Tag Archives: Spruce Lake

Expanding the Vision at Pinebrook

by Grace Nolt, Spruce Lake Retreat

On October 17, 2018, Spruce Lake took over stewardship of Pinebrook Bible Conference to refine and rededicate the ministry around its founding purpose of “Pointing People Toward Christ.”

The vision now, as then, might seem crazy at the start. Dare we believe that God is not done with Pinebrook, and wants even more people to see Christ through this property?

Young people gather in front of the sign for Pinebrook’s newly established “Church of the Air” Bible Conference. Circa 1933.

Percy Crawford, the charismatic pioneer radio and TV evangelist of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, founded Pinebrook Bible Conference in 1933 to strengthen the reach of his radio ministry, “The Young People’s Church of the Air.”

 The property, located at what is now 5339 Pinebrook Road, East Stroudsburg, PA, was just what Percy and his team were searching for. “We must have it,” Percy said to the real estate man. Never mind that they wanted too much money.

Furthermore, the bank would not even consider a deal without cash, and other buyers were closing in. But the bank conceded, giving them about four weeks to raise the money. This turned out to be rough as banks were closing right and left.

“Immediately I went to good Christian friends and explained my plight, “said Percy. “The day the money was due, I walked in and placed it in the bank’s hands.” Pinebrook had been acquired for God, and for the young people of the Pocono Mountains. Immediately they dedicated the place to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Percy brought the nation’s leading Bible teachers and musicians to Pinebrook – Billy Graham, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows, Jack Wyrtzen and many others. He directed Pinebrook’s ministries for the next 28 years.

In 1968, the Bible Fellowship Church became the next stewards of Pinebrook, continuing it as a retreat and conference center with a “mission to the world.” Ongoing programs offered special ministry to the Bible Fellowship Church.

Representing PA Senator Mario Scavello, Jonathan Allotey (center) presented Mark and Jackie Swartley an award of recognition for investing in the community by revitalizing Pinebrook.

Then, on a day filled with bright sunshine and wind, over 200 people gathered at the open house service June 30, 2019, to witness the uniting of Pinebrook and Spruce Lake as one, refounding Pinebrook for “this day and this age.”

“I cannot tell you,” spoke Executive Director Mark Swartley, “how many people have stopped me since we have gotten involved with Pinebrook and said things like: I love that place!  I accepted Christ on those grounds.  I found my spouse at Pinebrook.  Those hills sing to me when I walk on the grounds.”

Pinebrook has had an amazing impact for Christ. As Billy Graham once said, Pinebrook is “where so many hundreds and thousands of young lives have been touched, and people are now around the world who were led to Christ and dedicated their lives to Christ at Pinebrook.”

Several hundred youth attended SnoGlo weekends in January at Pinebrook, programmed by the Bible Fellowship Church.

So, this is the day to carry forward the vision to reach more people for Christ through Pinebrook!

What might this look like? Spruce Lake is planning to:

  • Serve the Bible Fellowship Church and its members through its retreat ministries.
  • Invite churches in the surrounding local area and nearby states to retreat and seek a deeper relationship with Christ. As many as 13,000 new and returning people are expected through 2019.
  • Start a children’s Day Camp ministry the summer of 2021 to allow us to share Christ with Stroudsburg area children day after day.
  • Restore a ministry in this community so that it is fully flourishing – giving all glory to God for His provision and grace!

We will trust God and see where He leads as Spruce Lake continues “Pointing People Toward Christ” in the future at Pinebrook.

To this purpose we dedicate this property, O Lord!

For more information on the history of Pinebrook, visit percycrawford.com or pinebrook.org.

A Community of Sisters for the Journey/Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

She thought for a moment then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross on the narrow space between the beds.  Then she instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross.  The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt lay there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom.  We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed through a process letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before.  We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God.  I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another. 

During the weekend of the Cuidandonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) Retreat attended by 72 women from 15 congregations, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols.  We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined the boundaries of our personal space, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend).  On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing.  Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and in a ceremony of blessing we blessed one another.  I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds.  The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone. 

This was the first all-Spanish SisterCare Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care (in Spanish) with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care.  It was truly a team effort.  Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to be the speaker since she helped develop and present Sister Care materials in many places. Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District.  Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend.  Pastors helped to get the word out to their Spanish speaking members.  A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together.  Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning. 

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, marriage difficulties, un-forgiveness, anger, loss of a child, and so much more.  We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future.   We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened.  We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other.  The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came.  We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation.  We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and others women like us.  We shared deeply and encouraged each other.  As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.” 

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Por Marta Castillo, Ministro de Liderazgo en Formacion Intercultural

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosada brillante y la tendió en forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a una de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosada brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentas al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adiciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de las hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderoso de hermanas acompañando una a la otra. 

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres asistieron 72 mujeres de 15 congregaciones, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos juntas la comunión y nos bendijimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la presentadora porque ella había apoyado el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países. La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyugues, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni sugerencias a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotras mismas y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotras mismas y a otras mujeres iguales que nosotras. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo.”

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”

Would you Rather Be a Bear or a Penguin?

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

A junior high youth sponsor needs to be prepared to answer all kinds of questions; however, I wasn’t prepared for “would you rather be a bear or a penguin”, posed by a curious youth halfway through the recent annual conference wide Junior High Late Night Blast at Dock Mennonite Academy.

One of the keys to developing an enduring faith in our youth is intergenerational relationships in the church. Part of the purpose of this annual event is to give our youth just that: a positive and memorable experience relating to other adults and youth in the broader church. Our youth need to know that they are valued and loved for who they are and that their questions and contributions matter in the life of the church.

This intersection of over 180 youth and adults is a visible representation of the breadth and diversity of our Franconia and Eastern District Conference churches from Philadelphia to Harleysville to Allentown and beyond. This event also gives a wonderful opportunity for our youth workers to partner together in ministry.

Caleb Benner and Emily Grimes, both teachers at Dock Mennonite Academy, along with a band of high school students led a time of engaging worship. Juan Marrero, pastor at Christ Centered Church and director of Crossroads Community Center, challenged the youth to be doers of God’s word. He used the illustration of an athlete who looks at film to make adjustments to their game. So, too, we as Christians need to have a mirror put to our lives so that we can be more faithful to the way of Christ.

The rest of the night was full of activities to choose from … soccer, basketball, dodge ball, human Dutch blitz, wallyball, Gaga Pit ball, and much more. Directing over 150 Junior High youth in a group game might be considered a challenge for most people, but Josh Reichart handled it like a professional as he and other staff from Spruce Lake helped to organize the games.

In addition to getting to answer random fun questions, another perk of being a Junior High youth sponsor is the freedom to experiment with crazy games. A popular new game introduced this year was Bubble Soccer. Picture giant plastic bubbles with legs bouncing off each other and rolling around!

Whether you’d rather be a bear or a penguin, if you are in Junior High or have a heart for kids you’re welcome at our annual Junior High Late Night Blast.

Junior High Youth Have Late Night Blast

by John Stoltzfus, Franconia Conference Youth Minister

Whose job description includes this clause: Must be willing to have face covered in shaving cream and decorated with cheese curls? If you answered, “Junior high youth sponsor,” you are correct! Junior high youth sponsors are some of the bravest people in ministry.

At junior high youth events, helmets are sometimes necessary...
At junior high youth events, helmets are sometimes necessary…

If you were at the Late Night Blast on March 13, you would have witnessed such a scene and a lot more crazy fun. Close to 150 junior high youth and adult sponsors representing 18 churches gathered for this annual event sponsored by Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference. It was hosted by Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.

Last year, the event was an all-night lock-in; this year it morphed into a “Late Night Blast,” ending at 11:15 p.m. While some youth lamented the loss of staying up all night, most responses to the evening were still very enthusiastic.

Part of the purpose of this annual event is to give our youth a positive and memorable experience of worshipping together, playing hard, and catching a glimpse of the larger body of Christ that makes up our conference churches. This event also gives a wonderful opportunity for our youth workers to partner together in ministry.

... As are Cheetos.
… As are Cheetos.

The evening started off with some mixer gamers led by staff from Spruce Lake and by Brent Camilleri from Deep Run East Mennonite Church. Justin Hange and a band from Calvary Church in Souderton then turned up the noise for the evening and led in a spirited time of singing and worship.

“That was awesome!” remarked one youth following the singing.

Scott Roth, pastor at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, kept the energy flowing as he shared stories of how he sees God at work in his life and his community bringing hope and healing. He challenged the youth to bring together a knowledge of God’s Word with an active obedience to God’s Word in everyday life.

The rest of the night was full of fun activities to choose from: soccer, basketball, dodge ball, human Dutch Blitz, Wally ball, Gaga Pit ball, Nerf blasters, and more. One of the popular new games introduced this year was Human Hungry Hippos. It’s the classic board game with a much needed upgrade. One of the perks of being a junior high youth sponsor is the freedom to experiment with wild and crazy games. Of course, the policy is always safety first, and helmets were required.

The evening ended with a shower of giveaways from Mennonite colleges and camps. Thank you to everyone that helped to plan and carry out all the activities and a special thank you to all the youth leaders that commit themselves to serving with their youth. Their commitment was exemplified by one sponsor giving up her shoes to a youth who needed more appropriate athletic shoes to participate in the games.

Praying for Eric Frein at Spruce Lake Retreat

by Sharon K. Williams

Spruce Lake Retreat Center
Spruce Lake Retreat Center

On September 12, 2014, Eric Frein allegedly shot two police officers at the Pennsylvania State Police station in Blooming Grove. Bryon Dickson died and Alex Douglass was critically injured. Frein eluded a massive manhunt in the Poconos Mountains and a national media campaign for seven weeks.

The village of Canadensis, Pennsylvania became the focal point of the search, as Frein’s parents live nearby. Spruce Lake Retreat, a conference-related ministry, was four miles outside the 10-mile search area.

Outdoor education groups, a large part of Spruce Lake’s ministry in the fall, started to call. Was Spruce Lake employing security guards? How could reservations be canceled?

The Spruce Lake staff began to pray that Eric would be found quickly without further injury to anyone, and that Spruce Lake would be able to recover their guests. Christians in the area gathered daily for prayer at the local United Methodist church. They prayed for protection of the police and the local residents. When Spruce Lake’s executive director Mark Swartley and other staff openly prayed for Eric, they realized they were introducing a unique request.

Meanwhile, the search and the cancellations continued. Ertell Whigham, Franconia Mennonite Conference’s executive minister, consulted with Mark as to how the conference might be supportive. They decided to invite the intercessory prayer team to minister “on the ground.”

Four intercessors (Don Brunk, Souderton Mennonite; Sandy Landes, Doylestown Mennonite; Jeannette Phillips, Hopewell Christian Fellowship; and Noel Santiago, Franconia Conference’s minister of spiritual transformation) came forward.

“Our desire,” said Noel, “is to hear from God, believing that what emerges is from God.” As they prayed throughout the day, four directives came into focus:

  • An invitation for the Spruce Lake staff to take their eyes off “the man in the woods” (Eric) and to focus on “the man on the wood” (Jesus), the One who knows all things;
  • A petition for the people and the land—for healing, peace, and keen awareness of the presence of God;
  • Eric’s salvation—to know and accept God’s love and forgiveness;
  • Comfort and healing for the Dickson and Douglass families.

The next day, October 30, Mark excitedly phoned Noel. “Did you hear? Turn on the news! They found Eric—and no one was harmed!”

“The timing,” reported Jeannette, “was a God thing.” It had taken several days for the intercessors to make arrangements for the visit.

Spruce Lake lost $155,000 due to the cancellations of 35 outdoor school and weekend retreat groups. The retreat center did not hold deposits or force contracts. “While police assured us that we were not in the search area, we did not argue with people’s fear,” said Mark. “But we chose to honor God for what God has done and what God is doing. God is in this situation. We are in God’s care. What was out of our control was in God’s control.”

In November, Spruce Lake held a fundraising campaign to make up some of the lost income, and were able to raise $25,000 in a matching donation challenge.

“Our prayer commitment is not finished,” said Noel. “We continue to pray for Eric’s salvation, and for healing and reconciliation for all involved.”

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!

A Franconia Conference Summer

We asked for stories from summer activities from around the Conference and got this jewel from Kim Moyer, Blooming Glen congregation:

The theme for our Summer Bible School was “Be Bold! God is with You!” The children learned through songs, dramas, stories, crafts, and games, that God is with them, even when they are scared. 

One mother told me a story about her 5 year old son who has always been afraid to go into the basement of their home by himself.  The week after SBS, he asked his mom to go with him to the basement so that he could get his blanket.  His mom couldn’t go with him at the moment, so he decided he would try to go by himself.  When he returned to his mom with his blanket, he told her, “I was able to go down in the basement because I kept telling myself, God is always with us, God is always with us.”

A piece of SBS that caused a lot of excitement among the children was an offering project competition between the girls and the boys.  The children were raising money for a Mennonite Mission Network project, which sends children in South Africa to Bethany Bible School, a camp that teaches the children about Jesus.  It costs $20 to send one child to the camp, and the boys and girls at SBS were competing against each other to send the most children to camp.  If the boys won, then the Children’s Ministry Director (me) would get a pie in her face, and if the girl’s won, then the Lead Pastor would get the pie in his face. 

The children took this competition seriously and were bringing in their piggy banks, doing extra chores to raise money, and asking grandparents to write out checks.  By the end of the week, the 70 children at SBS collectively raised $1,162.53, sending 58 children to Bethany Bible School!  Although the boys won, and I got a pie in the face, it was decided that the real winners were the 58 children that would now be able to attend the Bible Camp.

Thanks, Kim, and everyone else who shared their photos and stories this summer!  And if you haven’t already read them, check out these stories about Peace Camps, Bethany’s anniversary celebration, a special service at Plains, Salford’s listening project, Kingdom Builders construction in Philly, Germantown Historic Trust’s painting project … and this is just some of what has been happening in our Conference this summer.

Enjoy these fun photos that were taken at camps, picnics, outdoor services, Bible Schools, and more.  If you’d like to add photos from your congregation’s summer to this gallery, send them to Emily with captions and photo credits.

View the photo album

Whack & Roll Tournament raises funds for non-profits

by Sarah Heffner, Mennonite Heritage Center

Whack and Roll--MHEP
Teammates Donna Floyd and Courtney Floyd compete in the Mennonite Heritage Center's Whack and Roll Tournament on June 2nd.

Dan Lapp, Director of Development for the Mennonite Heritage Center, had a brainstorm several years ago about using a favorite backyard game as a fundraising event.  This led to Whack & Roll Croquet Tournaments on the lawn of the Heritage Center each summer for the last four years.

Croquet has been a favorite summer pastime in southeastern Pennsylvania for many years.  Accounts of croquet history vary, but it is thought the game began in Ireland and was introduced to England in the mid-nineteenth-century. The game traveled to America, and by 1882 an official National American Croquet Association was formed. Croquet was even played in the 1904 Olympics.  For most, however, croquet was played in back yards on Sunday afternoons and it is still a favorite activity at summer get-togethers and family reunions.

This year’s Whack and Roll Tournament was held the first weekend of June.  Friday, June 1 was the Senior Tournament for teams from local retirement communities. Teams of two enjoyed a friendly competition with the traveling trophy awarded to Living Branches. The evening Reception on the Lawn featured a dinner where the Reunion Vocal Band, Eastern Mennonite University friends since 1989, performed for an appreciative audience.

Saturday, June 2, players for seventy-two teams representing twenty-two area nonprofit organizations arrived early in the morning to sign in for the elimination tournament. These teams competed for cash prizes for their nonprofit organization on two dozen croquet courts set up on the Heritage Center campus.   Daniel Hackman, a Penn View Christian School science fair finalist, brought his croquet inspired science fair project “Croquet From All Angles” to the event.

Whack and Roll--MHEP2
Courtney Floyd and Rina Rampogu watch as Andrew McElhaney takes his shot.

Three teams of two players compete on each court. A match ends when time runs out or when both members of a team successfully “stake out” (hit the end post with their ball).  Each team played two matches in the morning. In the afternoon, twenty-seven teams advanced to the quarter final round and then nine teams moved to the semi final round.

After a long day of croquet, the first place winners were Phil Swartley and Andrew McElhaney who won $5,000 for Spruce Lake Retreat; second place prize of $2,500 was won by Paul and Rina Rampogu for Quakertown Christian School and the team of Donna Floyd and Courtney Floyd won third place of $1,250 for Keystone Opportunity Center.  Donations of $500 to each participating nonprofit organizations were sponsored by Bergey’s, Inc. and many local businesses were sponsors of the event.

For more information on the tournament, see the Mennonite Heritage Center website.

Spruce Lake expands into Stroud Mall

by Jackie Swartley, Gift Shop Manager, Spruce Lake Retreat

During November and December, 2012, Spruce Lake operated a kiosk in Stroud Mall, our first time for such an outreach. The effort was successful, depending how one defines success!

It all started while I was reading an article in a retail magazine about a Christian store that expanded into their local mall during the Christmas season in an effort to increase sales and recognition. Our own Spruce Lake Gift Shop (aka Oak Leaf Gift Shop) is typically very quiet in November and December … I felt like we were missing out on a time when many people are looking for gifts with meaning and purpose. Our local community has many churches but no currently operating, specifically Christian book store.

Putting all that together, I thought it would be an interesting adventure to rent a kiosk in our local Stroud Mall during November and December to sell faith-based Christmas items, Bibles, devotionals, and of course, Spruce Lake maple syrup!

My goal was three-fold: (1) To make a profit; (2) to put Spruce Lake’s name in the hands of those living in the Stroudsburg area, and (3) to bring Jesus “to the mall” and maybe reintroducing him to some who had lost the true meaning of Christmas.

Well … achieving two out three goals isn’t bad! It was a financial loss, but a great success in that we talked to so many people about Spruce Lake’s ministries. We also handed out hundreds of informational flyers. It was most fulfilling to hear the overwhelming positive responses we received! Many offered blessings, words of affirmation and gratitude for “bringing Jesus into Christmas … and to the mall” — even a loud “Hallelujah!” shouted by an excited woman when she encountered our products.

I was able to help a mom choose a Bible for her 10-year-old son who was attending a church with a friend. Then, as she opened the door, I encouraged her to go with him. Later, one of my staff had the opportunity to minister to a young girl who was very nervous about taking her SATs the next day. The girl was invited to give her concerns to God, and she left feeling confident and prayed for. I was able to lend comfort to another mother with older children who were far from God, offering her the hope that Jesus is in the business of changing lives, and we need to keep praying and believing that. I was even able to pour out all my protective mom instincts on a small boy who got separated from his mom for a short time!

Yes, the hours were long. The sales were few. The mall music was repetitive, and my holiday season was not the same. BUT THE BLESSINGS I RECEIVED by being there, connecting with people and sharing God’s love, was far better than I’d ever thought!

Opening new doors in the Poconos

Grace Nolt, Public Communications Coordinator, Spruce Lake Retreat,  grace@sprucelake.org

For 48 years, Spruce Lodge has been the changeless hub of Spruce Lake Retreat, but a new door to the future has opened!

Spruce Lake has embarked on a visionary yet demanding $8 million “New Horizons” capital campaign to build a new hospitality center. Ribbon-cutting is anticipated for May 19, 2013, in time to celebrateSpruceLake’s 50th anniversary.  Confident of God’s hand in the decision to move forward in spite of the current economy, board and staff see this step as an opportunity God has put into place.

Possibly the oldest building on the grounds, Spruce Lodge is well-loved, like a favorite pair of worn shoes in which we feel comfortable. It’s also a kind of holy place; many who have entered through its doors have been changed forever.

Yet the familiarity—and the patience—is wearing thin. Staff frequently serve meals for 250 people or more in space intended for 140 at best. Guests worm their way through the often crowded lobby to tiny public restrooms. Those who lodge upstairs can hear what their neighbors do or say in the next room. And there are more old boards, leaks and fire hazards than staff would want anyone to know! Spruce Lodge has even been referred to as the Achilles’ heel of Spruce Lake.

Spruce Lake has been inching toward the new dining room for 20 years. Since 1991, five different plans have been proposed. The board believes that now is the time to act on building a new Hospitality Center that will meet Spruce Lake’s program needs while maintaining a responsible budget and meshing fluently with the natural environment.

Chad Davidheiser of Bethlehem, Pa., has attended Joni and Friends Family Camp for nearly 20 years. (Left to right: Chad Davidheiser, Mark Swartley, and Jackie Swartley.) Photo by Grace Nolt

Some guests can hardly wait! Joni and Friends International Disability Center (JAF) is one such group.

“For more than 20 years,” said JAF founder Joni Eareckson Tada, “Joni and Friends has been a partner with Spruce Lake in serving families with disability. The new Hospitality Center means that Joni and Friends will be able to serve 45 more special needs families every summer. That is huge!”

JAF holds three weeklong Family Camps at Spruce Lake each year. All are full, with approximately 40 families each week. As many as 38 families are on waiting lists.

Increased accessibility will enhance Spruce Lake’s long-held commitment to provide facilities suitable for persons with disabilities.  Other features will also allow Spruce Lake to continue honoring guests with an enjoyable, inspiring and quality experience through which God can ease his way into their hearts.

In July, 2011, RIPPLE Allentown, a Franconia Mennonite Conference Partner-in-Mission, held its first church leadership retreat at Spruce Lake. That experience was just what the group needed for listening to the voice of God more clearly.  “Leaving the city to meet elsewhere was new for us,” Pastor Tom Albright said. “Some of our group had never been away from an urban setting.”

“God was present (and) we grew closer to Jesus,” Albright continued, “as we realized that we all are broken, healing, hurting, loved and forgiven people. That breakthrough has brought us to a place where we are listening to God and to each other, while being disciples of Jesus.  Our return to the city has included thanks and praise to God, and the desire to return to Spruce Lake to hear, see, taste, touch and smell that God is so good!”

As Spruce Lake moves through the door that God has opened, the $8 million needed for the New Horizons campaign is indeed a big goal. And it will require the cooperation of many hands and hearts so that future generations can also “hear, see, taste, touch and smell” that God is good!