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.  

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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.

Faithfully,

Rob Peterson

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Signed,

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

relationship.

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

counselors.

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.

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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

Camp Traditions: Southport

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 first week of June begins every summer with Southport Presbyterian bringing down their campers to kick off the summer. 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. 

Written by Matt Smith of Southport Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis

I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a blogger, but I hope you read this for no other reason than to know that God does some pretty incredible things here at Pyoca.  Pyoca is the week our students get most excited about and this year has been no different.  The partnership between Southport Presbyterian and Pyoca spans more than 30 years and multiple generations. Overwhelmingly, the link between each camp, each year, each camper and each memory has been the faithfulness of God experienced through His son Jesus.

There is something special about Pyoca, and I have confidence it is because of God’s goodness.  We intentionally come to Pyoca because it allows us to disconnect from the world and pursue the Lord through quiet times, worship, devotions, small groups and teaching.

This year, Southport brought more than 100 campers, directors and support staff to camp.  They are dedicated fathers, mothers, teachers, youth leaders and friends who see the eternal value of investing into youth to proclaim the gospel for the sake of God’s kingdom.  During the first week of June each summer, we get energized to drive into the lodge parking lot to receive a warm welcome from the summer and full time staff.  It’s at this moment that we are reminded how good a place Pyoca truly is.  The site of the picturesque lodge to the old chapel brings an excitement you cannot get anywhere else.  Here is just a sample of some of the things we have done this week: hikes to Mt. Baldy, canoeing on Lake Pyoca, games, the high ropes course, 9 Square in the Air, worship, fellowship, eat some good food ;), swimming at the lake front, and so much more.

This year, we saw campers commit their lives to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to do work in their souls in ways we have not seen in years past.  Campers were vulnerable, caring, compassionate and honest as they discovered the reality of God’s love for them.  As leaders, it was a gift to witness the Lord work powerfully through them and listen to the accounts of how their hearts were being transformed.

It’s hard to capture all of what happens during our week at Pyoca, but I hope this gives you a snapshot of how much we enjoy our time here and how we count down the days until we come again.

Blessings,

Matt Smith

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Camp Traditions: Southport

The Magic of Mail

Written by Program Director, Molly DeWitt

There’s just something about receiving a handwritten note in the mail that cannot be described. Seeing someone else’s familiar handwriting provides a sense of glee, gratitude, and connection. It has the inherent ability to make you feel special.

In my experience, few people write handwritten notes anymore, aside from birthday cards. Mail nowadays seems boring, something that only brings bills, ads, and the occasional newsletter. Handwritten mail, however, is something to be cherished and often saved to look at over and over.

Camp mail is altogether extraordinary to receive. You know if you have camp mail that someone has taken time out of their day to write to you and see how you are doing. Very rarely do we write friends or family notes anymore. It takes a lot more effort than we are accustomed to in regard to communication, which is now essentially instant.

I remember being so annoyed at my mom for forcing me to write thank you notes by hand as a kid whenever I received a gift, yet at the same time being delighted when she would take the time to send me a card at camp.

I received cards every year I was at camp, nine years total, even when I was in high school. I have many of them still saved in a box. My mom continued to send me notes while in college, during my two years as a Young Adult Volunteer, and as recently as when I was Pyoca’s seminary intern. Even now as a soon-to-be seminary graduate and camp Program Director, my mom sends me handwritten notes in the mail.

In our technological age, handwritten mail is almost unheard of. Generally, if we want to know how someone is doing, we just text or email them. We have camper email at Pyoca, but somehow it’s not quite the same as receiving a real letter. Email often has a sense of urgency, whereas postal mail signifies intimacy and precious time spent to convey a message to a loved one.

We’ve started encouraging campers, particularly the younger ones, to write home about their day or if they’re feeling a little homesick. One short note and one email a week is typically what I would receive from my mom and it was just enough to encourage me to have a good time at camp, while not making me homesick. “Hope you’re having fun! We can’t wait to hear all about it!” was just enough to remind me that I was loved.

I have parents and grandparents tell me often that they have saved the notes written to them by their children from 30+ years ago at camp. What a family treasure it is to be able to look back on a week of one’s life and remember the transformative experience of camp, all encapsulated in one letter.

If you are interested in sending your child a letter at camp, be sure to send it with the addressed formatted as below:

Pyoca Camp & Retreat Center

℅ Camper Name (i.e. Susie Camper)

Camp (i.e. Discover)

886 E CR 100 S

Brownstown, IN 47220

 

*Note: We greatly encourage letters and cards, but discourage sending packages to campers.

The Magic of Mail

Grief, Camp, & Remembrance

Written by Acting Executive Director, Mike Davis.

Last weekend, in the midst of a very busy retreat weekend at camp, volunteers young and old from near and far descended on the Pyoca grounds. They carried with them garden implements of every type, plants purchased and plucked from their own yards, and heavy hearts.

Days of service and volunteer projects are a common occurrence at Pyoca, but Saturday was different. As always, we worked to give back to the place where our lives have been changed, but we also worked to honor the saints who have gone before us. They helped to create this place, encouraged us to go Pyoca as retreat guests and campers, and mentored us every step of the way.

From the latter months of 2017 into early 2018, Pyoca lost two active board members and another retired board member. I was in utter shock and dismay announcing the losses one after another to the board and Pyoca community, especially considering losing my grandmother suddenly in September. These were all people that shaped me, pushed me, and cared for me, as well as countless others.

During the day of service we told stories of these saints, both of their caring nature and of their wit, as well as a humorous blunder or two.

In between weeding and leaf raking tears and laughter were shared. Grief was embraced and gaping wounds were not healed, but given aid. The day was capped off with a worship service and memorial tree planting.

Grief, sadness, and heartache are not things you often associate with camp, but are nonetheless present in the lives of our campers, retreat guests, volunteers, and staff. We can’t expect our campers to explore, grow, rest, and play without first reflecting on the weight they may carry to camp.

As our Program Director and soon-to-be minister, Molly DeWitt, said in her homily on Saturday, grief is a healthy part of life and not something to be ignored.

It has always been said that Pyoca is not just a place, but an experience. We believe that the experience comes from the people who shape the place. As the hands and feet of Christ we are called to care for our neighbors. I have never seen this call so fully expressed as I have over these past few months, and particularly this weekend.

At Pyoca, we give thanks to God for a community that comes together and surrounds one another with love in good times and bad.

Grief, Camp, & Remembrance