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Seminary Student Leads Camping Experience for Disadvantaged Children

By Laura Lehman Amstutz

Sara Wenger Shenk
Tamara Gill plays in the sand with two children during the week-long camping experience.

HARRISONBURG, Va. - Lightening surrounded a pavilion filled with 8-11-year- olds in the wilderness. The storm raged around the camp site at Hone Quarry, near Briery Branch in western Rockingham County, but the children remained calm, because Tamara Gill was telling a story - the salvation story.

Gill has been involved in camp ministry since her college days, so when offered the job of program director for Living Water Children's Camp she couldn't turn it down. But this camp was different from what she'd been a part of in the past.

Living Water Retreat is a ministry to prisoners in the Harrisonburg prison complex. The camp ministers to children of prisoners.

Living Water ministries runs two five-day camping adventures for children of prisoners and other disadvantaged children in the Harrisonburg area. The camp is set up at Hone Quarry in George Washington National Forest.

Children and staff set up teepees, cook over an open fire and live without running water for five days. The first week, June 11-15, 19 second through fifth graders joined Gill and five other staff members for a week of fishing, swimming, hiking and learning about Jesus.

Gill, as program director, choose the theme "Soaring for the Savior" for this summer's program. Along with hearing Bible stories and singing camp songs, children learned about birds and made birdhouses.

Sara Wenger Shenk
Tamara led children in making gliders during the week of camp.

"Camp ministry is a very intense experience," said Gill. "When you live with a small group of people in a teepee for five days you have to be real with each other."

Gill loves camp ministry for this reason. "There isn't another place where we have to be as honest with each other as you do in a camp setting," she said. "It's a special opportunity for ministry."

Gill, who just completed her first year of study at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, planned all the devotional times and gave most of the messages during campfire in the evening and what she called "Jesus Story" time each morning.

Camping ministry includes numerous challenges. "Many of the children the first week had never been away from home before," said Gill. "But I'm proud to say that we took 19 children to camp on Monday and they all stayed the whole week."

This camp also had children who came from a variety of backgrounds. "For many of these children their first reaction to something that is unfair is to throw something or hit someone," said Gill. "We helped the children resolve conflict peacefully. This showed them how to live out the faith we talked about all week."

"I serve in camp ministry because I love seeing people's lives change," she added, "but I'm always amazed at how my own life is changed in the process."

posted 7/05/07