Last month we shared stories about changed lives at Covenant Pines Bible Camp from our Senior High MEA Retreat. Our vision at Covenant Pines Ministries is to change a life. Of course, we envision campers when we think about this – but they are not the only ones having their lives changed. Summer staff members for years and years have shared about how working at camp has transformed their lives.

About a month ago, I received an email from a friend, Alex. It had been a few years since I’d heard from him and was happy to see the email pop in my inbox.  Alex and I worked on summer staff for a few summers together and he spent a year at camp on Ministry Staff while I was the Program Director. Alex did not grow up at camp and didn’t have a Covenant history or background; he had first heard about camp from a friend from college, Tate, who encouraged him to apply to be a counselor. Alex was studying at the University Wisconsin LaCrosse pursuing a degree in Exercise Science and was on track to be a Physical Therapist…until he spent a couple of summers at Covenant Pines.

The email Alex sent was sent to a few of us on staff here at CPM, and he was writing to share with us that he had completed seminary and that was ​​going to be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He thanked us for the support in ministry we had given him at camp, and wrote in his email,

“The summers I spent at CPBC (2012 & 2013) completely transformed my hopes, dreams, and desires for life. And the year I spent on ministry staff (2013-14) taught me so many valuable lessons regarding ministry, especially that the work is not always fun… it can get messy! Oh how important it was for me to learn that lesson at a young age…”

This story is just one of many. I’m sure many of you reading this relate to Alex and can share your own ways how spending a summer at camp changed your life. Not everyone who works at Covenant Pines or Adventurous Christians will change their life to be in ministry – but some will. And some will meet their best friends or their mentor, some will heat from God in a way they never have before.

We are hiring for summer staff at both Covenant Pines and Adventurous Christians now. Can you think of a young adult or two that could benefit from a summer with us? Now, I mean it…can you make it a point to reach out to these individuals and send them our way? You never know…it could even change their life.

To learn more about working at Covenant Pines Bible Camp or Adventurous Christians, click here.

Our mission at Covenant Pines Ministries is to encourage campers to take their next step in Christian faith – whether that be introducing Jesus to them for the first time, a camper feeling compelled to return to church, saying yes to a mission trip…we aim to meet campers of all ages where they are at in their faith journey and encourage them to take that next step. Our vision statement is to change a life. We want your experience at Covenant Pines to be one that is unique and leaves an imprint on your heart – changes your life.

At our Senior High MEA Retreat at Covenant Pines Bible Camp this past October, the Saturday morning chapel looked a little different than the typical service. Our speaker, Sam Randall, invited students to share brief “faith stories” or “God moments” from their lives. This practice allowed campers to become familiar with sharing parts of their faith journeys, but also created a space where campers could relate to one another and realize they weren’t alone. It was a moving morning of sharing, and many students talked about how they’ve seen God through their mental health struggles, addictions in their families, social pressures at school and more.

Three students in particular shared about how Covenant Pines had shaped their spiritual formation. One camper from Bloomington Covenant shared that he didn’t necessarily have a major “moment” in his life where he felt a shift in his faith, but that the previous summer at camp had shaped him. On Next Steps night, his cabin mates were sharing their struggles, sharing their faith stories, and he felt compelled to listen and encourage his friends. He knew God had gifted him to be a good listener and a good friend; and that was revealed to him at Covenant Pines.

Another camper shared that he had never been particularly religious or spiritual, but has been invited to Covenant Pines by a friend. The chapel sessions admittedly were a little overwhelming, but at one point throughout the week a staff member had led a breakout session on worship through music. The time was more reflective and allowed campers to worship God through music in whatever form felt comfortable. This camper said for the first time, he felt freedom to worship in a way that made sense to him. He took these practices home and still worships through playing instruments.

Finally, a camper got up and shared that Covenant Pines was the first place where a true Christian community was revealed to her. She had attended camp before and had fun so continued to come, but one week at Senior High Camp, it was made clear to her that the people at camp were different. They supported her, encouraged her and allowed her to be herself. The community made her take her faith more seriously and want to continue to pursue Christian friendships more deeply outside of camp.

These are just a few snippets of stories shared by these students. We are fortunate to have heard these stories shared and feel encouraged that God is working through the ministry of Covenant Pines! We look forward to hearing more stories this summer – we’d love for your camper to join us. Click here to register and learn more about summer at Covenant Pines Bible Camp!

Our Executive Director share his thoughts on this past year at Covenant Pines Ministries.

December is a time of reflection. I’m sitting by the window watching the snow fall as I write this article and thinking back over all that has taken place over the past year. You have read stories in the past months of individual Sacred Places at CPM, of the exceeding generosity of donors and of Next Step faith steps taken by both campers and staff. Collectively, we celebrate these stories and God’s fingerprints on them. This morning I reflect on stories that are hidden a little further below the surface, but still have God’s fingerprints on them.

Pickleball. Yes, that pickleball. Did you know that each week since mid-October 20-60 players have descended on CPBC to play pickleball? What started out as a casual conversation has grown into a daily morning event. These players from the McGregor community sign-up online for a 3 hour window to play in the gym. For the majority of them, this is their first introduction to the ministry of CPBC. And while there is no chapel service, God is using pickleball to create community relationships, grow our volunteer network and even generate a few donors. (Our staff would love to teach you how to play on your next trip to camp!)

It was an unexpected phone call that brought John and Maria to Adventurous Christians. You’ll get to meet them if you visit AC over the winter. John and Maria love Jesus, are retired and have an adventurous side to them. After spending the past few years traveling the US on their motorcycle and volunteering with various ministries and park systems, they were looking for a part of the country they had not visited before. With a newly converted Greyhound bus as a tiny home, Northern Minnesota seemed like just the place to spend a winter volunteering. A google search and series of phone calls later, John and Maria arrived at AC in October and will be volunteering through the Spring. They brought with them a passion for serving God, skills that fit specific needs at AC and humbleness to be used by God wherever and whenever.

The CPM Board approved a new employee handbook in 2020. For the most part the approval was to update language and make minor revisions. There was one significant change – the inclusion of sabbatical. While widely accepted in higher education and for lead pastors, sabbaticals are not as common in camping ministry. Knowing that our year-round staff give sacrificially and with our desire is to create a healthy rhythm of work and rest, a sabbatical policy was developed for staff who have worked at least five years. In September, I was the fourth employee to experience a four week sabbatical. During my time away, I spent 9 days solo backpacking 140 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail. A few friends thought it was crazy to have this be my first backpacking trip. God used this time away from emails, meetings and phone calls to bring rest. It was so rejuvenating to spend this solitude time hiking, reflecting and praying.

The mission of Covenant Pines Ministries is to Encourage Campers to Take a Next Step in Christian Faith. I am thankful for obvious ways this occurs through Chapel and conversations around the campfire. I’m also grateful for the times God shows up during pickleball, unexpected phone calls and the solitude of hiking.

Thank you for your support of Covenant Pines Ministries.

On Saturday October 15, Covenant Pines Ministries held its first annual Board Alumni Breakfast. About 25 former board members gathered to reconnect, hear updates about CPM and ask questions about our ministry. Familiar faces gathered together around coffee and pastries – it felt like a mini reunion.

This gathering had people who attended the first ever summer camp at Covenant Pines, former full time staff members, representatives of the transition Committee from Adventurous Christians, the first woman to ever serve on the Covenant Pines Board and more. It was a great morning together.

The purpose of this event is to gather people who have a vested interest in our ministry. We recognize that when you are on the board, you are used to being up to date on details and happenings at CPM. Once you transition off the board, it can feel like you are “cut off” from all the information! Plus, you create friendships around the board table and it is always fun to reconnect. This was our first time doing this event, and we plan to hold it annually.

If you have served on the CPM Board and would like to be included in future board alumni events, please reach out to Director of Marketing and Off Site Ministry, Holly Abramson. 

Summer is the heart of our ministry, and as each summer comes to a close we take time to reflect. Summer trail guide, Trisha Haugen shares her thoughts on what it was like leading canoe groups through the Boundary Waters this summer.

Since re-entering society after a summer as a trail guide at Adventurous Christians, I have been asked many times what my favorite part was. This question is a difficult one to answer, since it’s hard to consider all at once and rank what seems like a lifetime of moments, each precious in different ways. It is easy for me to explain the night I spent watching the northern lights from the dock with my fellow staff, tell of the day I saw four moose on the Frost River, or recount a portage entirely covered in the largest wild blueberries I’ve ever seen. It’s slightly more difficult, but still manageable, to share more abstract achievements, such as discovering new territory, building relationships, and seeing myself and students become physically and spiritually stronger. It’s confusing to people who haven’t experienced it when I say I loved paddling in the pouring rain, crying with a camper on a difficult portage, capsizing in rapids, and getting lost in a swamp. While all of these things were wonderful, I don’t think any of them truly claim the title of “the highlight of my summer.” I think the best part of my summer was a state of mind and a feeling more than anything else. It was the experience of being close to Christ in mind, heart, and body through the work I was doing and the unexplainable sense of purpose, fellowship, and peace that it brought.

Day-to-day life on earth is full of challenges, regardless of who and where you are or what you’re doing, though most people spend most of their time and energy trying to limit and eliminate challenges. Canoe camping is funny in the sense that it’s a conscious choice to lean into challenge. When you strip a day down to eating, packing up, moving from point A to point B, setting up, praying, and sleeping, it simultaneously gets so much simpler and so much more difficult. Making your bed does not just mean pulling your covers back up; it involves rolling up a sleeping bag, deflating a sleeping pad, putting bags in bags in bags in bags, and tearing down your temporary house. Cooking pasta doesn’t mean just putting a pot to boil on the stove; it involves foraging for sticks and birchbark, starting a fire, canoeing out for water, and ultimately results in scrubbing soot off a pot at the end of the week. These little challenges make the sleep all the sweeter and the pasta all the tastier. They also build confidence, teach us about ourselves, and make us appreciate the privileges of life in society all the more.

Some challenges are still more than you bargained for. One in particular from this summer stands out to me. I was on trail with a group, and it was our second to last day. We had experienced a couple good days of travel before and were enjoying a tailwind which pushed us toward our destination of Seagull lake faster than we intended. When we arrived though, we found that the wind had created 2’ waves on the large lake and had driven groups to settle into sites earlier than normal. Our group feared that we would not find an open site on the busy lake and opted to shoot the center in hopes of finding rest and lunch sooner. Out in the middle, though, I began praying as the whitecaps proved to be more than I anticipated. Sure enough, one of our canoes tipped, putting two of our crew members and gear in 100 feet of water. I didn’t fear for their safety, as they were wearing life jackets and the wind would eventually blow them to our destination, but emotions ran high throughout the group as my canoe tried to turn around to rescue them, and the rest of our group got to an island a ¼ mile away and watched on helplessly, praying for an angel to come save us. Sure enough, God delivered. As my canoe partner and I fought the wind back to our soggy comrades, another canoe launched from an island behind them. Three friends camping nearby had heard the commotion and came to help. They helped us pull our friends into canoes and dragged the swamped boat to shore where it could be safely turned over and reloaded. No one was hurt and no gear was lost except for a baseball cap. When thinking of the event, it’s easy for me to stew on what I could have done differently to avoid the situation, but I am also struck by the ways that God used it for good. While it was stressful for everyone in the group, in processing it together later, it was incredible to hear how God taught different lessons to each of us. From discovering God’s active presence, to contemplating the roles God has called them to, and recognizing the power of prayer, I saw many members of the group take next steps in their faith journeys, big and small. This is a challenge I never wished for the group, but it’s the one that God gave us, and for that, I am grateful.

This summer God continued to show me more and more about His love for us. It’s not always easy working with high schoolers. I mean usually they’re wonderful, but (like people) sometimes they’re distracted, clumsy, tired, defiant, timid, or dramatic. Despite their humanness and my own frustration with it at points, I found that I cared so deeply for all the students I met and got to lead. When students struggled to steer, I gave them more direction, not because I was mad at them for steering wrong, but because I wanted them to succeed. When I allowed students to do difficult tasks without my help, it wasn’t because I was lazy, but because I wanted them to have independence and space to grow. Through these interactions, God continued to show me his care and heart for me as my ultimate guide. When I require correction or am moving through a difficult season that causes me to grow, His actions towards me are not rooted in resentment or condemnation, but in love and guidance. It may not always feel good to be called to trust His plan when the way seems unclear, or to be entrusted with responsibility I didn’t ask for, but He is teaching me that He does these things for my good and for the good of those around me, because He loves His kids.

When I think of this summer, I think of Aslan’s lesson to Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia: “It is hard for you, little one, but things never happen the same way twice.” Last summer on staff at AC was absolutely incredible, and I had hoped for another summer just like it. I prayed so hard that God would let me come back and was so grateful when He did. This summer brought many new challenges that I could not have anticipated, but it also brought new joys and growth. I am so grateful that God allowed me to walk with Him again in this ministry and for all the experience, confidence, and love I received through it.