Devotions are an important part of our faith journeys and are practiced daily at camp. For this devotional, gather your family (outside, if possible). Read through the text while looking up at nearby tree branches. Close your time with the suggested prayer.
Before calendars, humans marked the passage of time by the cycles they observed in nature. The sun rises and sets. Temperatures grow colder, then warmer, then colder again. Around this time every year, trees shine with vibrant reds, oranges, and golds. We look forward to this beautiful fall foliage each autumn. At camp, we host a day for everyone to walk the grounds and marvel at God’s artistic handiwork.
Like many things in God’s creation that captivate us, the science behind our observations is equally fascinating. We talk about the leaves changing colors, but those words are misleading. You may recall learning that trees produce their own food through photosynthesis. Chlorophyll, an essential element to the photosynthesis process, is what gives leaves their green color. As photosynthesis slows in the fall, the chlorophyll breaks down and exits the leaves, taking the green pigmentation with it. It’s only after this departure that the red, orange and yellow colors are revealed. So it is not that leaves are at one time, fully green, and at another, fully red. In truth, for most of their time on the tree, the leaves are both green and red, as both pigments are present.
Martin Luther famously described Christians as simultaneously sinner and saint. Both elements are fully present in us at all times. We cannot escape our sin, and yet we are constantly being forgiven and made clean through God’s grace. As we journey through the fall foliage season, take time to reflect on those moments when one part of this duality in you shone more brightly than the other. Appreciate the beautiful gift that is God’s love, bringing balance to all His creation, including you.
Loving God, Your hands have created all that we know. The land, the oceans, and all the plants and creatures that inhabit the earth. You made the world and it was good. Yet we, Your children, are unable to fulfill Your perfect desire for us. Our sin has broken us. But You love us still. And through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are made new – continually healed and forgiven of our selfish ways. We give You thanks and ask for inspiration to see the majesty of Your creation in all the little miracles of the season. Amen.
A favorite Sunday School/VBS song of mine has always been This Little Light of Mine. It’s a great song, with a catchy tune, and lyrics that are, at the same time, animated and inspiring. I mean, really, what’s more fun than singing “Won’t let Satan POOF! it out!?
It’s a fun song to sing – but it’s also confessional. It’s a great statement of faith when we say that we are NOT going to let Satan quench the Light of Christ that we promise to carry into the world. We joyfully sing of how we are going let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Pass it On is another favorite song from my childhood. I know that some people think it’s pithy, but I love it. I’ve always thought of it as the summer camp version of Silent Night. The sentiment of the song, pithy though it may be, is that when you realize how much better your life is because of whatever – God’s love, springtime, or summer camp – you WANT to tell others about it so that they can experience the same thing.
When I go out to talk about summer camp in the congregations, I almost always have someone tell me afterwards that they can tell that I believe in what we do – and it’s true! I do believe in what we do.
I LOVE to talk about camp – who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going. I’ve experienced the impact of church camp in my own life, and more importantly, I’ve seen the impact of camp on the lives of countless others.
You’re darn right I’m gonna shout it from the mountaintops!
I’ve been working on my Master’s thesis for seminary this spring. Not surprisingly, I’ve managed to find a way to write about Nawakwa, specifically the work of Nawakwa’s founder, Hadwin Fischer, and the lasting impact he had on the Lutheran Church in this area. When he was trying to get people to buy into the idea of leadership training for the church in an outdoor setting, he didn’t have the luxury of 85 years of history, hundreds of pastors, or thousands and thousands of campers to point to.
He didn’t have the legacy, but he had a vision of what could be – based on his experiences with well-rounded, well-networked, faithful living.
He also possessed the charisma to persuade others into believing in that vision with him.
And Dr. Fischer had a really strong work ethic – he put in countless hours of work – from details and drawings to fundraising to digging holes and pounding nails – and speaking in congregations and training staff and teaching classes at camp. He worked really hard for a cause he believed in – and I believe that he truly loved doing it. Unfortunately, he loved the work so much that he literally worked himself to death at the age of 63.
Because you’re reading this blog, it’s probably safe to say that you believe in that vision that Dr. Fischer cast so many years ago – that the church can be a strong, effective force for good in the world – and that church camp (as we practice it) strengthens the church by strengthening the faith of the people in it.
When Jesus sent the disciples out into the world to make disciples – to evangelize- he didn’t send just one person out, because it was too big a job for one person alone– he sent them all!
Likewise, when we look at how to share the good news of the Camping Corporation, we don’t ask just one person or even one committee to do that. No one of us can, by ourselves, share the good news of God’s work at Kirchenwald, Nawakwa, and The Wittel Farm with the whole world – or even the whole Lower Susquehanna Synod. It’s too big a deal.
We need everyone to embrace our mission of faith formation for a stronger church and PASS IT ON. We cannot hide our light under a bushel – or Satan will POOF it out!
Talk about it; don’t be still!
Shout it from the mountaintop!
It doesn’t matter how you describe it, the important thing is that we need all of us who have been enriched, encouraged, and inspired by God’s work through the Camping Corporation to share that good news. If everyone who camp to summer camp at Kirchenwald and Nawakwa brought one friend to camp this summer, we’d still have room left over for more – so tell others about camp and invite them to give it a try as well.
It’s not just about “the more, the merrier,” it’s about sharing and proclaiming God’s love and carrying out God’s mission in the world.
Holy and gracious God, you give us everything that we need – food and shelter, family and friends, and a world full of promise and beauty. Most of all, you call us and claim us as your children and promise to hold us in the palm of your hand forever. We thank you for all these gifts and the gift of the camping corporation. Help us to pass on the story of your work in these places so that more people will experience your boundless love and grace. Keep our flames burning brightly as we carry them out into the world. AMEN!
Fall Foliage Day Sermon
I don’t know about you, but I can totally relate to the people in today’s gospel. There have been a number of times in my life in which I have prayed for guidance or answers or solutions – when I have boldly approached the throne of grace – and the response given was not quite the answer I was looking for. When this happens, I react in a number of ways
I ignore God’s answers because I fail to trust.
I challenge God’s answers because I think I know better.
And sometimes I go away grieving because I know God’s answer is truth.
Truth is not always what I want to hear. Truth doesn’t conform to my agenda, and my wants. Occasionally, I even abhor the truth! It just seems like too much work!
Christians know that we have a wonderful gift in Jesus Christ. Our savior came to earth and took on our wretched skin and our hopeless situation. Christ lived and walked among us – as one of us – and experienced our pain and loss and the worst ugliness that humanity can dish out. And because Christ lived and died as one of us, we can boldly approach the Throne of Grace and ask for what we need, knowing that we will receive God’s word – a word of grace and mercy and truth – from a God who knows our frailties and the intentions of our hearts.
Our problem is that we love the grace and mercy… the truth? Not so much. Just like that poor guy in the gospel, we go to Jesus for answers and then we’re not happy with what we’re told.
“Sell all I have and give it to the poor?”
You’ve got to be kidding me, Jesus!
Jesus is not kidding, of course. He was, perhaps, a bit sarcastic in that line about the camel, but he wasn’t kidding about the offloading of the things that prevent us from living the way God intends us to live.
“There is nothing you can do to inherit eternal life. That’s been taken care of for you. However… there is this one other thing you could work on…”
Jesus spoke truth to the man. And the truth seemed impossible. So impossible that the man went away grieving. It seems like no one would be capable of living the way God intends, but every now and then, we find someone who comes pretty close.
Alice Dietz, a former Nawakwa nurse, was one of those people.
Alice’s life did not begin well. She was born in March of 1922, in the midst of a flu epidemic. In the week that she was born, her mother and two siblings died. Alice and her remaining sister were sent to live in the Lutheran Home for the Aged and Orphans in Germantown, Pennsylvania. (We should stop here and note that Alice loved it there and recalled the orphanage and its staff with great fondness.)
Several years later, Alice’s father remarried and brought the children home – which sounds like a good turn of events, except that Alice’s father abused his daughters in unspeakable ways. When Alice’s sister left home, the situation became so intolerable that Alice ran away. She found refuge with family friends who allowed her to work in their family business until she graduated from high school.
Alice belonged to a Lutheran congregation that had a strong interest in developing leadership in its young people. They sponsored Alice’s sister’s involvement in Luther League, and sent her to several national conventions. Alice didn’t have the same interest in Luther League, but she was interested in academic pursuits, so the congregation sent Alice to the Lutheran Leadership Training Camp at Nawakwa.
She enjoyed her classes there, but even more, she enjoyed hearing the faculty and visitors talk about their work in the church and the world. Alice was especially captured by the stories told by the deaconesses and missionaries she met at Nawakwa, and it didn’t take her long to discern that a career in nursing would be perfect for her.
She enrolled as a student at the Lankenau Hospital School of Nursing outside of Philadelphia. After graduation, she worked at other local hospitals, including the University of Pennsylvania Hospital – which allowed her to earn a Masters in Social Work at no cost.
Not all of Alice’s life was about education and work. Along the way, she met a young serviceman from Carlisle named Lyle Ferguson. She and Lyle did well together and decided that they should someday get married. On Lyle’s Army salary, he even managed to buy Alice a ring.
Alice knew that marrying Lyle would likely mean that she would leave her own career behind – and she grieved that. But they were happy and excited about beginning a life together and starting a family. Alice felt certain that this was God’s plan for her.
Everything seemed to be going along swimmingly until Lyle went home on leave to his parents’ farm. While test-driving his father’s new tractor, Lyle had an accident and was killed. Alice told me that she did two things when she heard the news of Lyle’s death. The first was that she sent her ring to Lyle’s mother because it was the right thing to do. The second thing that Alice did was that she began to pray in earnest, asking God, “What is it that you want me to do?”
Alice told me that, over time, it became clear to her that missionary work would be her direction – and she did not grieve because of that answer. She had had classes and conversations with missionaries at Nawakwa. It sounded exciting and fulfilling to her. Missionary work would allow her to use her skills and knowledge for the sake of others – AND she could give back to very church that had formed her!
Alice knew exactly where she wanted to go – AFRICA, specifically Tanganyika.
She remembered learning of the many different mission fields served by the ULCA while she was at Nawakwa. Someone representing the Board of Foreign Missions had done a presentation of different opportunities available. Alice was fascinated by what she heard about Tanganyika. She also remembered that the gentleman shared with the class that every organization has its areas of strength and weakness… and the area of greatest weakness for Lutheran missionary work at that time – and the place you DIDN’T want to go – was Liberia.
Alice took steps to apply to the Board of Foreign Missions, fully convinced that she was moving in the right direction – the direction given to her when she boldly approached the throne of grace and asked for an answer. Life had never been easy for her, but the church had always taken care of her… serving the church by giving back in this way was the right thing to do… Alice knew that she was doing what God wanted her to do.
And so, on the day that Alice was to receive her assignment, she was confident and ready.
But Alice was not assigned to Tanganyika. Alice was assigned to … Liberia.
Her reaction was not the reaction of the young man in today’s gospel. Alice did NOT go away grieving. Instead, Alice reacted more like Peter. She marched up to the man in charge and said, “Excuse me, but I believe there’s been a mistake… I requested Tanganyika, and my assignment was Liberia.”
What Alice received in return was exactly that which we sometimes dread the most. She received the truth.
The man in charge said, “Alice, we need you to go to Liberia. We’re building a new hospital and we are desperately in need of skilled nurses. We need you to help us start a collegiate nursing school.”
Alice told me that at this point she said, “Okay, God. If this is what you really want me to do, I will do it.”
And off she went.
Over the next few years, Alice worked in all aspects of setting up that nursing school – from designing curriculum, to going out to find eligible students, to teaching the classes once the students were gathered. Her first class of four young women graduated in 1965.
Alice worked in Liberia for a total of ten years, training up nurses as she had been taught, but in a part of the world very different from anything she had known. Alice remained in Liberia – embracing her call and loving those she served – until the Board of Missions determined that it was no longer safe for her to stay. Civil unrest had made it far too dangerous. She grieved over the thought of leaving. She had so grown to love her life and the people with whom she lived and worked in Liberia. And she prayed about this – you know she prayed about this – but when a student from the first graduating class was brutally murdered, Alice knew that the truth was it was time to leave.
The work started by Alice and others continues even until today. Despite being attacked and looted during the Liberian civil war, Phebe Hospital has never stopped giving care – and nurses continue to be graduated from the program begun by a young woman who followed God’s call to serve in a faraway land.
And Alice never stopped praying. In praying for guidance, she felt herself being called to teach in the exotic mission field of Durham, North Carolina. Positions were open at the Duke University School of Nursing. Alice applied and was told that her credentials were unacceptable. While she possessed a Masters Degree, it was not in the required field. The truth was: even though she had just established a collegiate school of nursing from the ground up, if she wanted to teach nursing in the states, she would have to earn another degree.
Instead of grieving or protesting, Alice enrolled at the University of North Carolina and earned her Masters in Nursing, and THEN returned to Duke, where they offered her the job, and where she taught until the program ended seven years later. And she didn’t stop there – she went back to UNC and taught in the very department from which she had graduated for another seven years… and at the age of 65, Alice finally retired.
She moved to a Lutheran retirement community, and as some of you may be able to relate, she LOVED it there! This was now her community, her village, and she built relationships and cared for the people of Twin Lakes as she had cared for people all of her adult life. And Alice continued daily to seek God’s guidance in her life.
Alice told me that, around the time she turned 80, God began to show her that she was carrying unnecessary burdens. The truth was: Alice was still angry with her father and it was time to let that anger go. It was getting in the way. Alice told me that of all the life-changing decisions she had ever made, and there had been several, this one was the most difficult and the most rewarding.
And so, at the age of eighty, Alice experienced new life, letting go of the one thing that had been weighing her down and preventing her from living a full life with Christ. So great was this revelation that Alice made it her mission to share her story with her peers and the staff at Twin Lakes, and when I met Alice last September, she shared her story with me. She never passed up an opportunity to encourage others to let go of anger and to forgive those who had wronged them. Alice knew the rewards that could
be found in releasing burdens, because she had experienced this firsthand – and Alice prayed that everyone
might know the same joy that she knew.
I just learned that Alice died in August.
I don’t know the circumstances surrounding her death, but I have a strong inkling that when God told Alice that it was time to go, Alice didn’t grieve OR protest. I want to believe that Alice boldly approached the Throne of Grace one last time, knowing that she would be welcomed by a God who knows her frailties and weaknesses and the intentions of her heart. And the truth is – and this is truth we WANT to hear – Alice received mercy and grace a hundredfold.
I also don’t know what happened to the man who approached Jesus. We know he went away grieving, but then what?
Did he continue to live his life, held back from eternal life by the prison of his possessions?
Did he come to believe the truth that Jesus revealed to him? Did he sell all that he had and give it to the poor?
Did he spend the rest of his days trying to force a poor camel through a tiny opening just to prove that he could get into Heaven?
We just don’t know. But I do know that, given the chance, Alice Dietz would have encouraged him to let go of his own plans and his own desires in order to live the life of abundant grace that God wills for us all. And she would encourage each of us to go and do likewise.
Alice Dietz, full of grace and truth, thank you for showing us how to live the way God intends.
A three-legged stool never wobbles. Each leg works to support the seat and share the weight placed on the stool. It’s a simple design, employed by Kirchenwald’s Back Country Outpost campers, that produces some truly impressive pioneer-style furniture. But if you think the wooden stools are the only product of the furniture making activity, then you’re missing some of the truly remarkable moments at camp.
This summer, I worked with the Intermediate Back Country Outpost to build their camp-craft stools. The camp provided the group with rough-cut blocks of wood and enough thick branches to serve as legs so that each camper could have a stool of their own to take home at the end of the week. Using only hand drills, saws and a tenon cutter, the campers cut all the joints necessary to assemble the stool. It’s hard work, as anyone who’s participated in the project will tell you.
It was a hot Tuesday morning when we started working. Each camper chose a block of wood for the seat and rummaged through a pile of branches on the ground, selecting three similarly sized pieces for the legs. With only three drills, not everyone was able to get their own stool going right from the start. A few minutes into the project I saw one boy starting to get particularly restless as he waited for his turn with the tools. Turning one of his stool legs in his hands, his fingers brushed against the nubs where smaller branches had been snapped off. Eager to get his hands on a tool, he walked over to our construction table, picked up a small saw, and proceeded to cut the nubs off the branch until it was smooth to his liking. And that’s when it happened. He looked up from his work and announced, “If anyone wants me to cut the extra stuff off your legs, bring them over to me.” It was an incredible moment in the life of that group- a moment that might easily be overlooked if you’re not paying attention. A simple declaration that held so much more meaning than the words appear to be saying.
Some of the other campers in the group carried their legs over to the boy as he energetically got to work. Another boy, noticing his cabinmate struggling to drill a hole, offered to take a turn working on the stool. A group of girls teamed up to hold stool legs steady as another camper worked to shave the tenons. And the air became filled with the sounds of singing, as campers rewrote the lyrics of well-known songs to include lines like “The drill bits for the stools go round and round.” The whole atmosphere of the project became one of cooperation, support, and joy.
These are tremendously special moments at camp, but they’re far from unusual or rare. It’s in these moments that real growth happens and teamwork and community become more than something we just talk about. They become the values that we live. As Christians we’re charged to live in community with one another, loving God through our love for one another. At camp, we’re encouraged to practice that calling in a place where we’re nurtured and safe. Camp is a place where we see the lessons from Bible study and the messages in worship come to life in the actions of our campers and staff.
And so, each person in that group left camp at the end of the week with a completed wooden stool. A sturdy, three-legged reminder of a moment when we grew closer to being the best versions of ourselves. Because, really, that’s what camp’s all about.
Hannah didn’t fit in anywhere. Beyond grade school, public school was not a good fit. Homeschooling wasn’t the right answer. Her congregation’s youth group was welcoming, but the kids there were not her peers. A Life Skills class in a neighboring district was about the closest thing to a “good fit” as Hannah and her parents could find.
Hannah’s mother called me several months before summer camp asking if Hannah could participate in Nawakwa’s Fine Arts Camp as a day camper. She explained to me that Hannah was not a discipline problem, but that she did have some developmental challenges. Sleeping overnight at camp was not at all of interest to her, so we planned that Hannah would attend camp Monday – Friday, from 9-4.
On the first day of that week, Hannah showed up looking a bit unsure of what she had gotten herself into… but her mother asked if 4:00 was a good time for her to pick Hannah up, or if there was a better time. We discussed the evening schedules, and Hannah’s mom thought that picking her up after the evening activities had concluded might be a better idea.
On Tuesday, Hannah returned to camp with a huge smile. She greeted Norbert, the camp dog, and then greeted her counselor just as enthusiastically. At the end of the day, Hannah’s cabin mates all yelled good-bye and waved as Hannah got in the car to leave.
On Wednesday, Hannah’s mother pulled me aside after dropping Hannah off. She told me that, on the way home the evening before, Hannah talked non-stop about how much she was enjoying her week. She told her mother that Nawakwa was “so peaceful,” and that this was a place where there was time and space for Hannah to be herself. She excitedly told her mother that she had spoken during Bible Study – a big step for Hannah! Then Hannah’s mother said that Hannah had even asked if it would be possible for her to return next year to help for a week or two in the Craft Hall.
Camp is a place where Hannah fits, where she can just be Hannah the Camper. It doesn’t matter that she might think differently or process things differently than other people. In fact, at camp, Hannah isn’t any more or less special than anyone else. The other campers welcomed her as a full member of their group; it didn’t matter whether she slept at camp or at home. Hannah was given sufficient space and opportunity to be the beautiful child of God she had been created to be.
One of the gifts that summer church camp provides is an environment of acceptance. Nawakwa staff has a goal to ensure that every camper leaves knowing that he or she is a beloved Child of God. As Children of God, we are all family – and in this family, there is room for everyone. Everyone fits.