Ruth Puleo, Women of Purpose Director, affirms much the same: “Because camp played such a major role in my life, my husband and I made sacrifices each year to ensure that our children would have the same opportunity to attend a Christian camp…the spiritual impact of their camp experience continues to influence their lives and ministries today.”
Stories like those of these pastors are familiar and plentiful. Have things changed at Bongiorno? Does the Holy Spirit still move? Are lives transformed by His power as in the days of old?
Many would indeed attest to it being so! Our Kids’ and Youth Camps every year witness the move of the Spirit upon young people through salvations, Spirit baptisms, seeking God at the altars and just soaking in His presence, in addition to building new friendships and growing in their love for God and for others. Given the sometimes unique opportunity to both seek and explore the things of God, even young children at our Kids’ Camps at Bongiorno still receive powerful calls of God on their lives and have spiritual encounters that are both real and life-changing. At many of our Kids’ Camp services, an altar call is given for the kids to come and just “soak” in God’s presence.
Children/youth leaders and chaperones every year report similar encounters with the children/youth from their respective churches at such altar calls.
The Lord continues to touch the lives of all ages at the Bongiorno Conference Center with profound effects that continue throughout those lives. Many times entire families have come together to serve at or take part in one of the camps or retreats and have come away blessed having experienced the things of God as a family unit.
Pastor Kristian Walker writes, “Many lasting memories have been made as our two girls have been impacted by Pastor's Kids’ retreats and summer camps. We adults have been blessed by many ministers’ retreats.” Another very significant memory for Kris' family was when they led worship as a family at a week of Kids’ Camps. Kris says, “As we prepared for that opportunity to lead children, we were inspired to record our first kids’ worship CD, which had a huge impact on involving our daughters more deeply in our worship ministry.”
Countless others who are not called into full-time ministry share similar experiences of being touched by God’s presence through the camps, retreats and conferences held here at the Bongiorno. In fact, parents, churches and families continue to make sacrifices to send their children, grandchildren and their church’s children, teens and congregants to Camps, retreats and conferences knowing the importance of spiritual renewal that awaits them there.
Many parents in this culture have not grown up in a Christian home, nor attended a Christian camp. Once their child or teen has attended, we see them coming back each year as their parents and/or churches make sacrifices to send them.
So what is it about camps that make for a special, spiritual journey? Could it be the freedom from distractions since our lives are full of responsibilities and activities that keep our minds from God? Or is it breaking outside our comfort zones where school, jobs and home life can become routine? Being away in a Christian environment stretches us and perhaps helps us to become appreciative of God working in our lives?
Could it be that Camps promote leadership, endurance and relating to others in ways that we don't expect.
Dr. Paul Grabill addressed this best when he said, “I’m not sure whether it’s getting away from it all, as much as it is getting in to it all. It matters not whether the hilltop you are on has a golf course or not, only if you, like Jesus Himself did, are meeting God there.”
What does the future hold for Christian camps and Bongiorno in particular? Will it continue to impact lives and impart the Spirit's power? Will it promote healing and offer hope? If the past is an indication of the future, then it’s a bright one! Many of us hold wonderful memories of attending camps, retreats or conferences as kids, teens and adults. Perhaps we now have the privilege of seeing our own children and grandchildren and/or our church’s’ kids and youth experiencing camps as we did.
Times and locations may be different, methods and amenities may change, but some things are the same. Many presently testify as to how God continues to move by His might at the Bongiorno Conference Center. As with the past and present experiences, some in the future may see a marriage restored, a wounded spirit healed or a leadership challenge met. Some may recall the moment that they broke through with God, prayed someone through to Spirit baptism, were called into full-time ministry or even met their future spouse. Some may feel encouragement to continue life’s journey with its many challenges or feel refreshed to continue their call in ministry.
As in all things, we trust Him and serve Him at Bongiorno. Our Superintendent, Don Immel, says it well: “Having a facility dedicated to this goal provides an opportunity to emphasize the importance of life in the Spirit. It's all about our personal relationship with Christ and the difference He makes in us as we commit ourselves to His will. Our methods and styles sometimes change, but the message endures.”
Salvations granted, Spirit baptisms, life callings, prayers answered, friendships cherished, lives changed, hearts mended and touching Heaven are many stories told and cherished with many more yet to come.
All of these continue the great HIS-story that has been a part of and still upholds our heritage at the BCC. The purpose of our conference center remains the same as in those early years. The need remains to have a place where people can get away from the normal routine, a place where God can change lives and draw us closer to Him.
Written by: George Krebs Director BCC