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

Brandon Bergey, Bethany,

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.”