Northwoods Camp: Ministering in God’s country
Donations to The Salvation Army do something you probably never knew: They allow hundreds of inner-city kids to exit the concrete jungle and enter the unfettered forests of northern Minnesota.
Specifically, the kids come to The Salvation Army Northwoods Camp in Finlayson, Minn. The place is located just north of Hinckley on 280 acres of awesomeness. (See photos of kids enjoying camp.)
“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. “When it comes to connecting with kids, there’s just no substitute for Northwoods Camp – it literally is God’s country.”
The camp features a petting zoo with llamas, pigs, horses – even a whitetail deer. It’s got fishing and boating on a private lake, plus archery and ropes course adventures. There’s a swimming waterpark that rivals anything found in the big city. It’s all mixed with entertaining Bible lessons and an electrifying music ministry.
For some kids, it’s their first time experiencing any of those things. They’ve only experienced the ugly sights and sounds of a troubled neighborhood. For them, a week at camp means hearing the tranquility of a northern Minnesota night for the very first time. It means seeing what a real starlit night looks like. It means the taste of three home-cooked meals a day.
Other children come to camp from North Dakota or rural Minnesota. And make no mistake: Not every kid comes from a difficult home.
“Just as many come from loving homes – loving, but often low-income,” Shiels said.
Camp runs all summer, with weeklong camps for different age groups. Some of the kids have been coming to Northwoods Camp every year since it opened in 2006.
“The kids get better year after year – they’re taking bigger spiritual steps and asking more questions about God,” Shiels said. “The counselors always tell the kids that although they can’t go home with them, they’re not alone because God is going with them.”
Kids who arrive at camp with emotional baggage leave with a much lighter load.
“Our 26 camp counselors make sure of it,” said head female counselor Janelle Booze. “We give campers all the love and one-on-one attention that we possibly can. Some of the kids don’t get nearly enough of that at home.”
One camper during summer 2013, for example, was a 15-year-old girl who arrived filled with shame and anger. The girl’s family and friends had been treating her like an outcast because she’d done some bad things. Her life was so miserable that she thought it was no longer worth living.
Camp changed that. After finding the courage to confess her mistakes, counselors met her with open arms. They held her close and told her she’s loved, worth something and forgiven. The girl had never heard that before.
“The moment was a turning point,” Booze said. “She arrived at camp drowning in pain. She left with a renewed spirit.”
The positive power of Northwoods Camp is enduring.
That fact is underscored by a letter we received in April from an elderly woman who attended our Silver Lake Camp in the 1930s, a camp the Twin Cities Salvation Army operated for more than 80 years. (That property is now Silverwood Park in St. Anthony.)
Here’s what she wrote:
“I have no money to send you. … I just want to thank you for the wonderful memories of Silver Lake Camp. I think they made a difference in my life. The camp experiences helped me a lot when I became a grown-up. … I am now 90 years old, and sweet memories are very sweet.”
That, right there, is what Northwoods Camp is all about.
“It’s a place where kids experience miracles and create lifelong memories,” Shiels said. “It’s about the best place on earth … minus the mosquitos.”