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Mystery woman sets tone for ministry at Spruce Lake

Spruce Lake 50th Anniversary
A Wilderness Camp counselor sits with a camper by lantern light in 2007. Gerry Clemmer, pastor of Souderton congregation, said he recently went to that same spot behind the pavilion, remembering his own experience. “Forty-five years later, I knelt and thanked God for his faithfulness and love that became real to me for the first time that night,” he said.

by Grace Nolt, Spruce Lake Retreat

Al Detweiler took the call.

A woman said she had something to bring them. “I hope it’s a big check!” he joked with his wife, Kass, as he put down the phone.  Al was one of the first pastors in Franconia Mennonite Conference to serve full time. Money was tight. The young couple also oversaw Allentown Mennonite’s children’s camping program.

A middle-aged woman arrived carrying a drawstring bag.  Al and Kass had never met her before. What was her name?

But she avoided the question. Instead, she said, “I’m on my way from New York City to Cleve­land and had a layover at the bus terminal. Coming here was something I ‘had’ to do. I have some­thing to give you!”

She pulled a stitched plaque out of her bag — dark purple with white letters and three words: Watch God Work.  “Now keep this where you can see it every day,” the woman said.  “If you continue to serve God, you will see blessings in your life you never dreamed of!”

Then she looked at her watch. “Oh, I need to go now!”

“Do you want a ride to the bus station?” Al asked. (It was about a mile away.) “No,” she said, “I’ll walk.”  She went out the door and down the flight of steps, never to be seen again.

Kass turned to Al. “Was she an angel?”

“Yes,” Al said, “I think she was!”

Then they put the purple and white plaque on the kitchen counter where they could see it every day.

The mystery woman’s plaque is no longer on the counter. It disappeared, most likely during Kass’s move to a new home following Al’s death several years ago.  The words, however, have become forever stitched into the fabric of Spruce Lake as Al and Kass became the wilderness camp’s first directors in 1963.  Those words remain a testimony to God’s faithfulness as the camp celebrates 50 years of God at work in the most amazing ways!

The Spruce Lake story begins with the flood of ‘55. Land was devastated along the entire Brodhead Wa­tershed from northern Monroe County to Phillipsburg, New Jersey.  Norm Good and others from Blooming Glen Mennonite Church mobilized a large volunteer effort, catching the attention of Mr. Dalton, a Jewish gentleman with a habit of seeking ways to help others.

Seven years went by.  Franconia Mennonite Camping Association had formed (1961), and soon sent out a search team for land to start a children’s camp in the Poconos.  A For Sale sign without a phone number caught their eye.

When they stopped at the Canadensis post office to inquire, the postmaster said, “Oh, there is Mr. Dal­ton now, getting into his car!”  Practically grabbing Mr. Dalton by his shirttail as he was about to drive away, the men told him what they wanted.

Spruce Lake 50th anniversary
At Spruce Lake’s May, 2012, groundbreaking for the new hospitality center, Executive Director Mark Swartley, Dan Schantz, and Norm Good faced the future with satisfaction and anticipation. Norm has been behind practically everything over the past 50 years at Spruce Lake. He went to be with his Creator five months after this picture was taken.

Mr. Dalton remembered “the Mennonites,” their help during the flood. He said, “You are the kind of people I want to sell my property to!”  He made an offer — half the original sales price — and in addition offered 240 acres of woodland (Spruce Lake’s forest and Wilderness Camp area).  Settlement took place April 30, 1963.

Later that same day, Mr. Dalton went alone to Wilbur Lapp’s real estate office, holding out a check for $18,000 to pay for half of the additional acres the Camping Association had bought that day.

These stories from the past form our foundation for watching God at work at Spruce Lake! And so we repeat them often.  The miraculous timings, spiritual encounters that defy explanation, the uniting of the right people with specific needs, the profound changes in people’s lives over the years — we can’t begin to begin name them all.

We’ve tried to convey snapshots of these holy encounters through the storybook, Watch God Work: Tracing the Movements of God at Spruce Lake, Fifty Years, 1963-2013. It will come off the press just in time for Spruce Lake’s 50th Anniversary Open House Sun­day, May 19 — free copies will be available for anyone who wants one.

What else can you anticipate at the 2:00-7:00 p.m. Open House?  Executive Director Mark Swartley will lead tours of the new Spruce Lodge (hospitality cen­ter), projected to be finished by the end of October.  Motorcyclists in the Ride into New Horizons will roll in throughout the afternoon. Their regis­tration fees help fund the New Horizons campaign for the new building.  Guests will enjoy a 5:00 chicken barbecue dinner and lots of hearty fellowship.  Details and sign-ups for Open House and the motorcycle ride are on Spruce Lake’s new website, www.sprucelake.org, or by calling 800-822-7505.  A Wilderness Camp staff reunion June 16, new entrance signs, “birthday parties” throughout the summer, and more will be part of our celebrations in 2013.

Then, on December 13, vocalist Steve Green will present a 7:00 p.m. concert at Franconia Mennonite Church. Music will help us express what words can’t as we honor how God has worked through Spruce Lake over the past 50 years.

The future belongs to our children as they return and return to this place of blessing …  Watch God Work!