When you imagine Bible camp, you might think of peppy songs with enthusiastic hand gestures sung around a campfire capped with hovering marshmallows. You may think of games and swimming, flashlights and tents, worship and Bible study and, perhaps, tie-dyed shirts.
You wouldn’t be wrong.
But there’s something more happening at camps across the Midwest – many with a cohort of Cobbers on staff.
This past summer, Andie Asp ’21 saw firsthand how a camp operates.
“Camp is its own little community with a variety of different roles that are all necessary to keep it running,” she says. “Since it requires a mixed set of skills, you become a well-rounded person capable of doing just about anything.”
Isaac Samuelson ’21 served as a counselor alongside Asp at Camp Metigoshe near Bottineau, N.D., where they swam and canoed, climbed high ropes courses, led songs and theological discussions, facilitated team-building activities, ate too much oatmeal and were forever impacted.
Camp Metigoshe serves more than 1,000 on-site campers of all ages and another thousand children at 26 congregations around the state, including children from the adjacent Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.
“My goal is to work with children, particularly at-risk youth. Camp Metigoshe has given me intense one-on-one time with kids age 6-18 from many different backgrounds,” says Natalie Hanson ’18. “This summer has challenged me, making me do things I didn’t think I could and giving me confidence in myself.”
Outdoor ministry is a total-immersion experience in interacting with children.
“Working with a new batch of kids each week, ranging from first grade to seniors in high school, has allowed me to see the entire spectrum of students and develop strategies to work well with different age groups,” says elementary education major Jordan Johnson ’21. “In my Educational Psychology class at Concordia, I learned why kids act the way they do, so seeing these concepts come to life in campers is an interesting experience.”
Thinking beyond yourself may sound easy until you are put in charge of such a range of youth.
“At Camp Metigoshe, we have a philosophy that no matter what we put campers’ needs first. Because of this, I now see the big picture and that I have the ability to put others before myself,” Asp says. “I’ve also realized that things aren’t going to go according to schedule – you just have to roll with the punches and everything will be all right. I’ve never really been a person to enjoy group projects, but at camp ‘no one is an island’ – meaning that everyone is on your side. After this summer, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Collaboration and adaptability of this kind requires careful time management.
“Being responsible for myself and all my campers has helped me be proactive,” Samuelson says.
Relationships dramatically impact one’s beliefs and values. Johnson found that his faith was most influenced by hearing other perspectives.
“We lead Bible study sessions, with each day focused on a different story. You hear varied viewpoints from fellow staff, tiny campers, or high schoolers. Each person’s story is different and getting to hear interpretations based on others’ experiences is a special opportunity to experience things in a new way,” Johnson says. “I spent the summer worshipping alongside my best friends, youth, and those with physical and intellectual disabilities. Seeing how God’s grace touches everybody differently is such a meaningful experience.”
Hanson says she especially enjoys helping youth discover this grace and how God is present in their lives.
“I have a new interest in and larger understanding of God’s grace,” Asp says. “Between leading prayers and Bible studies with campers to actively participating in devotions with staff, I have been pushed out of my comfort zone. I honestly feel as though camp is one of the greatest ways to develop your faith, even if you aren’t confident that it’s there.”
It’s the emphasis on equality – that all are loved at all times – that changed her and Samuelson’s outlook on their life and purpose.
“Adults with physical and developmental disabilities really love it at Camp Metigoshe and it’s a great place for them to challenge themselves physically and emotionally,” Samuelson says. “When we see them as any other camper, it pushes aside the limits that people put on them. Whether they come with a walker or in a wheelchair, with a good or bad attitude, it all goes out the window.”
Cobbers working at Camp Metigoshe can attest to the variety of skills you acquire from practicing all the components of running a nonprofit that serves a diverse community.
“You coordinate complex programs with limited resources, developing and implementing curriculum, leading small and large group activities for those age 1-70, managing budgets, and recruiting and supervising younger staff – all while communicating an expansive mission and transformational faith,” says Jon Halvorson ’98, Metigoshe Ministries executive director, and Melissa (Reinhart) Kornkven ’08, associate director.
After all, Johnson says, working at a camp is an internship.
“If you have even the slightest inkling that you might want to work at a camp, do it. You will never have a more rewarding summer, and the friendships and experiences you gain are priceless,” Johnson says. “Many camps accommodate internships for teaching, photography, sustainability, and nursing/medical fields. It never hurts to ask about internship possibilities because if you can make it work, your summer will be phenomenal.”
Cobbers, in particular, notice the similarities between the atmosphere of outdoor ministry and that of Concordia.
“All the professors at Concordia are on your team, providing confidence and direction. Both Concordia and camp surround you with people that are here to help you and want you to succeed. Both places have leaders that understand a ‘ministry of interruptions,’ finding time to talk with you and make you feel important,” Samuelson says. “The themes this past summer were forgiveness, inclusion and service. Both communities place a huge value on these qualities.”