Tag Archives: Brandon Bergey

God is already near: an adventure with the Fire Marshal

Bethany Birches--Dave and stairwell
Before ….

by Brandon Bergey, Bethany Birches Camp

This is a story about a recent requirement on Bethany Birches Camp by the office of the Vermont State Fire Marshal.

I remember it well… standing in the basement and looking out one of the windows; feeling both angst and joy.  The angst was related to discovering a problem for which the solution was unknown to me.  The joy was related to sensing that God was near and that an adventure lies ahead.

Bethany Birches--Dave and sheet rock
… and after!

In short, the adventure was to quickly update a building as required for safety regulations.  And, to do this with minimal resources in a short season that is not usually focused on infrastructure but rather on preparation for summer camp.  The greatest challenges were:

  • Lack of available money
  • Lack of available time
  • To synthesize my own desire to upgrade the building, meet the fire marshal’s requirements and accomplish the board’s mandate to spend as little as possible.

While we spent a hare more than “as little as possible” (choosing real wood for wall finish instead of wood paneling or sheet rock, for example) we kept it very close to bare minimum.  On top of that, we were finally able to insulate the roof of the building and upgrade its R value from 1.75 to 40!  Talk about savings in the long run!

Bethany Birches--ceiling insulation
Before …

As to the other challenges, money became available.  In just a few months we received $75,000 for the work.  We spent almost all of it on the project.  The money made some additional time available which helped a lot.  This confirmed my sense that God was not only near, but working through the authorities (Romans 13).

However, in order to upgrade the building in this process, I spent more time than maybe I ought. While the rest of my work did not suffer, per se, I look back and realize it cost me personally.  Our dog died while I wasn’t paying attention and a new challenge related to falling asleep started during this season of elevated stress.  How much is an upgraded building worth?  Paying through suffering and loss for the sake of Christ is cheap.  Suffering and loss feel expensive, though, if not in the service of the King.  It is evident that numerous guests to camp have already appreciated the upgrades.  I hope that the price I paid personally are useful to God.

Bethany Birches--cabin lofts finished
… and after!

Here’s an interesting point – when God breaks into our lives, “work” and “personal space” are not allowed to remain separate.  When having a child, one loses sleep. That sleep deprivation affects productivity at work.  Or, when something stressful happens at work, relationships or chores at home are allowed to suffer.  What this shows me is that our lives are not as segregated as we sometimes long for them to be.  We are one person carrying with us whatever we are currently carrying, wherever we go.  If the pain of a broken relationship is currently something we carry, we carry that pain to work and to home and to a dinner party and when walking the dog.  While this appears to be an unpleasant fact of life, one that we try to deny often, I give thanks to God that we are made in a way that allows us to be whole.

As I prayed in this blog post, “God, join us… in all our endeavors,”  I’ve since realized that if God is already near, my prayer ought to be more like “God, soften my heart and open my mind so I may see you and your guidance.  And give me the willingness to bear any cost for your sake.  I trust what Jesus has said: that if I release and entrust my life to you, I may finally possess it.”

Fire Marshal Visits Bethany Birches Camp

by Brandon Bergey, Executive Director at Bethany Birches Camp

This post is about a sad story.  It’s the story of the BBC Cabin the day the fire marshal came to visit.

Quick Tangent – if you didn’t know, the cabin is our only year-round use building. It’s where we host winter camps. It’s where skiers stay while they ski surrounding mountains and that provides us some extra revenue. Possibly most importantly, it’s where our non-counseling staff and volunteers stay during summer camp!  And, summer is rapidly approaching.

Back to the story – Bruce and Jay were friendly and clear.  They have concerns about how quickly people could get out of the building in case of fire.  They gave us a conditional permit, which ends April 1, 2012!  After that, no one can sleep in the building until it’s amended to meet Vermont Life Safety Code.

How big of a deal can 8 violations really be?  Apparently a big enough deal to cost $20-$30K (incomplete estimate) – YIKES!  And, at our board meeting we recently decided to add $10K to that number (probably out of our own savings) to accomplish a Master Plan item that will not only make the building much better by including proper bathrooms but will also take care of the two exits we need to add to the loft sleeping areas.

For more info on the report and the list of violations, see this blog post. Our need is great. If you are able to help, we would be so thankful, and so will the kids of Central VT (did I mention one of our campers recently made a $10 donation online – don’t worry, he’s 17 with a job).


  • Give money!  Just the materials are going to cost over $10K.  Send a check or give online and give to general operations or where needed most.
  • Give time: we’ll need volunteers to do most of the work.  Consider getting a small crew of experienced people together and come up for a weekend.  A few experienced laborers can make a big dent in just two days.  Call the office or email me.  Signing up for blog posts or liking our Facebook page will keep you in the know on this project also.
  • Give material: perhaps you own or have influence in a supply chain that could get us sheet rock, lighting, paint, etc.  If it’s in the above list, we need it.

And so the story of an old camp, that’s doing the best it can, continues.  We have always been provided for by those that care about Bethany Birches’ Mission.  God continues to use people in special ways to do this work of helping young people develop their relationship with him as we provide them with a Christ-centered camping experience.

Praise God for the two hour emotional cycle I experienced after the fire marshal’s visit.  At first I was frustrated and annoyed.  Then, humility kicked in.  So often, when I receive correction, direction, instruction, if I am able to release my frustration, I begin to sense God at work.

Join me in praying… God, join us in this endeavor and in all of our endeavors.  I pray that you will bring the resources and people needed to accomplish this change and that it will not distract from the bigger things ahead.

This post is about a sad story.  It’s the story of the BBC Cabin the day the fire marshal came to visit.

Quick Tangent – if you didn’t know, the cabin is our only year-round use building. It’s where we host winter camps. It’s where skiers stay while they ski surrounding mountains and that provides us some extra revenue

Pastoring after the Storm

by Gwen Groff, Bethany, bethanym@vermontel.net

Hurricane Irene
Route 100 in Plymouth, Vermont after Tropical Storm Irene tore through the region. Photo by Brandon Bergey.

A friend told me a story about a minister who went down to the train station every morning to watch the trains pass. Finally someone asked why he did this. Was he considering throwing himself in front of one of them? Was he wishing he could hop on one and get out of town? Was he praying for the people as they passed through? The minister said, “I just love to see something moving that I don’t have to push.”

Although I’m not much of a pusher, I can sometimes identify with the desire to see movement for which I’m not responsible. But the community response to Tropical Storm Irene, which hit Vermont on Sunday, August 28, 2011, was a moving train I was not pushing. Instead I felt I was running to catch up with what was already on the move.

I was out of town when the storm hit. My husband Robert and I were at the beach in Maine celebrating our 20th anniversary when Irene poured eight inches of rain on our town and washed away roads, bridges, power lines, homes and land.

In Maine the seas were high but we saw little rain or storm damage. We were oblivious to Irene’s impact until we happened to meet some other Vermonters on the beach who told us that our governor had declared a state of emergency. We started paying attention to the news and trying to phone home. We couldn’t reach the friends who were keeping our kids but our neighbors told us not to bother trying to come home early. The roads to our house were closed and the road between us and our children was washed away.

I called our neighbors to ask how they were doing. When I talked with one member of the family she said, “It’s like a war zone here. No power, boulders in the middle of lawns, houses washed under the bridge up the road . . .” When I talked with her husband, he said, “It’s like a big party here. There’s no power so we’ve got the grill going, there’s lots of stuff thawing in the freezer we need to eat up . . .”

When we got home on Tuesday, we started seeing the damage in our neighborhood and hearing the extent of the damage in our small state. Five people drowned, 1400 were driven from their homes. Two hundred bridges were damaged and 530 miles of roads shut down.

With power still out and roads around us yet closed, we had little to do but walk around to our neighbors and see what needed to be done. Some people immediately got busy coordinating relief supplies and equipment. We were asked if we could use the church vestibule as a distribution point, but it soon became clear we’d need a bigger space, and the Grange (town) hall next door became the local hub of activity.

I was slow to catch up with what my role should be in this situation. I mostly listened a lot as people shared their stories. When electricity was restored I baked bread and took it to neighbors who had been evacuated and people who were cleaning mud out of their basements. Many were sorting and drying out their possessions.

Several people suggested Bethany have a special service. Vermont is a notoriously secular state, and only one other time—after 9/11—did people in this community ask for a worship service. But the week after Irene several people said they would like time to come together and pray. One person from the community suggested that we have a Eucharist but use water instead of the usual elements. Water is what caused us so much trauma. But water is also what we most needed, clean water to drink, water to wash our hands and shower and flush, water to cleanse the contaminated soil.

So we gathered and sang and prayed and had a water ritual. I had planned several readings and songs to follow the ritual, but sharing the water was the start of people sharing stories, and that went on for more than an hour. People didn’t want to leave.

Mennonites are used to being the experts in relief and disaster services. Motivated by our faith, we are good at helping. But after Irene we saw everyone helping their neighbors. Who knew so many Vermonters had heavy equipment stashed in their sheds? People in our town joyfully brought out whatever big rig they had and repaired roads, built makeshift bridges, refortified river banks, and removed debris. One neighbor said, “They’re like boys playing in a sandbox.”

People became more expressive of their compassion. Neighbors who normally barely waved at each other had conversations and came into each other’s houses and helped sort through one another’s chaos. Neighbors in isolated pockets shared meals and water, sump pumps and generators. In this community of independent, self-sufficient Vermonters, people gave and accepted help.

For some, fear lingers. The sound of water brings anxiety. And many people are exhausted by the process of haggling with insurance companies and FEMA. But the community has become more kind and connected, and there is no turning around that train.

To each according to their need: Ongoing partnership in the Vermont Mountains

Brandon Bergey, Bethany, brandon@bethanybirches.org

Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged presents ideas that are seemingly opposed to the Reign of God. Ayn Rand’s philosophy on the matter of need suggests that people should get only what they earn, regardless of their needs. If you earn it, it’s yours. If you need it, well, you can’t have it until you earn it. She believed that this would create a society full of contributing individuals. Consider that.

Now, consider Acts 4:32-35 from The Message.

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

I realize that Ayn Rand may not have seriously considered the Reign of God as a legitimate economic model. That doesn’t mean Bethany Birches Camp (BBC) shouldn’t. While I’m not advocating for communism or even a reversion to the early church, I’m advocating for an acceptance of God’s spirit and way, best viewed through the person of Jesus: a person who sent his followers out to the world with almost no earthly possessions; a person who told his students to give their shirt away to someone who demanded it, rather than put up a fight; a person who taught that if two or three gather in his name and agree, whatever they ask for will be given. Jesus was not a person focused on rights and earnings. He was a person who understood that anything he had was a gift from his Father in Heaven.

Summer campers at Bethany Birches. Photo by Brandon Bergey

Since the beginning of BBC in 1965 we have tried to offer a unique camping experience, creating a community of love with whoever joins and we’ve tried to do this at a low price. While a camping community is a different version of the church than what we see in Acts, there is much similarity.

Obviously, offering something to someone for less than what it costs to provide that something runs up a deficit somewhere. Let’s put this in the context of camp. If it costs us about 400/camper, and we charge $200, there is $200 of expense remaining. Who will pay the remaining $200? Enter: donors. Donors give gifts from the riches they’ve been given.

Bethany Birches was initiated with a donation of land. And since that very first day, our story has been one of people providing money, time and other resources to make the camp possible; an ongoing illustration of God’s provision for kids to have a special, faith-developing experience.

In a board meeting in 2010 we were discussing these issues around the topic of pricing. We talked about the fact that some of our camper families have much resource and some have very little. We developed the idea of tiered pricing.

We are just now finished with the first summer season that used a tiered pricing structure. The highest tier is about what we figure it costs to have a camper at camp (no profit built in). Both of the lower tiers are donor-subsidized rates.

Could we consider this a Kingdom economic model? Or perhaps foolishness? Maybe we can just call it a system built for taking advantage of. Whatever you call it, we’re trusting that the Christ who inspired the craziness in the book of Acts will continue to inspire us and show us a way so that “not a person among them was needy.”