My Camp Story
Jess, Jordan, Andrew, Tony, Anthony, Du, Wes, Jacob, Nick, Michael, Devin, Quinn…
While those are just a few names that might not mean anything to you, they are names that mean the world to me. That is because these are the names representing counselors and leaders I have had every year while being a camper at Portage Lake.
I have been attending Portage Lake, formerly known as PLCBC, since I was in 2nd grade, and attended “The Quest” Weekend for my first time as a Pathfinder. Today, however, camp means so much more to me than it did to the second grader who was anxious about spending a weekend away from home at this “strange camp” my church always talked about. I am a changed man, a new man, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and I owe much of my gratitude to the ministry that happens up at Portage Lake. As I now approach the end to my first year at Indiana Wesleyan University, I want to pay homage to a place that truly is, as both campers and staff alike say every year, a place where the border between Heaven and Earth is very thin.
From Pathfinders to the Trailblazers camps, camp to me wasn’t anything more than a great vacation place. I got to go meet new people, sing some crazy songs, listen to Jerry Jacoby’s crazy stories, fill myself up on junk food at the canteen (sorry mom!), and run around and just be a kid during the crazy awesome games like Guerilla Warfare and Braveheart. Sure, God was there, but it wasn’t anything personal to me. It was just a fun place that talked about God, and I was fine with that, because I grew up going to church and knowing all the Bible stories. I had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior at a young age, but I didn’t understand what it really meant. I thought that every time I made a mistake Jesus left my heart, and I had to kept re-asking Him to be my Savior. It wasn’t until I went to camp one summer that I found out this was false. During our Wednesday night “call night”, I remember sitting in the chapel with my counselor, Anthony, and expressing to him my fears about losing salvation because of my sins. I told him that I knew I was never going to be perfect, so I asked him how I could ever be able to keep Jesus in my heart? I was blown away when he shared with me God’s true intentions for salvation, and what a personal relationship with Jesus really means. The love and forgiveness Anthony talked about were things I had never understood before, but now I could see it all in a new light. That night, Anthony and I prayed together, and in the Portage Lake Chapel, Jesus Christ became the true Lord and Savior of my life.
When I entered middle school, the hardest three years of my life, I always looked forward to the few times a year where I could escape to camp to get away from the troubles I was having at school and in my personal life. I longed to be back up in Onekama, Michigan, to be surrounded by staff members and campers who loved and accepted me for who I was and what I was going through. That level of comfort was life changing, and in many ways, it was lifesaving. It was then that I began referring to camp as my second home. I took any opportunity I could to get up there, whether it be for summer camp, retreats, the Work and Worship weekend, or anything else camp had to offer. and began to dream about becoming a staff member someday so I could impact the lives of people that come to camp. Seeing the changes that investing into youth can make in people’s lives, such as the ministry that Portage Lake does, is one of the reasons I am pursuing youth ministry in college.
Another thing I will always remember about my time at camp camp was when I decided that I wanted to get baptized. During the Wednesday call night, my cabinmates and counselor, Michael Dornbos, were sitting inside the chapel and wrestling with our spiritual realizations that been brought about by the night. As we talked, I remember feeling this prompting by the Holy Spirit in my heart, and before I knew what I was saying, the words were out of my mouth: “Hey Michael, I want to get baptized in Portage Lake this week.” Without hesitation, Michael said “Okay.” Even though this was a huge request, and certainly not something any of us had been planning, Michael and the rest of the Portage Lake staff helped put plans in place so that I was baptized in front of my friends and family on that following Saturday morning, alongside my best friend and brother in Christ, Daniel Calkins. The waters of Portage Lake have washed away lots of paint and mud from Guerilla Warfare, but now they had washed my sins away.
Last year, in 2016, I had the opportunity to be a part of Portage Lake’s S.W.I.M. Team, an awesome opportunity for high school (or, in my case, about to enter college) students who want to experience what it’s like to serve at Portage Lake, rather than to be served as a camper. The S.W.I.M. directors, Devin and Quinn, were both outstanding models of faith and character that poured their hearts and lives into my group as we went through 3 weeks of service, studying God’s Word, and being a small part of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on to make camp one of the most special places on Earth. That week helped prepare my heart and my mind for the upcoming transition into the college season, and reaffirmed not only my love for ministry, but my love for camp, in new and impacting ways.
I now am entering into my 11th year of being involved with Portage Lake, and it’s been a dream come true to have gone through the process of being accepted and hired as a Sports & Athletics Director and Counselor for Summer 2017. For so long, camp has been a place that has meant so much to so many people, and I am coming this summer, ready for God to use me in incredible ways.
Aaron Fongers, Counselor/Athletics 2017