F or Echo Ranch Bible Camp, summer is officially over. On Friday, Aug. 15, the last campers walked around Echo Cove. Soon all of the summer staff will be gone and not long after, Echo Ranch will be closed for the year. The time to say goodbye has come. I don't know about you, but I have never really liked goodbyes. Like a dropped phone call or the power going out, so it is with goodbyes. A connection has been made between people, between groups of people, and suddenly the line is lost. Every week of the summer we send our farewell with young people of all ages. But it is this end of summer farewell that is the hardest.
The excitement of camp and the joy of learning about God have been compared to being on a mountain top. At the pinnacle the air is a little sweeter and you see the world from a grand perspective. Life's problems seem so far away and the distance provides an element of safety. There is an inner quiet that brings the freedom to be young and to laugh and to be honest about what really matters. In the Bible, Moses goes to a mountaintop to meet with God. When Moses comes back down his face is shining and bright from the change that had taken place. If you've ever met a child after a week of Echo Ranch you can still seem them glowing. I wonder if Moses ever hesitated when God told him to go back down the mountain.
I believe that these mountaintop experiences are a good thing. They help to prepare kids to deal with the valley down bellow. Perhaps when one of our campers is going through a dark time, they can look back and remember the hope they learned of while at Echo Ranch. The same goes for the counselors, those college-age individuals who gave up their summer jobs to come and serve here at camp. While they stopped to help kids in Alaska, life back at home has continued to move forward without them. The counselors will return home glowing from the experience and there will be few who truly understand. But if you asked any of the counselors if it was it worth it, they all would say yes.
As part of the full-time staff at Echo Ranch I see the summer end, but I know that there is still work to be done. For the next several weeks there will be retreat groups that will need a warm meal and firewood for the stove. Planning for 2009 has already started, and we are looking forward to what God is going to do in the future. My role as recruiter will have me back on the road again visiting colleges and universities looking for willing servants for next summer. The rest of the staff will soon depart for their winter homes and ministries in the various communities around the Southeast. With God's help we will do our best to be ready for another camping season.
The staff of Echo Ranch would like to say thank you to everyone who helped 944 kids come to camp this summer; to all of the local businesses who provided us with the knowledge and materials to keep camp running; to all the parents and guardians who signed registration forms and packed up those sleeping bags; to the chaperones that spent many hours riding the ferry to bring kids from all over the Southeast; to the churches who help the ministry of Echo Ranch to continue year round. Without the help of the community of Southeast Alaska, Echo Ranch would not be the same.
And so it is time to say goodbye to the summer of 2008 and hello to the future. What is coming around the corner? Your guess is as good as mine. But I do know that God is faithful and whatever happens next is in his hands, and that is exciting. It is my hope to continue to write about Echo Ranch into the fall and winter. If you have any questions about the camp or if you want to share a memory of Echo Ranch please feel free to e-mail me.
Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.