By Rick Kern
With a stated mission that reads: “To present the biblical truths of Jesus Christ, develop Christian leaders, strengthen the faith of individuals and families, and promote global evangelism,” you can’t help but be inspired by Camp-of-the-Woods’ (COTW) passion as they strive to humbly serve their way to greatness. Like people, some institutions practice what they preach… Not so with COTW. Instead, they have always preached what they practice which explains such a profoundly compelling Mission Statement — it is who they are before it is what they aspire to. Their love for God set their sails early on in their history and to put it in the vernacular they are anything but armchair quarterbacks — they came to play, and play to win! That hasn’t changed from their humble beginnings in 1900 as “Camp Iroquois” on the shores of Lake George, to today’s 90-plus acre family resort located on the shores of the breathtaking Lake Pleasant.
Located in the beautiful six-million-acre Adirondack Park, COTW is enhanced by a beautiful 1,400-foot natural beach, a 1,300 seat auditorium, a state-of-the-art sports complex, tennis courts, a challenge course, climbing wall, zip-line, and on it goes. And while no one runs the risk of being bored, COTW endeavors to make each person’s visit a deeply meaningful encounter with God that is characterized by spiritual growth, relaxation, and recreation.
Since its establishment at the turn of the century by George ‘Pop’ Tibbitts, COTW has been committed to crafting an atmosphere where believers can draw near to the Lord. And though it has been anchored to its mandate for over 100-years, Camp-of-the-Woods has not lost sight of its “true north” remaining focused on people, both individuals and families, rather than programs.
‘Pop’ Tibbitts founded Camp-of-the-Woods and served as its director until his death in 1948. Since that time the Lord has blessed the ministry with an impressive roster of godly leaders who desired to honor Him through the work of COTW. Today Scott Burtis has stepped into that role and serves as the ministry’s senior director.
“It’s really just the vision of the founder and that he wanted to create that environment years ago,” Burtis explains. “I don’t think he had any real thought on what it would be today, he just wanted this environment where people and families would come and could be refreshed physically and spiritually, and to me, we just haven’t really strayed from that.”
A branch of its parent organization, Gospel Volunteers, Inc., Camp-of-the-Woods offers all the activities you would expect from a mainstream Christian camp. However, unlike conventional camps, COTW has developed a number of exciting supplemental ministries that the Lord uses. Running from late June to Labor Day, in its summer season COTW offers inspiring week-long vacation packages. Guests are able to participate in a variety of standard recreational activities and take advantage of Self-Guided Hikes, Mini-Golf, Sand Volleyball, Campfires, Tennis, and much more.
Additionally, participants have the opportunity to be challenged spiritually by outstanding chapel and seminar speakers such as the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Dr. Dennis Hollinger; Ravi Zacharias, Founder and President RZIM; and Dr. Woodrow Kroll, Former President of the Back to the Bible radio broadcast.
“In the summer time when we have our guests here one of the main components part of our mission statement is that we want to build the faith of families and individuals,” says Burtis, “so I think that there’s sense that we almost wanted to provide good Bible teaching for our guests that are here.” Continuing he adds, “I think that it has been through the years that we developed different relationships with different speakers and they weren’t as well known then when we grabbed them, and they just came back year after year. Again, those relationships that we have we really try to nurture them, and they also provide a great service to our guests and if our guests want to hear them, we just keep having them come back.”
While conference and summer seasons add up to a brisk and busy time of ministry, it doesn’t stop there, COTW is humming with activity all year round. “We are open twelve months on throughout the year here and there are really very few weekends where we don’t have guests,” notes Burtis. “Obviously Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas weekend, Easter weekend, but pretty much every other weekend throughout the year we have guests that are here. When it started attendance was up to 100 guests and now on average we have up to 200 guests here every weekend and throughout the week. Some weekends are bigger than that, but that’s just our average.”
Those guests are busy with ministries such as, Tapawingo, COTW’s girls camp. Located on an island near the camp proper, it serves girls ages 9-17 and is unique because of its location, beauty, and biblical standards of excellence. It is a place where girls are free to be girls without the pressures and expectations of society. A place where young women have the chance to discover God’s unconditional love for them and grow in a deeper understanding of God’s Word.
“In the middle of Lake Pleasant is a small island that Gospel Volunteers purchased in the 1950s and started a girls camp on that property in the middle of the lake. The island is exclusively for that girls camp and it runs eight-weeks in the summer and is led by our great staff — on average it sells out,” Burtis explains. “The island is about half-a-mile out into the lake from Camp-of-the-Woods and we transport them out there and back so they’re well contained once they get out there.
In addition to Tapawingo, COTW steps out-of-the-everyday as a camp and does its part in the Great Commission through a very innovative missions’ program. Under the auspices of their parent organization, Gospel Volunteers, Inc. they support some 14 active missionaries, six retired missionaries, and they bankroll many important projects that will bring the good news of Jesus Christ around the world. It is actually those who attend the camp who make it possible for them to support missionaries around the world and fulfill the fourth objective of their Mission Statement, “to promote global evangelism.”
“We’ve taken on some specific projects around the world that were important and what we really do is include our guests in the summer and talk about what Gospel Volunteers is doing mission-wise around the world,” says Burtis. “Then folks can give during the summer that’s really how Gospel Volunteer is funded by our guests here in the summer. One hundred percent of the money goes toward these missionaries and their projects.”
Currently, their biggest missions project is a training center in Thailand where pastors come in and out of China and other countries that are hostile to the Gospel. They are trained to better lead their fellowships, and then they are helped getting back into these closed areas. “So that’s the big thing Camp-of-the-Woods is funding,” says Burtis passionately, “that training center has a major impact in Asia, China, and that part of the world.” He adds, “This is an exciting time in global missions, and we are grateful to be a part of it. We appreciate your prayers for our missions program.”
Camp-of-the-Woods also has an exceptional discipleship program that goes by the acronym LIFT. The letters stand for “Leaders in Further Training,” and it is a unique, semester-long program designed to train a new generation of Christians. Offered to believers who are 19-to-26-years old, LIFT graduates are better equipped to face the challenges of the 21st Century with a biblically grounded and culturally informed faith.
“We offer two semesters and the program is totally free to the students who come and commit to be a part of it,” Burtis explains. “There is no cost to them because it is totally funded by Gospel Volunteers, the only thing that they are asked for is when they go on a mission trip during each semester, we ask them to raise support for that trip to allow for them to go.” He continues, “Usually the mission trips are around from ten to fourteen-days and sometimes a little longer — it just depends on where they go.”
Previous destinations have included locations such as the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala and the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. However, they do not go unprepared! LIFT is an intensive, training program accepted by NYACK College, Cairn University, or Roberts Wesleyan College for college credit. LIFT students grow through solid teaching from both staff and guest teachers, one-on-one discipleship, challenging outdoor adventures, and numerous opportunities for outreach and service. Thus, as they minister as strangers in a strange land, they do so with fluid hearts that have been shaped by this incredible discipleship and leadership training program that has forged a solid foundation for their faith and a desire to serve God and others. And after banking all that knowledge, their perspectives are enriched and transformed through the two-week cross-cultural mission experiences.
Camp-of-the-Woods is a multifaceted example of what God can do with courageous and willing hearts. It is among those rare spiritual organisms that just will not allow you to be the same after encountering them. For more information about Camp-of-the-Woods visit www.camp-of-the-woods.org or telephone (518) 548-4311.