It was June 2011 when my grandmother and late grandfather dropped me off for my first week of overnight camp. With my sisters and cousins by my side, we eagerly met our counselors and quickly claimed a top bunk bed. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this introduction would later be credited with being the origin story of one of my most monumental influences.
From the start, Bethelwoods found and healed a part of my heart that I didn’t know existed. I began as a reserved, but enthusiastic camper, and left a little over ten years later, serving counselors as a member of the Leadership Staff. As a child, what initially drew me into the Bethelwoods culture was how safe and seen I felt. Not only was I able to be poured into by counselors I looked up to about Jesus, but I was loved and encouraged to embrace every unique part of myself to use for His glory. Outside of conquering physical feats such as canoeing and archery, I found myself growing emotionally, and opening up a part of myself that longed for a deeper relationship with Christ, even if I was unable to string together those thoughts at the time.
As I grew older, I was able to explore aspects of my faith through high school camps at Bethelwoods that I can full heartedly credit to my relationship with Jesus making ginormous leaps, (shoutout Dianna!). I started being able to vocalize what made me feel so loved in this secluded area of York county. I realized that the Lord so intricately brought each individual to camp, and like iron sharpening iron created a community based in faith that taught love, acceptance, and tolerance. Such seemingly simple concepts but ones that are so rarely a part of the world today. It was an environment that was not only contagious, but one that I wanted to rest in forever.
- February Seven By The Avett Brothers
I continued to become a counselor, which was a huge influence on me deciding to commit to becoming an elementary teacher, and later moved on to Leadership Staff where I invested in working with counselors in the hopes that my love for camp would trickle down and make the same impact that it did on “2011 Caroline”. With each Summer came new friendships, new self discoveries, and new revelations of faith. No matter the strife going on in my personal life or in the world around me, Bethelwoods continuously acted as a spiritual and personal reset, and that is what kept me coming back. So much so, that leaving the “camp bubble” took active mental preparation to consider what it meant to continue living such a fulfilling life without the people, the firewood, and the hippo. I’d be lying if I said the transition was easy. A place holding an influence so great is hard to process mimicking. But that’s the thing about the Lord; the more I actively worked to take what I learned at camp and to hold on to the relationships that I made, the more He in turn gave me the ability to do so.
Slowly but surely, transitioning from “camp life” to “real life” went from becoming two separate entities, to ebbing and flowing with the Lord at the center of both. That was the disconnect, and once it was discovered, it was so easily mended. Why would I want to live a life without that faith filled joy, the belly laughs, and the undeniable energy? The Lord completely molded my heart through Bethelwoods, and I pray it continues to be that lasting influence for generations to come.
- Caroline McManus, former camper and counselor