By Ben Herr |

Summer Camp Countdown: 2009 (with Dave Bouffard)

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.)

Patrick: When you put together the “Like Father, Like Son” theme … why did you choose the imagery of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel … the one of the one hand reaching out to the other as the T-shirt design?

Dave: As the theme was taking shape, I really wanted to go for the dynamic of God the Father reaching down to us in love. To me, this is the core of the Christian life. But I didn’t want to just convey the stereotypical “God as Gandalf” image: white beard, old, authoritative white male. So many people know the full image, but we focused in on just the hands, because it captures the intimacy and affection of the Father through touch.

Patrick: I suppose there’s also the matter of trying to fit the entire image on the shirt: it would’ve been a space limitation.

Dave: Well, that, and … in the original painting, they’re nude, so we chose not to use the whole image. The hands alone were definitely sufficient. It was subtle, but clear.

Patrick: By 2009, you’d already worked four summers. You’d seen thousands of campers come through, and you’d worked with dozens of teenagers and college-aged people as staffers. How did your prior interactions with all of these people also lead you to choose the “Like Father, Like Son” theme?

Dave: A few different things here.

Something that was really growing in me, influenced by my camp experience in general, was this reality hitting me: this thing we call “the Christian life” is so much more than just religious obligation or performance-based living. It’s really all about a relationship with God. I always strived, to try to help use camp – its program, the staff – to help the campers and staff grow in that relationship.

I didn’t want them to just have another fun experience, another “week with devotions” that talked about positive, healthy things. I wanted to help them get down to the core of who God is who we are to Him and in Him. To experience the reality and joy of a relationship with God.

In this environment, you get to know other people so quickly and so deeply, more so than in just about any other situation (often even including college). The environment of camp draws us together in relationship. So as I worked with the staff, and the staff worked with the campers, it just resonated within me: this truth that the connection of love and relationship between us and God was what really mattered.

Second, as the Director, I knew I served as a sort of father-figure for the staff and the campers. Our relationship with our earthly fathers influences our relationship with our heavenly Father. I wanted everyone to explore what a relationship with God as Father really is and experience it. So how should I know how to fill that role properly? I had to turn to my heavenly Father. I got to play both roles, as both a father and a son.

Patrick: Do you remember any particularly poignant moments from that summer that you’d like to share with the readers?

Dave: Whew! That’s a tough one. I feel like I can’t even remember yesterday, let alone 2009 and all those summers blend in together.

One thing that popped into my mind – and I’m pretty sure it was this summer – I wrote a script for a dramatization during teen week. Not a humorous skit, but a really deep one. Wes Foley and Tika Siburt were the ones that acted it out. They were a married couple, and they’d lost their child in a tragic way. In this dramatization, Wes was primarily angry, and he’s angry at God.

I remember some of his lines were like, “Where are you? You say you’re love! You say you’re a caring father. Someone is responsible for my kid’s death, and I want justice, I want vengeance! How could you let this happen?”

It was very heavy, very intense and resonated strongly with just about everyone. They did a great job with it.

In the end, the main thrust and message of that story was: “You say you want justice when something bad happens to you and you blame God for it. But if you want God to be fair and bring justice to evil and bad things that happen in this world, does that include your own sin? Your own bad choices? Do you REALLY want justice and fairness from God … when that applies to you too? Or do you want mercy and grace and forgiveness?” From there we explained the truth of who God is in that because He IS just and the wages of sin is death, He sent Jesus to die for us and pay the penalty. That’s what makes the Gospel Good News. Out of love, He provided a way for us to escape the justice we demand that would lead to death. Man’s bad choices is what leads to pain and suffering in this world, not God’s. God offers hope by grace through faith in Christ in the midst of it. That’s the reality of this God we call Father. That’s the greatest demonstration of love, because God IS love.

It was a very powerful night. Lots of campers and staff made comments that night about how powerful it was and how it resonated with questions and emotions they had towards God and helped them see Him in a different light, which really impacted them.

Patrick: So, 2009 was your final summer working at BRR. After that, you headed out with your wife and three children to Uganda to work at Musana Camps with the New Hope Uganda organization. As you left camp that year with the “Like Father, Like Son” message in mind … in what way did you use that message to work with the youth of Uganda?

Dave: In the fall of 2008, I went to visit New Hope Uganda. It had a significant impact on me and the 2009 theme. I saw that New Hope’s focus was very much on the fatherhood of God, working with orphans, family, and growing up without fathers. Their theme verse was Psalm 68:5-6 – God is a “father to the fatherless” and “defender of widows” who “sets the lonely in families.” That had a big impact on me and led to me really pondering the Fatherhood of God, what is manhood, what is family, what does it mean to be a father to others? All of that was swirling in my head throughout 2008 and 2009.

And this was another major part of the 2009 theme too: discipleship and the Great Commission. As I grow in my relationship with Father and live in the reality of His love into a more gracious space as His son, that love then flows out of me and drives me to love others and interact with them the way the Father loves me. “Like Father, Like Son.” So discipleship was a key piece of the message.

And all of those themes, I carried them all to Africa, and it was quite relevant. Poverty, war, and disease creates millions of orphans in Uganda. And when you have no parents, and you’re by yourself, you become selfish, because it’s all about survival. There’s no love, there’s no guidance, there’s just … the ugly side of the human spirit being revealed. It’s so painful.

So we went with a heart to show them who the Father is. You’re not an orphan when you turn to God, in fact we are ADOPTED into His family! In Ephesians 3, we’re told that God is our Father, that through Him the term “Father” and the entire family finds its existence and meaning. This whole message about the Fatherhood of God was huge for these kids.

I saw it change them, but it wasn’t easy. It was hard! It took time! They had incredible amounts of pain, and so much baggage. We worked with street kids, child soldiers – including those under Joseph Kony and his movement – how do you teach these kids to live under God’s love when all they’ve seen up to this point in life is the opposite?

The answer: we showed them who God is in the way we loved them. We showed them that we were God’s children, and we were like Him: “Like Father, Like Son.” He is a God of forgiveness for all we’ve done, and He wants us to also forgive others. That’s the biggest way God reaches out to people in their pain and need. It’s through the lives of others. Giving and receiving love and forgiveness breaks the cycles of violence and neglect and pain.

Patrick: Now, when you left for Uganda, you had three children. You had a fourth one while serving in Uganda, and you have a fifth on the way. As a man who has been serving in different forms of full-time ministry for over a decade, you see people transforming all around you. But how do these messages apply for you in the long-term, endurance experience of fatherhood in your immediate family?

Dave: It continually reinforces, day in and day out, how desperately I need God. I am so incapable of loving these kids the way they need it, on my own. I can’t do it! And it really drives me to rely on the Lord.

To the degree that I do or don’t rely on the Lord, I see a direct correlation to my parenting. It hits hardest and most obviously at home. We know this: out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks, and the body acts, etc. What I believe defines me. If I believe God is most important, that love that I receive will flow out to my kids. But if I’m not relying on God, every single day, things don’t play out right for me as a father trying to love and raise my children.

In some ways, relating it to my ministry, it’s like I have a permanent cabin. They don’t go home Saturday morning. And since they’re always there, sometimes I fail to engage them and pursue them the way the Father loves and pursues me. The good side, the flipside, is that I don’t just get one shot. I have a chance at grace every day and I can show my kids that God is improving me.

Patrick: I am always telling my wife that I was probably a better camp counselor than a dad.

Dave: I’ve thought that on several occasions recently myself. It’s like, why do I have the shortest fuse ever with my own kids, but when I worked in camp ministry, no one could break me? But it’s just one of those things, where I know God is trying to help me learn and become more like Him. He has that eternal patience with me, and I have to have it with my kids.

Patrick: Final question … what’s going on with you now? You’re back from Uganda, and I heard you’re living in New York, right?

Dave: Yes, upstate New York. And you mentioned earlier, Andrea is pregnant, we have a fifth child on the way in February 2014.

I am now the pastor of Cornerstone Bible Church. And it’s one of those “never say never” kinds of things. My father was a pastor and I swore up and down my whole life, no way would I do what my dad did. But here I am!

And it’s interesting, the jump from camp ministry, from Black Rock to Musana as a missionary, and now to being a pastor … sure, some of the details change, but it’s really all the same thing. It’s all about discipleship and loving people into Christ and following the Spirit, pointing them to the Father.

All those years of camp ministry and being an overseas missionary definitely helped prepared me for this. So I have another cabin to counsel, but we see them every week. That’s what it’s like as a pastor.

Thanks again to Dave for speaking with me, and for entertaining my children over Skype. My son Isaiah wants to add: “For Narnia, and for Dave Bouffard!”

Were you a camper or staff member during 2009, with the theme “Like Father, Like Son?” Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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