Rodger Schmell is the pastor of Deep Run West Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania. He has been there since 1997, serving first as youth director and now pastor. Rodger is married to Diana, has three adult children, two daughters-in-law, one grandson and two grand-puppies.
“When can I go to camp?” That was the question that I repeatedly asked my parents every year when I was young and we dropped off my three older brothers for their week at Camp Men-O-Lan. Finally, at the tender age of nine I was old enough for my own week as an overnight camper. Ironically, I was homesick the majority of the time. My counselors helped me tough it out, and I came home a veteran camper and Christian. In the midst of my emotional longing for home, I had invited Jesus to be my Savior. In my teen years, it was the place that I rededicated my life to serve Christ.
I love Camp Men-O-Lan. Over the years I had the role of a camper, counselor, Bible teacher and board member. I proposed to my wife after a young adult weekend campfire and we held our wedding reception in the Landis Hall gym. Men-O-Lan has become my Bethel; a special place that I go to walk the hallowed grounds with Jesus to seek guidance and direction.
A poll of our congregation showed that at least half had attended Men-O-Lan since its founding in 1941. Many of them made decisions to enter into a relationship with Jesus or rededicate their lives like I had done. I have had the privilege to experience wonderful spiritual moments at other camps as well, such as retreats and family camps at Spruce Lake and Camp Hebron. More recently, my wife and I have become involved in the ministry of Old Faithful Christian Ranch in Idaho. It truly is an incredible experience to be used by God when He ministers to broken hearts and to witness the Holy Spirit doing a new work in a camper’s life.
Christian camps are an oasis for campers of all ages to reconnect with God and each other.
Full time and summer staff form lifelong bonds and may even find their spouse through the flickering flames of the campfire. These sacred places become a spiritual institute for future pastors, missionaries, youth directors and others serving in full time ministry. Those not formally called to the vocation of ministry are also prepared to be Jesus in whatever realm they live, work and play. More than just spiritual growth for campers, Christian camps offer a social education as well. It was at camp that I had my first face-to-face living experience with those of another race, culture and neighborhood identity. What better place to learn the beauty of diversity than at camp?
2020 has been a hard year on our camps. Many could not operate as normal with the COVID-19 regulations. I have heard of many creative ways that our Mennonite camps have ministered via “camp in a box” and virtually. Those camps that were able to hold their summer sessions will definitely be able to know what year it was by the pictures of masks and social distancing. Christian camps also took a financial hit from the cancellation of other groups that could not hold their retreats and other adventures.
I would like to challenge all of us, especially those with rich memories of your own camp experiences, to make a special donation to the camp of your choice. You can be an answer to the prayers of administrators and staff who have been called to serve God by introducing people, young and old, to their Savior through Christian camping experiences. I am a pastor today largely because of the heart work Jesus did in my life at camp.
Read the article, “Mennonite camps get creative in response to COVID-19”
Find a list of Mennonite Camp Association camps to visit and support at mennonitecamping.org.