Year of the Peacemaker: You Are Beloved

We are delighted to share stories from our greater Pyoca community as we embrace 2019 as the Year of the Peacemaker. Today’s blog comes from Pyoca alum Brian Herald (camper and summer staff) who is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in New Orleans, LA. Brian reflects upon what it means to be a peacemaker midway through his YAV year. You can follow Brian’s personal blog here.

The world today is full of conflict; external and internal conflict. Sometimes that conflict looks like two countries with different beliefs going to war, and other times it looks like two leaders not agreeing on a solution which causes an entire system to shut down for over a month. We have personal conflicts everyday, too. Sometimes they’re minor and other times less so. Conflict is something that allows us to grow as people. The problem is that we don’t always know or agree on the best way to overcome conflict, create peace, and move to a brighter day.

All throughout the New Testament Jesus talks about who He loves. The often quoted John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And in Mark 12:31 we get this, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” There are many more examples I could pull of Jesus talking about love and demonstrating love, but that would end up being a longer blog post than I really it need it to be.

At church this past Sunday I heard a sermon from Rev. Dr. Jonathan Barker, and he was talking about who is beloved by God. Beloved according to my friend Merriam-Webster means: dearly loved; dear to the heart. Rev. Barker went on to say, “Theists, you are beloved. Atheists, you are beloved. Agnostics, you are beloved.” What he said goes right along with what Jesus said in the Gospels. God loves the world. Not just people that look or think like we do, not just Christians. God loves the world. He loves people who don’t believe in Him, those behind bars, those who outright speak against Him, and those who are confused. He loves the world. And because of this, we should love everyone, as well. We should “love our neighbor.” Not just those who agree with us, but those who don’t agree with us (one might even say especially those that don’t agree with us), those who are different, those who are viewed as outcasts or undesirables. Everyone.

As a YAV who works with the undereducated population of New Orleans I work with the people that many would consider outcasts or undesirable people. And, if I’m being honest, that’s how I viewed these people before I came to New Orleans. I often thought, “well, why didn’t they try harder” or, “obviously they didn’t care enough.” But that just wasn’t the case as I got to know them. As I’ve come to know and work with the people at the adult literacy program I am a part of, I have realized that the people I’m serving are exactly that: people. They deserve love just as much as anyone, and I’m glad that is something that has changed for me throughout this year. I believe my faith is acting more as a filter on how I should treat others in the world. I try not to see people as undesirables or outcasts, but as people who are less fortunate or privileged than I am. My faith tells me that everyone should be loved, just as God loves all of us, and that no matter who they are or their plight in this world, we can show them the love and kindness that they deserve. Because we are all beloved.

We often don’t look at a man who is homeless and think about the humanity behind his sign that’s asking for spare change. We don’t look at the humanity of the refugees, or the immigrants, or the undereducated. We often see someone who is less than we are because of the situation they are in, and oftentimes that situation isn’t self-inflicted. We see so many stories about the negative things happening in the world that we begin to believe that’s the truth. But, if we step outside and look at our communities we will see that there is good in the world. It’s also just easier to not think about others because we have our own problems to deal with.

I think we need to challenge ourselves to be peacemakers. I believe that if we show someone that they are loved, it will help bring peace to the world. And showing love is as simple as a smile, a wave, a hug, a phone call, or a simple text message to someone in need of a friend. You are beloved. And so is the person on the street, and the person in jail. We are beloved.

An extended version of this post can be found on Brian’s personal blog.

Year of the Peacemaker: You Are Beloved

Advent: The Year of the Peacemaker

For those who may not know, the church year just ended and a new year has begun! At Pyoca we will usher in this new liturgical year (church/worship calendar) with a new theme.

To be honest, late 2017 and early 2018 was a pretty tough year for our greater Pyoca community, with a substantial amount of grief and loss. We were able to gather together in April of this year to reflect and remember the camp saints who have shaped and influenced our lives. This time of reflection made us incredibly grateful for the opportunity to carry on the Gospel work of the saints who went before us.

As we look toward 2019, we are taking a cue from our upcoming summer camp theme: Peace Works. We are adopting 2019 as The Year of the Peacemaker. The Advent season is the perfect time to begin as we anticipate the coming of our very own Prince of Peace.

At Pyoca, we believe that the act of peace is something that God instills within us. As Christians, we are active participants in God’s shaping of the world. We can choose to sit back and let things unfold, or we can discern where God is calling us to transform and be transformed through peace.

Throughout 2019 we will highlight peacemakers throughout the Presbyterian church and our own camp community. Our challenge to you, our community, is to show us what you are already doing as peacemakers in this world. Message us on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #pyocapeacemakers and we will share how you are seeking to spread the peace of Christ in the world.

May Christ’s peace shine through you this Advent and Christmas season. We wish you the merriest Christmas and happy holidays. The peace of Christ be with you.

Advent: The Year of the Peacemaker

Find Your Inner #Shero

Molly DeWitt is the Program Director at Pyoca Camp & Retreat Center.

This week I attended the first ever Women in Camp Summit. It is hard to describe the instant sense of ease that I had when I arrived. There are few places one can go where the people there just get you. Not to mention, where you feel comfortable almost instantly. It was a place where I knew that I was seen.

This conference was dreamt up in less than a year by leading camp professionals across North America. Over 100 women from 27 states and 4 Canadian provinces gathered around the theme of Visibility. Voices. Vision.

We heard the history (#herstory) of female camp professionals from the first female CEO of the American Camp Association, Peg Smith, attended workshops, networked, and engaged in Mentor Chats with leading women in the camp industry. We laughed, cried, bonded, and learned from one another, gaining new friends and colleagues.

This week I felt validated in my call, my voice, and my presence. In a sense, I found church in a generally secular space. I learned a lot about running a camp, from mental health care, programming, staff training, being a supervisor, etc. All things one generally learns at a professional development conference.

I grew as a leader, but most importantly, I found women who understood how important it is for girls to find their voice in a world that often silences them. I found my camp #sheroes.

In recent years I have become aware of what a blessing it was that I was able to grow up with so many amazing female leaders in my life. Throughout my time in seminary, I found out that I was the odd one out because I had had four different female pastors in my church when I was growing up. At the time, all served in associate pastor positions where I was able to see the image of God reflected in the pulpit through women just like me. Many of my female peers in seminary did not have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in church leadership as young girls.

I was also blessed to have strong, independent women in my family who believed that camp would be a good influence on my sister and I. As a camper, I looked up to fierce young adult women who were my counselors. They modeled a wide range of femininity at camp. There was no expectation to be made up everyday. You were encouraged to get dirty, and most importantly, young girls were encouraged to speak their minds.

In many areas of my life, just ask my family, I have not been shy to speak my mind. I attribute this to the strong women who have had a part in raising me: my fierce grandmas, my compassionate mom, and my extremely hard working and smart sister.

Yet, in many areas of my life this has been deemed an unattractive quality. I have been in a number of situations (even in the Church) where my age or gender has made me question whether I should even be in the room, leading me to stay silent. In instances where I have spoken out, I could feel my statements being questioned, even if I received smiles and nods from the room. I have no doubt that many women can relate.

I remind myself that my voice has every right to be heard as someone else’s, but I have to wonder for the girls and young women who didn’t/don’t have fierce female leaders around them, who is telling them that their voice in the Church and the world matters? Who is telling them to keep speaking out? Because for many of them, their health and safety depends upon it.

At Pyoca, our mission is that ALL are welcome in God’s love to explore, grow, rest, and play. I truly hope that all are able to do so, but a large part of me also hopes that girls and women especially know that camp is a space where they can explore who they are outside of the norms and pressures imposed upon them by society. They can grow into whoever God is calling them to be and find rest from the weary world that still tends to silence them. I hope they can play and find adventure that redefines what girls are capable of, because girls CAN lift canoes and climb the high ropes course, too.

For any women or girls who may question it, YOU MATTER. You matter because God loves you, created you, and gave you a voice and a calling. You are worth being seen, heard, and believed.


*Many thanks to CampBrain for sending me to this Summit. It would have been impossible without your support.

Find Your Inner #Shero

Camp Traditions: OPPC

Last Saturday we concluded our final full week of camp programming with youth and volunteers from Orchard Park Presbyterian Church. Reflecting on our time together is Chair of the Pyoca Advisory Council and Camp Friendly Director, Rob Peterson.

“It’s not just a place…it’s an experience!” was the slogan used by Pyoca for many years and it sums up why I (and my family) have become grafted into the larger Pyoca family over almost twenty-five years as a camper parent, camp leader, and Advisory Council member. For me, Pyoca is sacred space, not because of the place itself but because of the Spirit that permeates the community that is formed during each camp week. It’s time apart, away from the busyness of daily life, when we intentionally come together to dwell in the presence of God and celebrate each other. I have found few other places where I experience this to such a degree, and it’s what keeps me excited to do what I can to help this place and community grow into the future.

i-4DtmjWt-ThOrchard Park Presbyterian Church has had a long and fruitful partnership with Pyoca, one that we treasure. Summer camps are in our congregation’s DNA: we have held camping programs since the early days of our church, and we’ve been working with Pyoca for at least thirty years. I give thanks for those who had this vision and the commitment to make it a reality, and for our Pyoca partners through the years!

Over time our camping ministry has grown from the “original” Camp Friendly for 3rd-5th graders to include Jr. High Leadership Camp as well as EPiC (Everything Possible in Christ) for 9th-10th graders. We welcome all, not just members of our church, to our programs for younger campers; this has blessed us with connections to families and congregations from around Indiana and surrounding states. For us camp is not only a discipleship ministry for children and youth of our congregation, but also an outreach to others as we “camp on”. This year we shared camp with 84 campers in our three programs: thank you to these campers for coming onboard, and especially to their parents who entrusted us with their care during our week at Pyoca!

Our camp program has also become an important spiritual and leadership development tool for our Youth Ministries as we partner with Pyoca staff to care for and lead our campers. High-school, college-age, and post-college young adults, most of whom came up through Pyoca camping experiences, willingly devote a week of their time each summer to nurture our campers – and, as they learn, it’s a 24/7 job! One of the greatest joys of my long involvement with our camp program has been the opportunity to participate in the growth in these young people as they progress from camper to leader.  


Our camps could not continue without the strong commitment of adult leaders, congregation members as well as church staff, who share this love of Pyoca and camping. This year we brought 25 counselors and adult leaders to camp, and although there are too many to name individually, I must single out our other adult leaders for their continuing commitment: our camp doctor Dr. Tricia Galanti, Nancy Peterson (my lovely wife, the craft lady), Kristy Truax, who helps in so many ways, and our spiritual/camp leaders Rev. Trish Lisa (Camp Friendly), Rev. Jenni Cartee (Jr. High Leadership Camp), and Katie Haugk (EPiC).

There’s so much in our camp experience that it’s not possible to share in detail, but I would like to give one example of the ways lives are changed at camp. One of our campers, like others before her, had some struggles at the beginning of the week, sure she didn’t want to be at camp and therefore not eager to participate. Over several days, as our counselors and Pyoca staff worked with her, through the moving of the Spirit we saw her begin to engage more, smile more, and willingly try some new activities. i-N3rBXQn-ThNear the end of the week, when everyone was tie-dying t-shirts, what she wrote on her shirt said it all: “the best place on earth – Pyoca”. It again brought to my mind that old Pyoca slogan: “It’s not just a place…it’s an experience!”. It’s the place, yes, but also the people, and, most importantly, God working through us – and us opening to God – that make it all possible. Thanks be to God for Pyoca, for the Pyoca community past and present, and for the connections that we share through our ever-growing faith experiences there.


Rob Peterson


Camp Traditions: OPPC

Camp Traditions: The TALKS

This week’s blog contributor is Beatrice Beverly, the Program and Volunteer Director of Stop the Violence Indianapolis. Each summer Beatrice brings 24 girls from Indianapolis down to Pyoca for “The TALKS,” a program which empowers young women to be the best version of themselves. “The primary purpose of the “The TALKS – identifying the Mirror in YOU™” workshops is to start young ladies on a path of self awareness and self worth by starting with the inside.” IMG_5179

There are several things I can honestly say that I have been known to say: be careful what you ask for and I’m not doing that!  GOD always has the first, second, third and every other word in between the last.

Growing up in the city, I have never been an outdoor connoisseur.  I did not enjoy eating outside or actually playing outside (bugs were NOT my friend).  As I got older, I was able to make my own decisions and being outside was not one of my desired choices. I didn’t mind being outdoors for a tad bit but an extended stay was definitely out of the question.  I say all of this so that you can understand how a Seventh-Day Adventist, converted to Baptist, black city girl ended up appreciating one of the most beautiful pieces of land/atmosphere that I had ever seen in Indiana – PYOCA Camp and Retreat Center.

A sister-friend who is a member of one of the local churches introduced me to the Presbyterian faith, so I was familiar with the teachings but I was not aware at that time of the camp.   One bright and shining day I received a call about a potential opportunity and so begins my journey.  After much discussion, grant writing, site visits and meetings, STVI set sail on July 29th 2014, with 24 young ladies, chaperones, volunteers and facilitators on a bright yellow school bus down the highway of 65 South into a land of uncharted grounds as far as I was concerned.  In my mind I was responsible for individuals that had:

  1. never been out of their neighborhoods, let alone the city of Indianapolis
  2. didn’t know each other (hence the personality/alpha characteristics were quickly exposed)
  3. trusted me (as much as they could because they didn’t know me) to ensure their safety and well-being at the camp for the days we were to be there!

When I say I was so far out of my comfort zone and scared of the unknown it had me doubting and praying, praying and doubting and trying to figure out how to get this bus to turn around without revealing my fears as the driver drove down 65 South for the next 1 ½ hour.  I played in my head different scenarios; I silently cried (I mean a true internal hard/ugly cry), my stomach was having an internal boxing match and I was losing.  I feared snakes, bugs, staff (YES, I said staff), darkness, water, absolutely everything, I didn’t know what to expect and I definitely didn’t know how to react in an environment that I wasn’t comfortable with to begin with.


Well, we arrived and the very first thing I noticed was that Mike and another guy (I didn’t know who he was at the time but I now know him as Brad) stood in front of the Lodge right below a cross (I didn’t notice it during my previous visit) and immediately I felt peace!  It didn’t remove the fact that I was outside of my comfort zone but I did get a sense of “peace” which helped me to open my mind and be receptive to the possibilities that laid ahead of me for the week and it placed John 14:27 in my heart for “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” and for the rest of the week I felt GOD’s presence.

I felt him as I walked around the entire lake, through shrubs, spider webs, spiders, frogs and a host of other outdoor creatures!  I experienced him when we eat the meals that were prepared for us, I experienced him when I slept (for the first time) on a camp bed, I experienced him when I looked at the natural beauty that surrounded me in the wild flowers, fallen and standing trees and the fish and frogs as they swam in the lake.  I experienced him when the darkness of the night fell upon us and all I saw were the stars, I experienced him when we woke to see the sunrise, I experienced him as I watched girls for the first time swim in a lake, jump off the trampoline and canoe or kayak down the river, I experienced him when we sit in the chapel and praised GOD during our closing ceremonies.  So you see I experienced him during a time when I once said “I’m not doing that.”


I experienced him and was able to comfort young ladies and my peace became their peace and they too were able to experience the wonders of GOD. I remember one girl saying as we were walking the 3 mile trail – “we just got a lot of abundant buildings and houses in our neighborhood, we don’t have any of this.”  What an impact, a lifelong impact that moment of time will have on her life.

So you see if you just be still and let GOD lead you, you just might travel down a highway known as 65 South doing something that you said you would never do and land on the grounds of a place called PYOCA Camp and Retreat Center.



Sincerely, GRATEful…..Beatrice Beverly



Camp Traditions: The TALKS

Camp Traditions: Pyoca Week One

Each week this summer has shown a different side of Pyoca programs. This week, during Pyoca Week One programs, guest writer Kim Van Wyk shares how camp has shaped her life. Kim has been coming to Pyoca her entire life and doesn’t miss any chance to visit camp.  Here is her story…

Written by Pyoca alum and volunteer, Kim Van Wyk:

I can hear the musical works of The Proclaimers, They Might Be Giants, and

Toto. My coffee mug has Coca-Cola in it. And I have a bug bite on my ankle that has

itched for 3 days. It’s Friday morning and the last day of camp. I’m exhausted. My throat

is sore. I have a sunglass tan. I would take this five times over because above all, I’m so

sad to be leaving my favorite place in the world.

My passion for working with kids and love of camp is somewhat cyclical. My love

of being around kids compelled me to be a counselor 11 summers ago, and being a

counselor for 11 years has driven my love of being around kids. It’s a very symbiotic


The fifth graders I teach just had their farewell ceremony, as the end of school is

near. In preparation for this ceremony, my coworker and I took pictures of each student

with a sign saying, “Future ___.” They wrote what they want to be when they grow up. If

Mrs. Mintz had done that to me when I was in 5th grade, I would’ve have said I was

going to be an OB-GYN. Spoiler Alert: I did not become an OB-GYN. My next plan was

to be a pediatric nurse. Spoiler Alert: I did not become a nurse.

I. Love. Camp. I would give many, many things to be there. As a camper and

counselor, family vacations were cut short. I left my sister’s bachelorette party early,

personal relationships were tested, and I’ve literally missed out on thousands of dollars

in summer jobs and internships.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My oldest sister double majored in Theatre and Theatre Arts Administration and

my middle sister graduated with an English degree and minored in Art and Arts

Administration. I became a teacher. None of us will own yachts and take multi-week

vacations every summer. Our passions were always put before the desire to make

loads of money. That said, if you want to hit me up on Venmo with some donations to

my savings account, I won’t stop you.

Valuing passions over profit is a reason I can be found at my summer camp

every year instead of working a second job. It doesn’t pay me in money, but it pays in

memories, friendships, and rejuvenation- both physically, spiritually, and mentally.

I am my happiest at camp. I feel most in touch with who I am and who I want to

be when I am at camp. It is exhausting and invigorating at the same time. Everything

good in life can be found at camp.

As a camper (2000-2006), I enjoyed the lake, campfire, and Ms. Peggy’s

cinnamon rolls. My counselors were my role models, and the images I have of them are

still deeply embedded into my image of Amazing Woman and Counselor.

As a counselor (first volunteer, then Pyoca staff member, and now back to

volunteer), you carry the necessities: bug spray, 1st aid kit, song book, water bottle,

pens, friendship bracelet string, and much more. Your Chacos (sandals) are prepared for

creek stomping and your tye-dye skills are honed and ready. You also track who is sitting

with whom during meals to make sure no one is left out and check rooms to make sure

kids are sleeping so they have energy for the next day. You are careful with your words,

making sure you are trusted and welcoming to all campers. You unclog toilets and pick

up lost and found towels every week. You try (and for me, fail) at starting campfires.

And you also just listen. You listen for small openings into campers’ lives.

During my two Pyoca staff summers, I watched kids laugh and cry, sing and

pray. I watched relationships bud and flourish amongst their peers as well as with their


But most importantly, I learned what it meant to love. The Greek word Philia is the

love I learned at camp. It’s a deep friendship love. It’s the loyalty to friends, the

sacrifices you make, and the sharing of emotions with them. Camp is where I found

that. I found it as a camper, and even more strongly as a counselor.

In terms of friendships with other counselors, you need to know one thing. One day

at camp is like a week in the real world. You spend nearly every moment of your

summer, good or bad, with the same people. You can’t help but recognize the goodness

and beauty within each of your new-found friends, many of whom feel like family. You

create spontaneous memories that bond you for life, no matter how often you talk or

what geographic obstacles stand in your way.

Looking back, there’s many procedures, activities, and lessons from camp that prepared

me for teaching (Oh, yeah; I’m a teacher!), but there’s one statement that encompasses

them all. When a child comes to camp, those parents are trusting you, a 19-year old,

with their whole heart. They are trusting you to care and love their reason in life. And

that responsibility cannot be taken lightly. The statement is simple, but it drives

everything I’ve done as a counselor and teacher. Each interaction with a child is judged

on whether or not I am honoring that concept.


An Incomplete List of Ways Camp Prepared Me to Teach:

  • Pick up on small comments. They are a window into home life and what’s really on kid’s mind. When a camper changes a subject, or interjects with something you think is off topic, go with it. You don’t know to what it may lead.
  • Trust the child. In matters of emergency and safety, believe the child in front of you. They are coming to you for a reason.
  • Kids are exactly that. Kids. They will make mistakes. They will stay up late. They will try to get away without showering. Recognize that you were a child too, and let them have their chance. Just make sure it’s all done in a safe space, still with guidelines. Please make them shower.
  • Brain breaks help everyone. If a family group lesson feels dull, sing a song, play a game, make up a skit. Just do something.
  • Embrace the silliness. I am eccentric and wild and full of energy most of the time. Camp should be the one place that a camper can be themselves. Let the “nerdy” kids nerd out and join in with them. Let the drama kings and queens participate in campfire. Let the camper who sits back and takes it all in observe and ask for their advice on how to make whatever it is better. Try to meet kids where they already are.
  • When in doubt, play Poison Dart Frog. Finished High Ropes early? Finished your I-STEP test before the other classrooms? Poison Dart Frog.
Camp Traditions: Pyoca Week One

Camp Traditions: Gemini Mission Camp

This year, we wanted to introduce each camp program that is hosted at Pyoca so that our larger community will get a glimpse into the broad reach of Pyoca’s ministry. Many people may not know that Pyoca has a number of camp programs, many over 30+ years old, that have been coming to camp each summer. The second week of June begins every summer with Gemini Mission Camp. 

Written by Michelle Hicks of Gemini Mission Camp

As you read this blog, you will probably see each week that “there is something special about Pyoca….”  That is very true! This place holds many memories, a chance to get out into God’s nature, and a chance to unplug from the busyness of life.  It’s truly unlike any other camp I have ever experienced.

Our group has been enjoying the blessings of Pyoca for generations.  We come from many areas (Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky – to name a few) and many walks of life.  We have been forever interwoven by our connection to Gemini Mission Camp and we have deep and special connections with one another.  Unlike many camps, our campers grow up with us. They can start coming when they are just going into 4th grade, and they continue as campers until they graduate high school.  Our younger campers have the opportunity to spend time with older youth and learn from them.  This allows us to become much like family, where we grow and change with one another, but remain very connected.

Our group loves to play together!  9-square, volleyball, and swimming are some of our favorites.  We also love to sing – we spend lots of time at campfire and in chapel worshiping Him with song.  One of the highlights of our week every year is our Consecration Service where all of us have an opportunity to reflect on or make a new commitment to follow Jesus.  This is impactful on so many levels, but at the base it is what we are all about!

This week we will be studying and learning about building a strong foundation for our faith.  We will use the game JENGA to help us – the name in Swahili means “to build.”  Each day we will study a different aspect of building our foundation.  

J – Jesus Says:  We will discover how to find what God has to say.  We will go over how to find answers to questions and a how to use the Bible as a guidemap for our behavior.

E – Everyday Days: We will talk about how to make every moment count. We will discover that ALL of what we do matters to God and it matters when considering the foundation we are building for our lives.

N – Not Going There: We will discuss how to keep out of dangerous situations, how to get out of them when we are in them, and what the Bible has to say about temptation.

G – God’s There: We will be reassured that God is always there with us, in us, beside us – even and especially during the storms in our lives.

A – A Time to Build:  We will go out today with a commission to build strong foundations, utilizing Christ as the cornerstone for all our building.  We will discuss again the importance of a strong foundation to meet this earthly life with all of the armor God provides in place!

We are so thankful to have a place like Pyoca to go to as we grow, change and learn to support one another in our Faith Family.

In Him,

Michelle Hicks

Camp Traditions: Gemini Mission Camp