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Blog - Black Rock Retreat

4 Keys to a Dynamic School Retreat

01/05/17  Permalink 

Do you want a chance to cut through the student cliques in your hallways?

Have you wondered how to get your students more focused on the things that matter rather than the "he said she said" chatter or the latest gossip that has hit the lockers this week? The real question is this...

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Citizens of Heaven: Reflections on Summer Camp 2016

10/07/16  Permalink 

This world is not our home.

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." – Philippians 3:20-21

This was my 7th year as the Summer Camp Director at Black Rock Retreat. I was a counselor/program staff for 6 years prior to that and a camper for 8 years prior to that. You might say Black Rock Retreat is like a home to me! Many whose lives have intersected with Black Rock Retreat have felt similarly and have used words such as "safe," "refuge," "favorite place in the world," and "home" to describe Black Rock Retreat. What is it about Black Rock Retreat that can make people feel so at home within the community or within the silence here?

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This is Ministry

06/06/16  Permalink 

This morning, I turned off of Route 472 and headed up the driveway at Black Rock Retreat. How many times have I driven this path...transported by my parents as a young camper, in "my" sporty Camaro as a summer camp counselor, with my husband as a retreat guest, and for the past 14 years as a part-time team member?

Sometimes the sky has been overcast, and other times, the blue sky is the perfect backdrop as the sun filters through the trees. No matter what the season or weather, if I take the time to notice, I can sense God's peace. He is here and intent on bringing healing, comfort, and peace to all who seek Him. This is ministry.

How many guests have entered the property in the past 60+ years? It's hard to consider exactly how many precious souls have come to Black Rock Retreat in need of the peace that only God can give. Some carefully hide their pain behind a smile and expensive clothes. Campers bring distress from broken homes, abusive relationships, and low self-esteem. Couples in distress, struggling to find unity and peace, attend a House on the Rock sponsored Marriage Intensive Weekend.

Black Rock Retreat team members have seasons of distress and struggles, too. Just today, I shared a struggle with a co-worker and she responded immediately with concern, a hug, and prayer. God is here and intent on bringing healing, comfort, and peace to all who seek Him! This is ministry.

One of the core values at Black Rock Retreat is MINISTRY. Our desire is to provide an atmosphere where all ages can experience spiritual and personal growth, restoration, and encouragement. From the calm of the woodland and the Black Rock blue sky at the lake, to the ministry that takes place in the Maranatha Retreat Center, and all of the lives that are touched through Summer Camp, Outdoor Education, Family Camp, and the Silent Sanctuary Retreats, ministry happens here on a daily basis.

Has your life been enriched through ministry at Black Rock Retreat? Feel free to comment below. We'd love to hear your story!

-Nancy Engel, Adult & Family Director

The Naming Of Cabins

11/30/15  Permalink 

If you thought the cabin naming announcements were were wrong! Yes, the new cabins will be called Red-Tail and Goldfinch for the guys, and Mourning Dove and Nighthawk for the girls, but the naming process brought about an interesting discussion among our department leaders that will affect some of the existing cabins! Read on to find out more!

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God Has Mark

02/25/15  Permalink 

Mark (left) and Isaak playing a game at Winter Camp

By Isaak Ross - Winter Camp youth leader

Proverbs 3:5 says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." For many Christians this can be the most daunting challenge in God's word. Especially when you have a brother with a disability, spending his first night away from home at 19 years old at a winter retreat. Mark Ross was born on December 4, 1995. He was the third boy born into a happy, loving Christian home. It didn't take long for God to shake things up. The oldest brother was in third grade and I, the middle brother, was in first grade, when Mark (almost two) fell and hit his head on the corner of a fish tank resulting in a trip to the emergency room. After a traumatic brain injury and a right hemispheric stroke, Mark made it through despite the doctor's prediction that "he wouldn't be worth much." This accident tested my family to the core. Times like these cause one to question, "Why God!? How could this happen?"

The answer is my absolute favorite character trait of God. Romans 8:28 states: "And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good." God used Mark's fall for an amazing purpose. Not only did He create an amazing young man of God in Mark, but God shaped an entire family. Through Mark's journey, God has affected so many others by showing His faithfulness. It remains a big challenge for our family each time Mark takes another step towards independence. It was an enormous act of faith when my parents decided to allow Mark to go on this winter retreat at Black Rock. God couldn't have picked a better place for Mark's next step. My family lives about a mile away from Black Rock and we have known Josh Foley (the Summer Camp/Winter Camp Director) since Mark had his accident. I was incredibly proud of my parents' faith to allow Mark to go, but I didn't realize how challenging it would be for me as a youth leader on the trip to trust as well.

As soon as Mark and I arrived, he met his first trial. Since it was winter camp, the path to our cabin was very icy. Mark has absolutely terrible balance (no offense, Mark) and I knew he was going to fall multiple times this weekend. I could picture my Mom if she was there saying something like, "Welp! We tried it but this place is not safe! We're going home, Mark, maybe next year." But Mom wasn't there to protect Mark this time, it was just me. I told him, "you are going to fall, but you'll be alright. We can make it across." And we did! Mark ended up falling only twice that weekend which was a miracle in itself!

But my real test of trusting God came during Saturday afternoon free time. We were given the choice between various activities until dinner. I expected to use my older brother powers of persuasion to have him do what I wanted to do which I didn't think would be a problem since Mark is usually eager to follow big brother's lead. Then God threw the curveball of the weekend. I couldn't believe it but Mark was dead-set on playing a Black Rock version of Giant Dutch Blitz which neither myself nor anyone else in my group wanted to play. Surprisingly, my older brother persuasion had no effect on Mark's decision. He was going to stay in the chapel and play the game while I decided to go play basketball. As Mark's protective older brother, the last thing I want to do is leave him in a situation where he would feel unsure of what to do or could possibly come into harm. My instinct was to find someone we knew in the chapel and ask them to keep an eye on Mark and make sure he stayed safe. However, I couldn't find anyone, and it forced me to realize that Mark would be alright and he wasn't alone. The God of the universe was in control of Mark and He could take care of him better than I could. So I walked away. I left him there to play Giant Dutch Blitz and I was scared out of my mind. As I walked away I turned my eyes, brimming with tears, upward and said, "God, you got him, I know you'll take care of him."

A little before the Dutch Blitz game was scheduled to end I decided to walk back and see how he was doing. I prayed as I walked back, trying my best to trust that he was alright. God's timing was perfect in that moment. The exact second I saw Mark walking out of the chapel, was the exact moment he needed me again. Mark isn't the best with directions (no offense again) and promptly walked out and began walking in the complete opposite direction of where he should have been going. He was oblivious to what was going on and not sure where to go next. So I yelled, "Hey Mark! Do you know where you're going?" To which he replied, "Uhh not really," with a sheepish grin. Fortunately, I was there to guide him to the next activity. God tested my faith and then placed me in the perfect spot for my voice to carry and lead my brother to safety. If I had arrived one minute later who knows where he would have ended up. Isaiah 40:11, "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."

Mark made it through his weekend away at Black Rock's Winter Camp because God was in control the whole time. He let Mark fall on the ice because He knew there would be people to lift him back up. He let him stray because He knew that Mark would be led back. And yes, God let him go through the accident when he was two because He knew what he would become. At nineteen years old, Mark has been homecoming King, he works part time at a greenhouse, he serves at Celebrate Recovery weekly and leaves everyone he comes in contact with a little more joy. Oh yeah, and Mark recommitted his life to Christ at Winter Camp that weekend. Not because anyone told him he should, not because he saw his brother doing it, but because God called upon and he answered, because God has Mark.

A Camper's Essay About Summer Camp

11/25/14  Permalink 

We recently received an email from the mother of a summer camper, Damian Simmons. She wrote "I just thought I would share with you a short essay that my son wrote for his school project. Of all the topics that he could have chosen to write about he chose his summer camp experiences. It's the rough draft so it has a few errors but it put a smile on my face to know that his experience at Black Rock has made such a positive impression on him. Hope this puts a smile on your face."

After reading Damian's delightful essay, it certainly did put a smile on our face! And when asked Damian for his permission to publish his essay, his mother said that it put a smile on his face too. You can read his whole essay below, enjoy! (We made a few minor corrections to spellings and factual info).

Damian (second from front in the middle) with his cabinmates and counselors in Kingfisher

Camp Black Rock Retreat
by Damian Simmons
Age 14

My first time at camp Black Rock was an interesting experience. There's a game called Gaga and a Gaga court to play it on. This game is an Israeli version of dodgeball. The rules were pretty simple so I never played it, If the ball hits you below your waist you're out. When you first arrive at the camp you have to wait in long line, reason being so they can verify you on their list and to check for lice. Second, the counselor tells you which cabin your going to be in. Finally after telling you what cabin your going to be in, they cheer. The counselor takes you to your cabin and then allows you to pick which bed you want to sleep in. You also learn a lot about God which is always enlightening.

This place was absolutely amazing on the first day we did activates. There was a man made lake with a slide on a large steep hill. The slide was leading to the lake and as soon as you hit the water you skipped across. There was a bouncy in the middle of the lake that you jump on and it launches people off of it. Around the lake there was a sand like beach setting, and they also had tubes that you use to float in the lake. There was a raft that you could play rock the boat and king of the hill in. It was also fun dunking my counselors, I got just about all of them. I never could get a counselor named Reuben but no one could get him. To get to the bouncy in the middle of the lake you had to pass a swimming test. I always pass the swimming test because I'm like a fish in water.

At the pool there was basketball courts and volleyball courts in and out of the pool. The pool went up to eight feet so it was good for diving. The pool is pretty big so you have a lot of space to swim around. It was split in half there's a deep end and a shallow side, the volleyball court is on the shallow side. Some days we went for a "night swim" thats what they called it, at the night swim they also served popcorn and their was a fire just encase you get cold. There are also chairs the type you can lay back in just encase you don't want to get in. In the pool I swam to the other side while holding my breath under water the whole time.

At the camp they have "classes" which are various activities, these classes always involve you and your sister cabin. The classes are not all bad at least not all of them. Drama is terrible the only thing you do in that class is act like your suffering from a mental illness. Pool class is ok but instead of just letting you swim you have to do a bunch of games. Archery is fun especially if you challenge your friends,the first one to get a bullseye wins I would always lose. I also found it weird that my friends two years in a row where in my cabin. They also visited a part of the creek that was on the camp grounds.

I enjoyed writing about camp Black Rock. I wish I could talk about more thing but it would take to long. Like talking about the zip line or rope course! I hoped you enjoyed my essay as much as I did. I would love to go to this place again. It was very fun and entertaining. It is cool that you get to learn more about God there too.

Thank you Damian! Now we just need a different camper to write about their positive experiences with drama class...

Essay Contest Winner Announced!

04/29/14  Permalink 

We'd like to offer our heartfelt congratulations to Sarah Keeler, age 10, for her wonderful essay telling us what Black Rock means to her and what she's looking forward to doing this summer!

As stated in our post announcing the contest, Sarah will receive $20 to use at the snack shop this summer, and she will also receive a free BRR T-shirt. Congratulations, Sarah!

Below is her essay in its entirety. Enjoy!

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Black Rock Retreat Announces First-Ever Essay Contest!

04/07/14  Permalink 

Are you coming to Black Rock for summer camp this year? Have you been here in past years? Do you want the world to know how much you like camp?

If so, we have something exciting to tell you!

We are running our first-ever essay contest. Here's the deal: you have to tell us, in the range of 300 (min) to 1000 (max) words, why you love coming to Black Rock. Additionally, we'd like you to share with us what you're looking forward to this upcoming summer.

Write the essay in whatever format you like: MS Word, plain notepad, or within the body of the email you submit to us. Send it along before midnight of Friday, April 25, 2014. We will go read the essays and determine two winners and announce those winners on or before Friday, May 2, 2014.

Alongside having their essays posted on this very website for all to read, these two winners will receive a $20 gift certificate for the snack shop that can be used this summer, as well as a free T-shirt!

Campers of all ages are encouraged to participate! For our younger campers, feel free to have a parent or older relative help you craft your essay to make it the best you can. We will take the camper's age into account in our judging process. We will select one winner from the age group of 2nd grade to 6th grade, and another winner from the age group of 7th grade to 12th grade.

Please submit your essay, along with your full name and age (including school grade that the camper will be entering in Autumn 2014), to the following email address: – with the subject line reading "Essay Contest Submission."

If you have any questions before submitting your essay, feel free to ask them here, on Facebook, or with the email address above, and we'll do our best to help you with whatever query you have. We look forward to hearing from you!

The Legend of Blackbird

04/02/14  Permalink 

Shilo Fink (right) and co-counselor Kevin Snader (left) represent all things Blackbird by rockin' out on the roof.

Editor's note: we are not actually promoting the idea of animal spirits or animism in general. This is a lighthearted blog post capturing some of the fun mythos we've developed at Black Rock Retreat. Enjoy!

There are many mythical creatures rumored to roam the grounds of Black Rock Retreat. No, we don't have any Loch Ness Monsters or Sasquatches. But we do have evil snapping turtles, moose of various colors, a "Shadow Beaver," and more.

There is also a certain mythology surrounding each of the twelve cabins. It is said that each cabin has an "aura" or "personality" that is linked to the nature of the bird for which they are named: Cardinal, Robin, Chickadee, etc. It is also said that each summer when the counselors arrive, the cabins choose their Senior Counselors (not the other way around) based on how well each counselor's personalities match that cabin's aura. This is always an exciting process, but something special happened in the summer 2013. One of the guy cabins, Bluebird, did not choose a counselor! In fact, Bluebird was nowhere to be found. Instead, a new cabin appeared in its place.

That cabin was Blackbird.

The cabin itself took on the new name, complete with a new sign.

I asked Blackbird senior counselor Shilo Fink about what happened this summer.

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He Doesn't Give Up

02/24/14  Permalink 

First of all, my apologies for the month of inactivity on the blog. We're planning for big things, and that planning distracted me from bringing you some decent content.

I recently scanned the FM dials and came across a Top 40 hit that I felt the need to talk about, because it's so good and so powerful.

The song is called "Say Something," by singer-songwriter duo "A Great Big World" with guest vocals from Christina Aguilera. The simple, unforgettable line that is the song's start and the key words of the refrain are "say something, I'm giving up on you."

It has all the trappings of powerful pop songwriting. Simple piano, string ensemble, a chord progression that most evangelical Christians know all too well (vi, IV, I, V). But the lyrics stand out most. We're hearing the story of a relationship that's reached an apparently inevitable conclusion. A break-up. A divorce. An estranged relative. A loved one passing away. The music video showcases three situations where the grief and loss are all too familiar. It's unlikely that any of you reading this is unfamiliar with these feelings in one way or another.

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Summer Camp 2014 Theme Reveal (with Josh Foley)

01/21/14  Permalink 

Josh with wife, Bethany, and son, Liam.

If you've attended Black Rock Retreat's summer camp in the past, it's likely that you've already received a brochure for the 2014 summer camp program in the mail. But, if you haven't, or even if you have and you just want to better understand this summer's theme, you'll want to read on.

For this very special interview, I had the pleasure of interviewing a man I respect a great deal. He's been the Summer Camp Director at BRR for the past four years, with 2014 being his fifth year on the job. So let's just get right to it, shall we?

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2013 (with Matt Butera)

01/13/14  Permalink 

Last summer. It really wasn't that long ago, was it? For some of us, it feels like just yesterday. For others, they can recount so many important events between August and December of this past year, perhaps it feels like a whole new era.

In summer 2013, the theme was "HELP!" with theme verse Romans 7:24-25...

"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (NIV)

Before getting to the interview, I'll also reference one of my favorite verses wherein someone cries out for help. It is a man whose son is in desperate need of healing, and Jesus says that he can heal the son, if only the father believes he can. The father's response:

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24, NIV)

For our penultimate Summer Camp Countdown interview, we turn to Junior Counselor Matt Butera. This year was Matt's first year on staff, after many years of attending Black Rock Retreat as a camper. Matt talks about this transition from camper to counselor and the personal challenges he went through, and how he turned to a Higher source of strength for help.

Please enjoy the following interview!

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2012 (with Peter Fenton)

01/10/14  Permalink 

Summer 2012 wasn't all that long ago. But that didn't make it any easier for our interview guest, Peter Fenton, to unpack all the memories from his first summer on staff.

In 2012, the theme was "Backward." That did not mean "wear your shirt backwards," though I'm told that did happen a lot. To learn more about that theme, and what all happened in summer 2012, we turn to Peter. Enjoy!

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2011 (with Lindsay Martin)

01/08/14  Permalink 

In 2011, director Josh Foley went for a kind of meta-theme with "What's The Theme?" as the theme. Until I conducted the following interview, I was never really sure what this year's theme was all about.

So I got my answers from Lindsay Martin, who served as Program Assistant that year. If you don't know Lindsay, I feel bad for you, but it's possible you may also know two of her sisters: Jasmine and Morgan. They, too, have served different summers at Black Rock Retreat.

Want to know what "What's The Theme?" is all about? Want to hear it from a great inside source at BRR? Keep reading, I'm sure you'll enjoy!

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2010 (with Jacob Ragsdale)

01/06/14  Permalink 

In 2010, the Summer Camp Director torch was passed from Dave Bouffard to Josh Foley. Josh, a long-time staffer who got his start in 2004 as a Junior Counselor, would now be developing the summer camp program. For his first summer, he used the theme "In Pursuit" – based on Galatians 5:25:

"If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit." (ESV)

Like Josh before him, a young man by the name of Jacob Ragsdale was transitioning from long-time camper to Junior Counselor. It was his second year of JC-hood in 2010, and in the following interview, Jacob joins me in exploring that year's theme, as well as his personal growth experiences, an experience with a particularly challenging camper, and updates on his personal life going forward.

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2009 (with Dave Bouffard)

01/02/14  Permalink 

Over the span of five years, Summer Camp Director Dave Bouffard worked hard to improve an already-stellar summer camp experience at Black Rock Retreat. He didn't just tinker around the edges: he went in deep, analyzed the structure and logistical details and compared it to the philosophy we were supposed to hold as a ministry to the campers. By his final summer (2009), there had been many changes.

What hadn't changed during that time was the guidance of the Holy Spirit that many, many men and women called to work at Black Rock Retreat had relied on. Every step of the way, even when we're unsure of ourselves, we know it's not just "ourselves" on the frontline.

In the past four interviews, each of the interviewees referred to Dave: his leadership, his positive influence on the camp program, and his ability to mentor the other staff members. For 2009, with the theme "Like Father, Like Son," we now turn to Dave himself for insight on his last year as Summer Camp Director.

(Note: this summer, there was no specific theme verse, though John 14:18, 17:3, and Genesis 1:27 were commonly-used, and the Latin "Imago Dei" was often explained to campers as well.)

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2008 (with Cliff and Kat Eberly)

12/17/13  Permalink 

I met Cliff Eberly and Kat Brown at Black Rock Retreat in the summer 2002 (theme: "Search and Rescue"). I worked alongside them two more years. Then, the three of us all parted ways, and never were we to return on summer staff.

Well, that's not entirely true.

After Kat and Cliff got married, they were able to work out the timing and the logistics so that they could have one more summer together. That summer was 2008. It was Dave Bouffard's fourth summer as Summer Camp Director. The theme that year? "TRUTH: Setting You Free Since Genesis 1:1."

There was no individual verse for that theme, though the "setting you free" statement goes back to John 8:32:

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (NIV)

Currently, Cliff and Kat reside in Australia, and recently celebrated the birth of their first child! We talk about this child, as well as their roles in that memorable 2008 summer, in the following interview.

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White as Snow

12/15/13  Permalink 

As I pen this article, I'm looking out my window at the third snowfall of the season. Every one of us probably has a hundred things to say about snow: memories from childhood, struggles with driving through it, serene evenings staring at a covered hillside and frosty tree branches.

Even with all of the grueling struggles that come with snow, there's something about snow that feels downright magical. The way it reflects sunlight, the way it evenly covers the entire landscape, and its brilliant glowing whiteness. Scripture only mentions snow a handful of times (as Israel isn't a super-typical place for snow, though there has been some record snowfall there in the last few days as well). Arguably, the most famous verse to mention snow is this beautiful passage from Isaiah 1:18 (NKJV):

"Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

The prophet Isaiah reminds us what God promised and has already done for us. I could call our lives and our society "messy," – if I were feeling more pessimistic, I could go so far as to say "ruinous" – and yet, God's grace is able to cover and clean the mess we've made. And suddenly, somehow, the peace that passes understanding can put a blanket of white over our lives.

So when I look out my window today and see the landscape covered in a brilliant, glistening snowfall, I remember that God gives that to us as a metaphorical image of what He can and indeed has done for us, in our hearts, and in our communities.

Summer Camp Countdown: 2007 (with Wes Foley)

12/06/13  Permalink 

In the summer of 2007, a young, enthusiastic Wes Foley returned to Black Rock Retreat for his second summer on staff. The previous year, he was a Junior Counselor. This year, he would be Senior Counselor of Paradise.

The theme of 2007, per its stylized t-shirt, was "2:20." Specifically, Galatians 2:20 ...

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV)

This verse, with its strong emphasis on our identity in Christ, had a special relevance for the youngest brother in the Foley family. Many of you may know Wes as the younger brother of the current Summer Camp Director, Josh Foley. So, it is with pleasure that I present to you our interview with Wes Foley regarding his experiences in the summer of 2007.

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2006 (with Bethany Foley)

12/03/13  Permalink 

In the year 2006, an adventurous young lass traveled all the way from Canada to Quarryville, PA to work as a counselor at Black Rock Retreat.

Years later, she would marry the current Summer Camp Director, Josh Foley.

Today, we have an interview with Bethany (Hochstedler) Foley about her first summer at Black Rock Retreat. The theme for 2006 was "HYDRATION," With the following Bible verse associated:

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink." - John 7:37 (NASB)

In the following interview, I ask Bethany to give us some practical advice on how to stay hydrated -- or, to put it another way, I ask her what all took place in the summer 2006.

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2005 (with Sherry Lewis)

11/29/13  Permalink 

It was a big year for Black Rock Retreat in 2005. There was a "changing of the guard" with the hiring of Dave Bouffard as Summer Camp Coordinator (a position he held until the end of 2009, when he and his family headed to Uganda to work with Musana Camps). On a personal note, it was my first summer not at BRR, after four years on staff (and four years as a camper prior to that). I always wondered what that summer was like. Now's a good chance to look into the past and see how it went!

The theme that year? "Love God, Love People!" Based on Jesus' words in Matthew 22:36-40, which are as follows (NLT):

"Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?"

Jesus replied, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."

To discuss this theme, from Summer Camp 2005, as well as some poignant events from that summer, we have Sherry (Rineer) Lewis. Sherry currently serves as Office Assistant and Summer Camp Registrar. But from 2003 to 2006, she worked each summer in a different capacity. In 2005, she was the Senior Counselor of Oriole B. She recounts her experiences, including those relevant to the summer theme, in the following interview. Those of you who know Sherry will not be surprised by the bubbly spirit that shines through her testimony here. The rest of you are in for a treat.

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2004 (with Mike Almquist)

11/26/13  Permalink 

Summer 2004. "The Quest." The theme verse, commonly referred to as "The Great Commission," was Matthew 28:18-20. From the NIV:

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

This year was my fourth and final year serving on summer staff. It was also the final year that my childhood best friend, Mike Almquist, was on summer staff (as Senior Counselor of Robin). If it weren't for Mike, I'd have never known about Black Rock Retreat: he invited me to come with him as a camper in the summer of 1995. Since then, it's held a special place in both of our hearts.

And now, without further ado, our interview with Mike regarding the summer of 2004.

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Summer Camp Countdown: 2003 (with Steve Reed)

11/20/13  Permalink 

Alright folks, the fun begins now!! Between now and sometime in January (when the summer 2014 theme is revealed), we are going to be revisiting each summer camp theme and going in-depth with that theme with the help of other summer staffers who worked that summer. We'll talk anything and everything: the theme title, the associated Bible verse, the logo, the skits from that summer, ways that theme impacted campers (and staff!), and much more!

We're starting at 2003. That year, the theme was "Lights, Camera, Action!" (stylized "lightscameraction"). The associated theme verse was Matthew 5:13-16, the "salt and light" section of the Sermon on the Mount, coming just after the Beatitudes. From the ESV:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

The summer 2003 staff included one of my personal favorite individuals, a man who had a strong impact on my worldview and outlook on life: Steve Reed. For Steve, 2003 was his fifth and final summer on staff; that year he served as men's director under summer camp coordinator Jamie Sensenig. The following interview text is a pared-down adaptation of an hour-long conversation I had with Steve, who currently resides in Arizona with his wife and daughter, over Skype.

As a disclaimer, we'd like to note that the "salt challenge" discussed in this interview is a variant of the saltine cracker challenge or the cinnamon challenge (documented here). From a health standpoint, it is worth noting that swallowing salt straight and not vomiting it can lead to kidney damage. Do not attempt!

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Living For ... Applause?

11/14/13  Permalink 

Many campers already know: *Playing Ga-Ga* tends to be a more rewarding experience than listening to Lady Gaga.

On occasion, I'll peruse the samplings of top 40 radio hits on the FM dial. One of the current hits is Lady Gaga's "Applause," where she explicitly states and repeats that she lives for applause. Upon hearing this, I thought to myself that while I appreciate the pop star's honesty, and that I can relate to this feeling, I knew that this was a dangerous road to go down.

Not two hours later, on my twitter feed, I saw author Jon Acuff post a blog entry about this very same thing.

It feels so good to win the approval of other men (and women). The moment of applause, where everyone is saying "You're great! You did it!" can feel wonderful. But it's also the most fleeting, ephemeral feeling in the world. And it simply cannot be the basis upon which we live our lives.

This is a hard lesson, one that people-pleasers like me have to learn and re-learn. Our foundation is in our Lord and Savior and His unconditional love. We do not need to win His affection, for He already loves us ... even when we're not at our best, when we don't deserve any accolades.

For some Christians, it's tempting to allow our Christian friends, our congregation, even our church leaders be our sole affirmation. As long as they're telling us that we're on the right track, we must be. And I'm not discounting the value of affirmation. But if you're letting their praise be the thing that lifts you out of the depths, you're bound to be let down. Only God's unfailing love is sure to hold you up, when no one is around to clap and cheer for you, or when you're not performing in peak condition at whatever it is you do in life (personally, professionally, as a hobby, whatever!).

I like to think of man's praise as one of many earthly treasures. And we know what Jesus had to say about that (Matthew 6:19). I urge you not to live for man's praise. Live for, and live with, God's unconditional love and grace.

Silent Sanctuary 101

11/11/13  Permalink 

Nancy Engel is in the know, hence why I interviewed her about yet another winter-season program at BRR.

Last time we spoke with Nancy Engel, we discussed the upcoming Winter Family Camp Weekend.

A few weekends ago, Black Rock hosted their first "Silent Sanctuary" retreat of the season. These retreats offer a special opportunity for individuals, couples, or small groups to get away from the daily grind and experience a small piece of that "peace that passes understanding" (Phil 4:7). In the following Q&A session, Nancy reveals more about the nature of the Silent Sanctuary, and gives some logistical details for those of you interested in attending another of the sessions in the near future.

Continue reading...

If You Missed the Banquet, I Feel Sorry For You

11/07/13  Permalink 

Maintaining Praise (extended group version with Nancy Engel as fifth voice and piano!)

That isn't some veiled reference to the Song of Solomon verse about being welcomed to His banqueting table.

No, I'm talking about BRR's annual banquet, held at the Willow Valley DoubleTree.

This banquet has been happening consistently, every year, for decades. And I'd never come out to one before. I thought you had to be part of some sort of exclusive club and get invited. As it turns out, anyone with a passion for Black Rock Retreat can register and attend. I wish I'd known earlier in life! In any case, it was my first time attending the annual BRR banquet, and I'd like to report what I witnessed.

First of all, there was "Maintaining Praise." These guys have been flying under the radar for ... basically, forever (do a Google Search, you won't find them). These four gentlemen, all full-time members of the BRR maintenance staff, sing in four-part harmony like pros. They are pros. There's no denying it. Accompanied on piano (with some vocals as well!) from Nancy Engel, these four guys, whom I've known for decades, blew my mind by demonstrating a talent I didn't know they had. They sang songs with original lyrics about the joys of summer camp, the perseverance required for a lengthy bike ride (BR2RB), and – after the main speaker shared a moving and serious story – some traditional, heartfelt songs as well. Their unique balance of buoyant humor and sincerity definitely set the tone for the entire evening.

Many people stood to speak that evening. A young, burgeoning ministry from Lancaster city called Mountain Conquerors (led by LHOP's Matt Kroll) offered testimony as to how they were able to partner with Black Rock, and how Black Rock's founders Frank Enck (and his son, Danny, who was in attendance that evening) and the Mountain Conquerors ministry had a similar vision to bring youth from Lancaster out in nature to experience God through his creation. One of the members of the Mountain Conquerors, a young boy named Devon, also took the microphone to speak about an event he attended at Black Rock and what about it stood out to him – feeling he was at a "first-class" camp, enjoying the food, and wanting to give up on the ropes course but learning perseverance through the instructor.

The new Outdoor Education director, Titus McGrath, rose to speak about his first experience at Black Rock Retreat nearly a decade ago, and how that first encounter would eventually lead him to accepting the position he now holds. He ended his time of sharing by stating: "What I do [in my job] doesn't just affect now: it affects eternity."

Finally, Jay Denlinger spoke briefly about the BR2RB bike-a-thon and introduced the main speaker, Mahlon Stoltzfus. The subject of Mahlon's talk was the tragic loss of his son Brent in 2008, and how Mahlon and his wife have learned to follow Paul's guidance to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18), even during the long and difficult grieving process. Brent's legacy is a touching one ... I cannot bring myself to fully recount Mahlon's story, what he learned over the weeks and months after the accident. But I think all of us in attendance that evening looked at our light and momentary troubles, compared to the awful experience of losing a son, and realized what it really means to give thanks in all circumstances (as opposed to for all circumstances).

On a personal note, the banquet also afforded me the opportunity to see so many old friends and acquaintances. It felt like a big family reunion. Of course, there were many people I didn't know as well, and they too are supporters of Black Rock Retreat, who know and understand the importance of this mission and ministry founded in 1954.

Perhaps, next year, you'll be one of those in attendance? If Black Rock Retreat was/is an important part of your life, it's certainly worth considering.

Family Camp Is Back ... For a Winter Weekend!

11/01/13  Permalink 

Will Nancy's hope/prediction of "no snow" come true? Either way, it's going to be great!

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Black Rock's own Adult & Family Director, Nancy Engel, to talk about some of the upcoming events on the calendar. The one that really got my attention? The Winter Family Camp Weekend.

In 2012, my family attended the Family Camp week that takes place in August. That was the program's second year, and I really enjoyed it. There was a great balance of activities for the whole family and opportunities for child care so the adults could be challenged by speakers and get some quality time as a couple. Needless to say, our whole family of five was blessed by the experience.

So when I heard that Black Rock was going to attempt a compact version of this wonderful experience in a Winter Weekend format, I had to learn more. What follows is a candid conversation I had with Nancy about the Winter Weekend.

Patrick: The first question that comes to mind: why a Winter Weekend event for families? What gave you the idea to do this?

Nancy: It's so popular and well-loved in the summer; I wanted to give families the opportunity to have a tiny taste of it in the winter!

Patrick: What activities can we expect from this weekend?

Nancy: We have a speaker, Michael Guertin (of CABOOSE! Ministries) coming to speak, and there's no doubt that his style and presentation will be perfect for all ages.

The Outdoor Education staff, alongside some returning Summer Camp staff, will be providing a lot of the fun activities. There's talk of making doughnuts on Sunday morning. We intend to have a Gingerbread house contest, where each family can work together to build a house and compete against other families to see who can make the best one.

Patrick: This event is taking place December 6-8. That seems pretty early for a winter event. Why not January or February?

Nancy: When we looked into what weekend best suited the staff and wouldn't conflict with other events (such as Jr High and Sr High Winter Camp, and large groups booking the retreat center) we actually found that this was the only suitable time! We know it's early, but we think it'll still work to our advantage.

Patrick: Related to the timing, I have to ask: would you prefer the family winter weekend come with snow, or no snow?

Nancy: I'd prefer no snow!! But either way, we'll be having a great time indoors and outdoors!!


I have to thank Nancy for letting me take up so much of her time to pick her brain about these events. If you're interested in registering for the Winter Family Camp Weekend, click here to download the brochure and registration form. My family and I hope to see you there!

Black Rock Has a Blog?!

10/31/13  Permalink 

Patrick & Jennifer Gann
Blog author Patrick Gann with his wife Jennifer.

Hello everyone! This is Patrick Gann, here to announce the birth of a fun new piece of Black Rock Retreat's website: a blog! Administered by yours truly!

The purpose of this blog is threefold:

1. To highlight recent and upcoming events at Black Rock Retreat
2. To provide a space to discuss summer camp, outdoor education, and retreat group experiences, past and present
3. To offer devotional materials and insight

Among these blog posts, you'll also want to look forward to a series of posts that will serve as a countdown to the 2014 summer camp theme reveal. We're turning the clock all the way back to 2003, revisiting that summer's theme, and then checking out every summer from that year forward until we reach 2014 in January.

We'll also be taking a look at some of the programs Black Rock offers during the Fall and Winter months, so be sure to check back often!

Finally, a note about myself; like many of you reading this, I'm a long-time friend and partner of Black Rock Retreat and its mission. I served four years on its summer staff, worked with Outdoor Education on the ropes course, and have volunteered for a variety of service and speaking opportunities. Staying connected to this wonderful ministry has been a blessing for me and my family, and I hope that this blog – alongside our Facebook page and newly created Twitter page – give you an avenue to stay connected as well.

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