Camp Li-Lo-Li: A Little Piece Of Heaven On Earth

Camp Li Lo Li
Jonathan and Shona Benson
Jonathan and Shona Benson

By Pat Shea

If you’re driving in the Southern Tier, stop by and visit Christian Camp Li-Lo-Li. It’s located in the town of Randolph, on the outskirts of Western New York, right near the Pennsylvania border and by Allegany State Park. If you’re traveling on I86, get off at exit 17, make a right at the stop sign for Steamburg and then turn right onto Sunfish Run Road. Just past the underpass, about six more miles up the road, you’ll discover what executive director Jonathan Benson calls “a little piece of heaven.” Camp Li-Lo-Li. If the name makes you smile, that’s a good thing, since Li-Lo-Li stands for Love, Life and Light, principals the camp puts into practice every day.

The camp has been in operation since 1953, and volunteers have been teaching the Word of God to thousands of campers and visitors that come each year to enjoy the facility and wander about the 500 wooded acres that make up the camp atmosphere.


Plymouth Brethren

What began as a dream of just a handful of people years ago, coming to the camp has now bloomed into a yearly tradition for many families and organizations. We are an overnight / residential camp. We do week long camps and some weekend and family retreats. We specifically have a family weekend (Labor Day weekend) and a family camp week (4th of July week).

It’s hard not to stand in awe of the 500 acres sprawled across the hills of Western New York, but once the wide variety of activities are unveiled, the amazement at the natural beauty almost takes  a backseat. Whatever outdoor sport you enjoy, whether it’s swimming, boating, using canoes, paddleboats or paddleboards, climbing a tower, playing basketball or volley ball of jumping into a popular arts and crafts class, Camp Li-Lo-Li aims to please. The non-profit camp, which operates all year, and is staffed by three full-time staff members, part-time staff throughout the year and during retreats and summer sessions there could be as many as 350 volunteers serving in a variety of capacities throughout the summer. We try to operate with about 1:8 counselor to camper ratio. “And even though we run on a volunteer basis [we’re proud] that the Lord continues to provide the necessary staffing.”

But each person has one main goal in mind: to do everything, even the most menial of tasks, all in the name of Jesus Christ.

As Executive Director of the camp for the past three years, Jonathan Benson has more than a vested interest in the success of the camp; he has strong emotional ties to it. In 1993, he met his wife Shona at the camp when they both came to the facility to volunteer. Love grew and today, Shona helps with registration while Jonathan helps keep the camp running smoothly.

Benson explains the camp was formed from a fellowship between ten churches. Although each church is independent of each other, they are all part of the Plymouth Brethren Movement, a Christian evangelical movement that began originally in Ireland.

This year, Benson has big plans for the camp. He is excited that registration has opened for the 2019 summer camp sessions and expects this year to be especially exciting. “We love the summer season,” explained Benson in a recent phone interview. “We have new space with our new pavilion and we are also currently working on strategic planning and developing a new mission and vision statement and determining what our core values are. These activities can really help us transform the camp this year.”

The concept of transforming the camp has been something on Benson’s priority list for a while. He has taken to using social media to connect not just with prospective campers, but those who have completed the camp session.

“We post videos and are working local churches to create relationships. It’s just not enough to minister to a child for the few days he/she are at Camp Li-Lo-Li; they need to be ministered to when they go home. When they’re here we work hard to engage them in activities and when they’re not here, we do it with social media promotion. Previously, we only used social media for follow-up messages on events, but now we are focused on posting regularly on Instagram and Facebook. This social connection is still basically in its infancy, but we are gaining attention.

The love Benson has for the camp is evident as is his passion for campers to get outside and be in fellowship with others and with God. “The camp gives teens a break from the world of electronics. They come here and learn how to participate in activities, create relationships and just enjoy the camp. They have time to listen and learn about God. It’s a unique experience. We always hear from campers and their families that this camp has great spirit,” explained Benson. That’s not to say Benson hasn’t faced his share of challenges. “It’s always a challenge to get enough staff, keep up with regulations and safety concerns.

Although summer is the key season, the camp is busy in the Spring and Fall as well with various organizations, guest groups and speakers. In the Winter there are teen and pre-teen retreats, but things slowdown in November and December.

Our family camp session starts during the forth of July and then our kids camp programs begin the week following. For the family camp, there are cabins that can fit up to 7 people and there’s privacy. When it’s the kids camp and teen camp, cabins on one side of the lake are for boys, cabins on the other side are for girls. A summer camp session will have between 75 and 160 campers with the average being approximately 120 campers for most of the sessions. There are primarily four session: Pre-teen week– ages 8 ½ to 13; Teen Week – ages 13-17; Round-Up Week – ages 11-16; and Family Week and Weekend (all ages). We are interested in campers that do not know the Lord so that they can hear the Gospel and trust in Christ. We are also interested in campers that are saved and we want to come alongside and disciple them. It is helpful when the camper is able to behave appropriately in order to reduce risk of problems while at camp.

Many people saved and growing in their faith in Christ

The cost for summer camp is $280 a week for each camper, which is more than affordable for most families. ”It’s a great value for camp,” stated Benson.  There is also financial assistance but there aren’t many places where you can send a child to sleepaway camp for under $300. If you’re interested in registering your child, you can register online or send in a paper registration form.

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