student with a sharp mind even though his communication skills were limited. He bunked in a cabin with able-bodied boys and participated in most of the camp activities. His one-on-one counselor was Peter, a recent high school graduate. Several times during the week I ate my meals at the same table with Steve and Peter. Peter was a cross country runner in high school and planned to run in college. We shared our love of running while I attempted to communicate with Steve. Steve even humored me by paying attention while I read to the campers around the campfire.

Steve’s parents made the trip to Highlands on Friday afternoon to pick up both camper and counselor. When his mother asked him what was the most fun thing about camp, Steve said, “Karol.” I was greatly humbled when his mother shared this experience. That one defining moment erased all the frustrations of the summer. I could not have asked for a better reward for my sabbatical.


I am probably not yet ready to give up my “real” career in academia for a pair of Levis, a flannel shirt, and a pair of hiking boots for a full-time camping ministry. However, it is tempting, and I have seriously considered it. But what I am ready to do is incorporate my summer experiences in preparing others for a ministry in camping. I also came away with a whole new set of illustrations to apply to the ideas I am trying to teach in camping and recreation courses.

I have utmost respect for those who devote their entire focus of {125} ministry to camping. It is long hours and minimal remuneration. I also admire those who have chosen a church or denomination ministry. Somehow I view these positions a little higher on the ministry hierarchy than what I do. But no matter where we serve, we all need a little encouragement now and then.

Galatians 6:9 is a verse that I reviewed regularly during those seven weeks: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV). Paul’s words can encourage all of us and give us hope in any setting of ministry.

Karol Hunt is Associate Professor of Physical Education and Chair of the Physical Education Department at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas.

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