Lutherans in Minnesota

Relationships worth fostering

Camp Amnicon welcomes all who would come to the wilderness

At-risk youth learn teamwork paddling the Montreal Canoe in the breathtaking Apostle Islands. Photos provided by Camp Amnicon

Each year, vanloads of campers from the metro area make their way to the shores of Lake Superior on the red dirt road that winds its way to Camp Amnicon. For some campers, this will be their first wilderness experience, and for the more than 40 percent of the campers who come from innercity and impoverished neighborhoods, mental health treatment programs, immigrant communities, foster or group homes, and Native American reservations, this may be their first experience of the Christian community that is Lutheran camping.

“For over 40 years, Camp Amnicon has offered high adventure and retreat programs connecting the mission of the [ELCA] with the care of God’s creation, which, in some way, is done by letting God’s creation inspire us concerning what the mission of the church should be,” explained Brandon Due, public relations committee chair for the Camp Amnicon Foundation.

In the face of a difficult economic climate for camps and churches, Camp Amnicon continues to ask a financially burdensome, but fundamental, question: What is Christian community if it does not extend a paddle to those in life’s most challenging situations?

Through generous donors and church groups that sponsor less fortunate campers as part of their own fundraising efforts, the camp is able to invite “at risk” communities to experience the joys and challenges of a weeklong camping adventure that, in the words of Chris Richards, director of youth and family ministries at First Lutheran Church (ELCA), in Bemidji, Minnesota, “connects them deeply to the creation around them and to one another, where they can drop more of their masks than ever before, … where they’ll laugh at less for longer, sing in front of other people, lose track of time, sit quietly and listen, be afraid, be trusted, pray, enter into deep conversations, and above all, be loved.”

Campers from a Duluth foster care agency and their guides hug after a week shared on the trail.

What is Christian community if it does not extend a paddle to those in life’s most challenging situations?

The term “at risk” is interesting because people tend to apply it only to those in the most challenging situations. But an honest campfire conversation can reveal the risk and fear of the seemingly most privileged camper (or adult). With caring guides and adult leaders present to navigate hidden surprises and powerful eddies, campers leave the familiar to be challenged by a week without cell phones and Facebook, where they learn to rely on one another to navigate a river, set up a tent, or together paddle a 34-foot Montreal canoe among the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior.

As one 13-year-old girl living in foster care exclaimed, “I learned to be more tolerant and how good it feels to trust.” A foster-care group leader also commented, “I learn more about the kids that I work with and build a better relationship with them in a week at Amnicon than I do in a month of regular contact with them.” Relationships are built when individuals take the risk of opening themselves to new experiences and challenges. Outdoor ministry teaches all alike that God’s creation is a wise and humble part of the community, worthy of fostering a relationship.

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