At Luther Heights Bible Camp this season we ended our fall retreat season a bit early. On Labor Day we were asked to evacuate camp due to the Jakes Gulch fire. Thankfully, our guests were all off site when we received the phone call from the forest service and staff were heading out as well. I, much like many others, feel a sense of joy, renewal, and peace with Christ with moments experienced on the holy ground at Luther Heights in the exquisite Sawtooth Mountains. Whether from campers of all ages, committee members, or alumni staff, it is not uncommon for me to hear how the beauty of camp and the love of community helps all who visit connect with another piece (peace) of themselves and God, in ways where words are hard to find. The experience of evacuating camp and connecting with various layers of support outside of Luther Heights left me with a new perspective and appreciation for this beloved camp in Idaho.
From the first phone call with the forest service, I was continually impressed with the attention to communication, detail and proactive measures local officials were taking to help protect the area which included our camp. I was in regular communication with the forest service, various fire crews and Blaine County Emergency Response personnel. I was in awe with how much they cared for this special place and their numerous efforts to help both ensure the fire would be stopped and not reach our property, while also taking measures to protect our site if the fire did reach our property. I was so thankful for care shown to Luther Heights Bible Camp by most, if not all, of whom had never been to camp.
As the days progressed and the efforts to contain the fire were successful, myself and a small team of volunteers were allowed access to camp to begin to shut down water and care for the winterizing needs of camp. We were not allowed to spend the night and fire crews were still working on-site while we were there and this was, as I reflect now, one of my most grateful moments of 2021. We were able to thank over 50 people directly working to protect camp. We heard their stories of coming from different states, being awe-struck by the beauty of our sacred space, and reminiscing about how much a camp meant to them in their childhood. We helped load branches into trucks and offered leftover ice cream treats from the summer canteen and were able to experience community and the presence of the Holy Spirit in new ways. Other moments for gratitude arose as well. Camp Perkins, our neighbor down the road, supported us through this journey in numerous ways. Camp HODIA, a valued partnered, called to offer support in whatever ways we needed and offered prayers. Our own community remained hopeful, steadfast in prayer and willing to support camp, even amidst having to do this in new and ever-evolving ways. My eyes, heart, and spirit saw the presence of God bringing people together because of the ministry of Luther Heights and every time I let myself linger in those moments, I am brought to tears.
The small group of volunteers and I were able to go to camp two different days. The second day we arrived mid-morning and as we opened the car doors to begin our work, a volunteered exclaimed, “Is that the camp bell? Who is ringing our bell?” My response was simply, “It must be a member with the fire crews.” Sure enough, as we wandered through camp and jokingly inquired about if they were ringing our bell, we found a fire crew member with a great, big smile, admitting he did indeed ring the bell to start their morning work and stated, “You can’t help but connect to childlike joy in his space, find a sense of peace, and let your heart feel a little lighter here.” Other fire fighters shared how they walked within our new labyrinth, wondering what it was all about because it wasn’t quite like a maze. Thanks to our Leader-In-Training program (LIT-high school campers), we added this spiritual element to camp this summer. This created the opportunity for me to explain that the labyrinth is about a journey inward, walking with oneself and God to reflect and remain open to whatever lies ahead. We heard of basketball games on the courts while on lunch break and many comments of how great this place must be when we are occupied with people.
Now into October, with the Jakes Gulch fire fully extinguished, snow has come to our peaks and valleys and camp is at rest much like every October. As we dream and plan into the near future and what lies ahead in 2022 and beyond, I remain forever grateful for the many dedicated professionals and servants who helped us weather this storm. I am reminded of a favorite camp song, Dance With Me, and how the Holy Spirit is with us always … “throughout the Heavens, and below the seas, up on the mountaintops, rolls with breeze, come carry me …Lord, won’t you dance with me?”
God of our joys and sorrows, God who dances with us in our daily lives, we give thanks for sacred spaces like Luther Heights. You show us time and again, through any circumstance, the awe of your creation and the inter-connections we share with others through You. We give thanks for fire crews and their dedication and hard work in helping protect both wild spaces and living communities. We ask that you continue to provide for their safety as they complete efforts to end this difficult fire season. We ask you to continue to dance with us, and certainly at times, carry us, providing strength for our journey with You into whatever lies ahead.