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

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.


Matt Smith




Camp Traditions: Southport