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The summer season was in full swing at Camp Crestview in northwest Oregon. It was midweek, and the high school camp was filled with hundreds of students from Foursquare churches who had arrived the previous weekend. Songs of praise from the Wednesday chapel service filled the night air, but camp leader Dusty Johnson wasn’t listening. The message crackling across his camp radio had his total attention.

A teen boy had bolted from chapel and was running hard down the driveway toward the front gates of the wilderness camp. When Johnson and other leaders caught up to the teen, he was just outside the driveway entrance in a tree, yelling and hissing in a voice that clearly was not his own. Grabbing one another’s hands and praying, the leaders asked God to intervene.

Immediately upon their “Amen!” one leader demanded that the evil presence let the boy go. In minutes, calmed and quieted, the teen climbed down.

With deep sobs, he told his story. Sexually abused by a spiritual leader, Mark (not his real name) had let the shame and anger he felt grow into a tormenting resentment. To cope, he had turned to satanic rituals.

The leaders prayed and counseled with Mark and accompanied him to his cabin. He enjoyed the rest of his week at camp and had no more problems.

Johnson thanked God for how He had ministered to Mark. He realized God’s answer to the prayer he had prayed with the 60 other camp leaders early in the week had been literal: “Lord, raise Your scarlet banner over this camp, that everything not part of Your plan would be dropped at the driveway entrance, and that this would be a safe place for You to work in the lives of kids.”

Their prayer-that camp would be “a safe place” for God to reach kids-reflects the nugget of gold that lies embedded just below the surface of camping ministry. At camp, kids open their hearts and lives to God like they simply won’t anywhere else. Not at home; not at church; not at school.

It might happen outside beneath a zillion stars; within the magical glow of a monstrous bonfire; during the worship of an evening chapel service; or in a camp building seated beside best friends. No matter the where or the when-it happens.

As one veteran Foursquare camp director, Bob Hannay, puts it: “At camp, God can deal with sensitive areas in kids’ lives that won’t happen in church with Mom and Dad sitting behind them.”

Camp is where many kids understand for the first time that God loves them and is calling them to follow Him. It’s where they are immersed for a week in an environment that changes them for a lifetime.

A Place Where Lives are Changed

From the Cascades in the Northwest to the Smokies in the Southeast, the eight national Foursquare campgrounds are all about seeing lives touched by Jesus. Just about everything imaginable is offered to make the camping experience thrilling and life-changing-from games of glow-in-the-dark dodge ball to swimming pools to zany talent contests to serious reflection and Bible study. There are camps for kids, grades 3-5; middle schoolers, grades 6-8; high schoolers, grades 9-12; even for adults.

Camp Crestview, where Johnson is director, is a 55-acre tract slung along the high ground above the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Ore. Fun for the kids is about as abundant as the crisp mountain air. There’s the Black Hole waterslide; a 50-foot high, three-sided simulated rock-climbing wall; the Crestview pool; even a dining hall where food is prepared with a culinary flair by a former executive chef–and plenty more.

Crestview hosts some 2,600 Foursquare summer-campers each year, which requires 700 cabin leaders and staff. During non-summer months, the camp hosts more than 3,500 adults.

The camping is fun, but the ministry is what keeps Johnson jazzed.

“I love seeing hard kids softened by the Holy Spirit as they dare you to love them,” he said. “Or seeing the impossible become possible for kids, seeing hope rise again and pain healed.”

In Golden, Colo., Johnny Chapman directs Camp Wondervu Conference and Retreat Center in the Rocky Mountains, about 45 minutes from Denver. Chapman also pastors Front Range Foursquare Church in Westminster, Colo.

Wondervu changes lives “in ways that may not happen in a traditional church setting,” Chapman says. “There is something very powerful about getting away that opens [people’s] hearts to what the Lord has for them.”

During summer camp, kids enjoy water activities on the property’s five-acre lake, rock climbing, mountain biking and plenty of other events. The camp hosts three weeks of Foursquare camps during the summer, and the rest of the year leases the facility to other groups.

About 600 elementary, middle school and high school Foursquare campers will attend Wondervu for five-day camps this year. The camp also hosts adult groups each year.

Jon Clapper has worked on staff for 10 years with Old Oak Ranch and Conference Center, located in the north-central Sierra Nevada Mountains near Sonora, Calif. Old Oak hosts about 4,500 campers a year from Foursquare churches-about 800 children, 1,500 middle schoolers and 2,200 high schoolers.

Summer camp activities for the kids include high ropes, paintball, skateboarding, bikes, court sports and more. The two pools on the property are always busy, and a nighttime highlight is gatherings at the camp’s large amphitheater under the stars, made even more special on chilly nights by a massive roaring bonfire. Many of the youth campers are Foursquare kids, but a lot of them are from other groups or not from church at all.

Old Oak is a thriving adult campground as well, hosting an amazing 14,000 adult campers a year for gatherings such as quilters clubs, sewing clubs, Kiwanis clubs and 4-H clubs.

But Clapper is always excited about what will happen when the kids are in camp.

“Kids from all walks of life come every year and discover God loves them and has a plan for their lives,” he says. “It’s an unmistakable look on their faces when God’s love is revealed to them for the first time.”

South of Clapper in the San Bernardino Mountains, Bob Hannay manages Camp Cedar Crest, the oldest of the Foursquare-owned camps. Located at 6,500 feet and about 90 minutes east of Los Angeles, it serves the entire California Foursquare family from Bakersfield to San Diego.

Between June and September each year, 400-500 kids a week swoop down on Cedar Crest-some 21,000 a year. About 6,000 a year are from schools, but 15,000 are church kids, mostly from Foursquare congregations.

Hannay isn’t scared by the mind-blowing attendance and daunting responsibility. He’s thrilled.

“I love my job. I do it with joy, knowing that I am part of changing these kids’ lives and that whatever they do for God in life, I am a part of that,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of accolades. But I don’t need them.”

As a young man, Hannay witnessed with excitement the construction of Camp McPherson in Ohio in the late 1960s. He remembers the precise spot in that camp where God touched his life deeply, calling him and changing the course of his life. He later moved to California, where he met his wife, Karen, at Chatsworth Foursquare, pastored by her father for many years. In 1991, he and Karen became the directors of Cedar Crest.

For 51 of 52 weeks each year, his camp is hopping. In the summer, kids enjoy swimming, volleyball, basketball, the ball field and the camp’s impressive snack bar with its “famous” chili fries and hamburgers. “It’s a tradition,” Hannay notes. In the winter, many kids come to enjoy the snow in camp, which is also just five minutes from ski resorts.

Hannay’s voice cracks with emotion as he describes how all year he sees kids opening their hearts to Jesus. “It’s a vulnerable time for kids, when they make decisions for life. It’s a place where the call to ministry comes. We provide the ‘place,'” he notes, meaning the camping experience in which Jesus and kids connect. “Their lives are changed at camp in ways that are different from how they are changed at youth group or church. They just are.”

A Fruitful Legacy

Youth ministry has been prominent in the Foursquare family since the earliest days. Simultaneous with the Angelus Temple revival under Aimee Semple McPherson, programs for children and young people were launched, all founded on a belief that the future of the church lies in the nurture and training of its children and young people. Some of today’s Foursquare churches actually started as children’s ministries.

Foursquare camps for young people, then called “Crusader Camps,” were pioneered by the Rev. Harold Chalfant, who in 1936 was appointed director of Foursquare Crusader Youth and served also as the international director of youth until 1960. Nicknamed “Mr. Foursquare Youth,” Chalfant was known for his campfire “Victory Circles,” during which hundreds of youth cast pine cones into the flames to symbolize their surrender to God’s will. Many became missionaries, pastors or denominational leaders.

The successful programs Chalfant developed in the San Bernardino Mountains first at Camp Radford and then at Camp Cedar Crest inspired the other districts to start similar programs. The legacy of the Foursquare camping experience Chalfant and other leaders left for future generations is still spurring young people into Christian leadership.

Luke Hanes is one of them. A youth pastor at Salmon Creek Foursquare Church in Vancouver, Wash., Hanes had a life-changing experience as a kid at a Foursquare camp. As a volunteer at Crestview for 10 years and regular cabin leader for high school camps, his life is still being changed by the Foursquare camping experience.

“I get to share some amazing experiences with these guys, including gut-wrenching laughter, hair-pulling frustration (mine, not theirs) and remarkable times with God,” he says. “Cabin leading is the hardest job, but it’s also where you can, through the Holy Spirit, produce the most fruit.”

Hanes believes more lives are changed during “cabin time” than during any other facet of camp week. It’s when cabinmates and leader kick back, get real about life and bring God into the equation.

“They drop their fronts and become genuine,” Hanes notes. “They say things like: ‘Man, I look at porn all the time, and I repented tonight, and God forgave me. I need you guys to hold me accountable when I get home’; or, ‘I’ve always felt so distant from God, but tonight He spoke to me and I know it was Him.'”

Hanes recalls what happened once after a teen in his cabin gave his life to Christ: “When he came out of chapel, he threw a hash pipe on the concrete so that it shattered in a million pieces and said, ‘I don’t need that anymore.'”

He realized the boy probably had been using the pipe all week. “I thought, There’s probably tons of things I don’t know about these kids. But then I was like: ‘Oh, wait! Praise God!’-and I hugged him.”

The life-changing impact doesn’t begin and end just with the campers, though. When God moves, cabin leaders are touched too.

During one recent camp week, Azia Shumate, a Foursquare university student in Corvallis, Ore., had the spiritual experience of a lifetime. “I led a girl to the Lord for the first time in my life!” she says.

The totally unexpected happened to cabin leader Beth Thompson of Salmon Creek Foursquare in Vancouver, Wash. “I came [to camp] because I had no excuses why I couldn’t. God spoke to me. He called me into children’s ministry!” she exclaims.

David Martschinske of Grace Foursquare in Camas, Wash., witnessed the power of sin being broken in young men’s lives during his week as a cabin leader at Camp Crestview.

“This camp was very freeing for a lot of kids,” he shares. “Freedom from sexual bondage, rape, homosexuality. Men are going to rise from this generation as a result of God’s divine appointment for these kids.”

For Crystal Atkisson of Sunnyside Foursquare in Clackamas, Ore., seeing the tenderness of God at work in children moved her.

“My favorite part was seeing all the children worshiping,” she recalls. “I saw children crying because they had been so touched by the Lord.”

Children from the kids camps express God’s touch on their lives differently than the older teens do, but much can be heard within their simple statements.

“I had a dream where I was being attacked by a lion and I was very scared,” says a youngster named Eddy. “Then I saw a man dressed all in white, and I knew He was Jesus. Jesus saved me from the lion.”

Another child seemed just as excited to be able to proclaim: “I learned that God’s last name is ‘Almighty’!”

The growth and effectiveness of the Foursquare camping ministry are set to continue into the future. Wondervu, for example, plans to remodel some buildings to enable the camp to run year-round, Chapman says. The ministry recently celebrated 30 years as a strategic Foursquare property.

At Old Oak, an internship program for young people and aspiring leaders keeps the ministry moving into the future. The internships attract youth because the program is designed for those who are at a place in life where they want to discover God’s plan for them or determine if full-time ministry is their calling.

Johnson founded an organization in 2000 called ALLFOURONE as an outreach to serve the Cascade, Columbia, Mount Hood and Willamette Districts in Oregon, southwest Washington and western Idaho. The program is enabling Crestview to grow beyond just its identify as a quality camping venue.

Behind their efforts and those of other Foursquare camp managers is the preservation of the camping experience in which kids find Jesus.

“Each time a life is dramatically altered, we see firsthand the value of the camp experience,” Chapman says.

Johnson himself is an example of that value. He had no idea as a first-time camper at Crestview in 1988 that God would use the week to propel him into ministry in the Foursquare family, where he has served since 1989.

“The course of my life was changed at camp,” Johnson says. “Somehow, through this six-day concoction of singing, laughter, silly games, chapel and quiet times, the Holy Spirit had access like never before.

“I now have the privilege to serve others,” he adds. “And it all began at a place called ‘camp.'”

Camp by the Numbers

number of registered campers in 2007 at Foursquare’s eight national camp facilities

salvations and rededications

Holy Spirit baptisms

water baptisms

physical healings

number of people called to full-time ministry

is a freelance writer and editor based in Orlando, Fla.