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

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: 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