Summer is two-thirds over for Sunset Lake Camp, a Seventh-day Adventist-owned retreat area in the U.S. state of Washington, and camp director David Yeagley is bursting with joy.
After four weeks of camp, 112 children and teens have accepted Jesus for the first time, and 141 campers have requested baptism, Yeagley said Sunday.
Moreover, enrollment at Sunset Lake Camp, located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Seattle, has increased to an 11-year high of 642 young campers, compared to 579 last summer, and the numbers are expected to grow as registrations roll in for the last two weeks of camp.
“God has been at work in powerful ways this summer,” said Yeagley, who has led the camp for a decade and also works as youth director for the Adventist Church’s Washington Conference.
Forty percent of campers come from non-Adventist backgrounds, which Yeagley said gives the camp tremendous outreach potential.
Last summer, the camp had 201 decisions for baptism, and the year before it had 225.
Sunset Lake Camp, acquired by the Adventist Church in 1957, is situated on 385 acres (156 hectares) of forested land with trails for horseback riding and nature study and has a 10.5-acre (4-hectare) lake for water sports.
“We have an amazing staff of dedicated young adults who are allowing God to use them in remarkable ways to change campers’ lives,” Yeagley said
in a statement on the Washington Conference’s website. “The result is that every week we see miracles happening in the lives of our campers.”
Here are a few of those stories, as related by Yeagley, a 1988 theology graduate of Southwestern University who received his Master’s in Divinity degree from Andrews University in 1990 and pastored for 14 years in the Michigan Conference before moving to Washington state in 2005.
A group of Taiwanese children, many who are Buddhist or from other Eastern religions, participated in the camp for two weeks. One of the children, a young girl with a Taoist background, heard about Jesus for the very first time a few days ago. She was amazed to learn about a God that loved her personally.
“Will God be angry with me because I am a Taoist?” she asked her camp counselor.
The counselor told her that God loved and accepted her just the way she was.
By the end of the week the counselor had taught this young girl to pray for the very first time.
“We sent her home with a Bible of her own,” Yeagley said. “I am certain that the Holy Spirit will continue water the seeds that were sown here at camp.”
On Friday nights, campers are invited to write on a strip of cloth the one thing that separates them from Jesus. The children tie the strips to a cross as a symbol of leaving those barriers with Jesus.
“A quick glance at what was written gives a sobering window into the world of today’s children,” Yeagley said.
Words on the scraps of cloth include: “I wonder if God is real … My parents are divorced … Darkness in my life … No likes me and I don’t know why … Sad and alone … Depression … We are very poor and my Dad is very sick … I am being bullied … Afraid, scared and alone … I don’t know where I belong.”
Yeagley said Sunset Lake Camp sits on frontlines of ministry; for many, the camp is the only place where they find healing.
One young girl whose parents recently divorced and was struggling with depression broke down and cried on a recent Friday night.
“I’ve waited all year to get to camp because this is the only place where I feel safe to share my story,” she said.
Two young boys spent most of their week at camp struggling to get along. But on Friday night, one of the boys came forward to lay his burden — his strip of cloth — at the cross. When he returned, he was crying. The second boy went over and tried to comfort him.
Later that night, the first boy broke down again as he joined the other campers from his cabin by the lakeshore to place candles in the water.
“What I really need is for someone to be my friend,” the boy said, weeping.
The second boy who had been feuding with him all week sat beside him, put his arm around him, and said, “I’ll be your friend.”
The boys’ counselor told Yeagley later that he seldom cries, but the tears flowed that night.
An 11-year-old girl poured out her pain in Yeagley’s office. She felt alienated from her friends and struggled with depression. Over the past year she had began cutting herself and had actively thought about suicide.
Yeagley and the camp’s director of girls told her of her incredible value in God’s eyes and assured her that she was not alone. Yeagley gave her parents a list of professional counselors in their area who could help the family.
Toward the end of the week, the 11-year-old sent a note to the girls’ director.
“I don’t understand why you care for me. I am not worth your time,” she wrote.
“The girls’ director then told this broken girl that she could love her because Christ first loved us,” Yeagley said. “I pray that this girl will find healing and wholeness because of her time at camp.”
A grateful parent came to Yeagley and told of the difference that the camp had made in her son’s life.
The mother said her boy had informed her that he wanted to become a pastor and work at camp “so that when Pastor Dave dies, I can become the camp director.”
One of the sponsors of the Taiwanese campers, a Buddhist believer, told a camp staff member: “I can tell that all of your staff are Christians. I have never been to a place like this where everyone is smiling, joyful, and caring. … I love being here.”
A refrigerator repairman came to fix the camp’s freezer the other night.
At 11 p.m., the repairman and Yeagley sat in the dining hall’s parking lot, talking while they waited to see if the freezer would work. He said his daughter had enjoyed her week at camp this summer and then told of his own boyhood experience at Sunset Lake.
He said he had been small for his age as a child and often teased about it. But matters came to a head when a boy had teased him mercilessly during his week at camp.
“He finally got sick of it, and he punched the other boy in the stomach,” Yeagley said.
Immediately the boy knew that he had made a mistake, so he climbed up a tree and refused to come down.
His counselor, a young man from Japan, coaxed him down after much effort. The boy tried to run again, but his counselor grabbed him and held him close. He told this frightened boy that God loved him and so did he.
But the more he talked, the more the boy fought. Finally the boy grabbed a stick and said to his counselor, “If you don’t let me go, I will hit you with this stick.”
The counselor said, “Wait just a minute,” and took off his glasses. Then turning to the his camper he said, “Now you can hit me.”
The refrigerator repairman said: “Even though it happened 40 years ago, I remember that moment like it was yesterday. My counselor’s response broke me. I dropped the stick and I have never been the same since.”
That is the power of camp, Yeagley said.
“Thank you for your continued prayers for the ministry of Sunset Lake Camp,” he said. “None of this can happen without the moving of the Holy Spirit in this place and in our lives.”