Camp helps at-risk kids connect with God
Nature is one of God’s most effective missionaries. The beauty and artistry of tall green trees, soaring eagles, prancing deer fawns, and bright pink sunsets are ironclad proof of His existence.
The Salvation Army Northwoods Camp in Finlayson, Minn. allows at-risk children and families to experience these wonders. Every summer, hundreds of them come from across Minnesota and North Dakota for a week of outdoors activities, music, campfires, and connecting with God on a level beyond what can be experienced in everyday life.
Camp counselor Lori Olivier has witnessed the power of what nature can do to a troubled child.
“Some kids arrive hardened, with walls up,” Olivier said. “Their walls start to crumble when they come to the knowledge that Jesus is their father. As counselors, we get to be with them in that moment. It blows your mind every time.”
Also mind-blowing: The amount of fun that campers have at the 280-acre facility, enjoying once-in-a-lifetime activities made possible by your donations to The Salvation Army.
Keep reading for a closer look at all that Northwoods Camp offers kids and families.
Let the good times roll
Northwoods Camp boasts a long list of outdoors activities such as swimming, fishing and canoeing, plus unique experiences such as ATV-riding, archery, and a ropes course.
The ropes course is a camp favorite. Kids who are big enough – and brave enough – to fit into a climbing harness can ascend a 30-foot tower for several high-flying challenges, including sailing through the air attached to a zipline.
There’s also a low-ropes course, suspended two feet off the ground. “The low ropes aren’t as scary, so we use them to teach kids about teamwork and working together,” said Janelle Shumaker, youth outreach coordinator at Northwoods Camp.
In addition, the camp includes a waterpark, plus a petting zoo with llamas, pigs, goats, chickens, and sheep. (See photos of Northwoods Camp activities.)
“They have bunnies, too – and sometimes they let you hold them,” said a camper named Grace, 13.
Campers enjoy these and other activities three hours a day during their free time.
Pump up the volume
Northwoods Camp is alive with the sound of music.
Campers begin and end their day singing worship songs – loudly – in the multipurpose room, led by a rock-band of teen musicians who are campers themselves.
“One way, Jesus, You’re the only one that I could live for!” the campers sing, performing a popular hit by the Christian rock band Hillsong United.
Two of Northwoods’ six summer camps are devoted exclusively to music. Up to 100 kids spend a week practicing and performing brass instruments, guitar, piano, vocals, and more.
“I play baritone,” said a camper named Ahmed, 14. “Being in the music classes was really helpful for my musical skills. When I go back to my (church), I want to help rejuvenate our music programs.”
That kind of enthusiasm is what makes Jose Sanchez, Northwoods Camp music director, love his job so much.
“Many kids come to camp nervous about their music abilities, but then they leave camp feeling totally surprised about what they’re capable of,” Sanchez said.
He cited an example of a little girl who came to camp with a saxophone, unable to play more than just a few notes.
“Throughout the week I saw her confidence grow,” Sanchez said. “At the end of the week, she played so well that she won an award. She was so happy.”
Connecting with God
Northwoods Camp allows children to experience God’s love and take it home with them to help navigate their often-stressful everyday lives. Many of the kids come from turbulent inner-city neighborhoods, or broken families, or both. Others come from good families stuck in the throes of poverty.
“I have seen the moments when kids finally understand that Jesus really does love them. It’s incredible,” Olivier said. “For some of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve felt love from anybody.”
Head female counselor Tiara Sanchez has witnessed similar moments, including a little girl who came to her and burst into tears.
“She told me her family life wasn’t good, that nobody at school liked her, and that she had nobody to support her,” Tiara Sanchez recalled. “She said that for the first time ever, she felt that there is a God who is her father. Then she went to the altar and accepted Jesus as her savior.”
Worship services are a favorite activity among most campers, including a 16-year-old girl named Mainag.
“I like it when we do prayer,” she explained. “You can feel the energy coming from everybody in the room. People cry. It feels really nice.”
Other spiritual miracles happen at Northwoods Camp all the time. The camp was born of a miracle itself, opening in 2006 thanks to an unexpected donation of $4.3 million from a man whose only connection to The Salvation Army was a few phone calls over the course of 10 years.
Thanks to your donations, Northwoods Camp continues to work miracles in the lives of hundreds of children.
“Many of these kids come from broken homes, feeling hopeless,” Tiara Sanchez said. “When they leave, they have joy in their hearts.”