Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota

Youth find God’s peace at Northwoods Camp

Added on Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Adults aren’t the only people who need a break from everyday life. Children need to get away, too. For many kids served by The Salvation Army, summer does little to relieve the stress of living in poverty, an abusive home, or a troubled neighborhood. For these children, true peace can only be found in a different environment. Children find that peace at the Salvation Army Northwoods Camp in Finlayson, Minn., located in the mother of all environments – nature.

The kids revel in swimming, crafts and other fun activities. For many of the children, it’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Northwoods Camp is like an interactive Bible, where kids get to see and touch everything our counselors teach them about God’s creation and His promise of salvation,” said Captain Andrew Shiels, camp director.

Kids who come to camp with emotional baggage leave with a much lighter load. Last summer, for example, a 15-year-old girl arrived filled with shame and anger because of some serious mistakes she’d made. Her life was so miserable, she thought it was no longer worth living. Camp changed that. Her counselors met her with open arms, telling her she’s loved, worth something and forgiven. The girl had never heard that before.

“The moment was a turning point,” said head female counselor Janelle Booze. “She arrived at camp drowning in pain. She left with a renewed spirit.”

It All Started with Food

Young boy gets a dinner tray at campFood inspired the creation of Salvation Army camps.

In the late 1800s, Salvation Army founders developed a system of what were dubbed “poor children’s picnics.” Underprivileged youngsters from city neighborhoods were given a day in the country, complete with a summertime feast. Measuring success was simple: The children were weighed when they arrived, and again when they departed. If they departed heavier, camp was a success. Today at Northwoods Camp, the emphasis is less on quantity and more on quality. Nutrition is the goal, and success is measured by how many healthy foods the kids try at camp.

On average, Northwoods Camp serves more than 10,000 meals each year.

Singing God’s Praises

Even when it’s a kid choir’s first round of “Do-Re-Mi,” or a brass band’s clumsy first try at “When the Saints Go Marching In,” at Salvation Army music camp, it’s music to our ears – we know it could be the start of a lifelong love of music.

“We call it joyful noise,” joked Captain Andrew Shiels, Salvation Army youth and music director.

Salvation Army youth music director leads kids in songShiels says he marvels at how God goes to work through Salvation Army music camp, reaching children who are missing something in their lives. For one camper, it is the camaraderie that comes with working on a song. For another, music might become an outlet for processing tough circumstances faced back home.

“Being able to play through pain to find peace, it’s so powerful,” Shiels added. “It’s like God is their back-up singer.”

The music camp is among the most popular options, even though it has an intense schedule of classes covering things like music theory, song writing and concerts. A staff of instructors and guest performers make the eight day camp a highlight of summer for many who attend. Salvation Army music camp is for any kid who wants to perform music, but hasn’t had the resources to do it. Scholarships are awarded based on need and the funding available each summer.

“I wish every music camp supporter could be there for the final performances of the week, to see the smiles and hear the applause. It is a goose bump moment every single time,” Shiels said.