— God designed the baptistery at Camp Yamhill.
It’s where the Yamhill River meets Haskins Creek, where salmon and steelhead trout swim — and where so many souls find salvation.
“Where the river and creek kind of intersect is where people have been getting baptized here for the last 50 or 60 years,” camp manager Nick Mears said, standing on a wooden bridge overlooking the chilly waters of Inspiration Point.
“It’s kind of amazing,” Mears said of the hundreds of young people immersed into Christ at this 240-acre camp, about an hour southwest of Portland.
Across the nation, thousands of church members — young and old — trace the washing away of their sins to a river, creek, lake, pond or swimming hole at a summer Bible camp.
Roger Woods, minister of the Walled Lake, Mich., church, was 11 yearsold when he and best friend Steve Vogel made the decision to bebaptized at Aloha Christian Camp in Hawaii.
The year: 1970.
“We called home to get permission and then were immersed in the camppool surrounded by the whole camp as witnesses,” Woods said. “To thisday, I remember how strongly I felt the Lord’s presence as the group ofus who were baptized huddled together and sang ‘I know the Lord willfind a way for me.’”
As a teenager, Laura Hogan swam in Lake Darling at Midwest Bible Camp in Washington, Iowa — and she was baptized in it.
“I knew full well, as much as a 13-year-old can, what I was doing,”said Hogan, now 41 and a member of the Frederick, Md., church. “I lovedJesus, and I wanted to be obedient to him.”
Hogan’s three children have attended Camp Manatawny, a Christian camp in eastern Pennsylvania.
“These one-week intense times of spiritual training and fellowship arevery beneficial to the development of young Christian hearts,” themother said.
Yet amid the recession, many — but not all — Christian camps nationwidestruggle with rising operational costs and dwindling numbers ofcampers, leaders told The Christian Chronicle.
At the same time, traditional summer Bible camps face increasedcompetition from secular sports, band and art camps, church missiontrips and even some children’s preference for computer games over thegreat outdoors, leaders said.
Despite the challenges, camp advocates say a week spent enjoying God’screation — and studying his Word — remains a powerful force in leadingsouls to Christ.
“It’s almost indescribable the impact camp has,” minister JeffWerkheiser told a Chronicle reporter visiting Camp Manatawny. “If youtalk to some of our kids, they’d tell you this is their little piece ofheaven.”
Werkheiser, who preaches for the Conestoga Valley church in Lancaster,Pa., baptized his son, Nathan, now 13, in the Manatawny swimming pooltwo years ago.
Werkheiser’s grandparents, Earl and Gerry Steever, first brought him tothe camp as a young boy. Thirty-five years later, he still returns toManatawny each summer, directing a weeklong camp session andencouraging every child at the Conestoga Valley church to attend.
Werkheiser’s 180-member congregation sent about 35 children to campthis summer — some of them friends of members’ kids. The church paidfor camp for about 15 children who could not afford it, he said.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” he said of investing in camp. “Anything wecan do to increase the chances that our kids will be faithful, we oughtto do. This camp changes lives.”