Summer camps overall have experienced great challenges to operate in recent years. Costs to run a camp have increased and a variety of distractions in the culture have sometimes hampered attendance.
But there are also signs of life. We reported on Camp Moses Merrill in Nebraska recently. Camp Bentley in Berthold, N.D., has also just completed a banner year.
“We used to be lucky to get 60 people at family camp,” explains Ruth Skar, who has directed Camp Bentley the past 24 seasons. “We have had 150+ the past four or five years.” This year senior high campers numbered 34, junior high camp welcomed 44 and junior camp welcomed 70.Camp Bentley operates from June to mid-August. Not only has attendance increased involving children and youth, but donations are up. Gifts have included a pontoon boat, boathouse, sound system, playground equipment, park benches and trees and new hymnals as well as financial gifts, Skar says.
“Many churches give children full or half camp scholarships,” Skar says. “First-time campers and those with financial need receive scholarships from the St. Joseph’s Community Health Foundation matching grant. One congregation has a community-wide youth group and gives scholarships to every student who wants to attend camp, regardless of a young person’s denominational affiliation.”
Why do youth and adults come to camp? “A big part of it is the fellowship,” Skar says. “We are like a family. My lifelong friends are Camp Bentley friends. Our counselors have a great bond that they do not find anywhere else. One camp director offers her yard for ‘Camp Bentley Continues’ on Wednesday evenings in the summer after the camp closes.”
Camp provides a big spiritual boost for the year in the towns surrounding the camp. “This past summer was by far the most spiritual senior high camp that I can remember,” Skar continues. “The high schoolers are really spiritually hungry. Camp Bentley is the safest place in the world for them. We had one camper accept Christ, 20 rededicated their lives, and seven came up with their own category – that they want to be ‘Bold for Jesus’.” Two youths asked to be baptized. When the camp gave a Thursday evening altar call toward the season’s end entitled “Salvation Thursday,” the camp was in the chapel for two hours. “There was crying, hugging, praying, confessing going on,” Skar says. “After that they went to the cross by the lake, wrote their sins on a piece of paper and nailed them to the cross. In their small groups they had communion in the chapel, had their feet washed in the dining hall, and then prayed in the Recreation Hall. When they were dismissed, a group of kids went out on the lawn about 11:30 p.m. and had another time of prayer. Everyone joined in. They went to a campfire next, took their sins from the cross and threw them in the fire. They closed with a mass prayer with everyone praying out loud at once.”
“I think we finished about 1 a.m. It was all so amazing and all student-led,” Skar said.