Nestled in the beautiful Berkshires of Southwestern Massachusetts, Hume New England Christian Camps (HNE) is a year-round youth camp and retreat center dedicated to shaping the promise and destiny of up-and-coming generations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Working primarily with churches, as opposed to individuals, HNE has built an impressive legacy impacting the hearts of young people through its life-changing programs and experiences.
“Hume’s mission is to partner with other churches,” explains the camp’s director, John Szablowski, “churches bring their youth groups here.” He goes on, “We do have some individuals come during the summer, but primarily, our yearly activities are working with other churches. We partner with other churches to shine bright the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
It’s a recipe for success that has served HNE and its participants well over the years. The camp and its staff handle all the logistics and necessities so that youth leaders are free to concentrate on relationships with their students and minister to them. “We think we offer something that can be very valuable, especially to youth leaders,” says Szablowski. “It allows them to come, to deepen and build those relationships with their students while we handle all the details and remove the distractions for them.” He adds, “At the core, that’s what the ministry is about. The ministry is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and part of that is partnering with these youth leaders and with the churches, to pour into these students’ lives so that they know the good news of Christ!”
Hume New England is affiliated with its flagship camp, Hume Lake Christian Camps, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California near Kings Canyon National Park. Established in 1946, it has served over one million campers and continues to clearly present the Gospel in each and every session it conducts. Similarly, a few years before Hume Lake began its ministry, in 1941, God raised up a like-minded camp clear across the country in Massachusetts called New England Keswick. For seventy-years they also faithfully provided Christian camping with a deep desire to see participants come to know Jesus as Lord.
In 2010 God merged the passion and vision of the two camps into a unified mission. New England Keswick found themselves lacking the financial resources necessary to support their ministry and had been praying that God would provide a way to continue to use their land to bring people to Himself. Remarkably, the staff and Board of Directors at Hume Lake had been praying and searching for nearly twenty-years for property to start a camp on the East coast. It was in answer to these prayers that God had Keswick and Hume meet. “Over the years, there was a desire and some motivation to bring the program we had from the west coast to the east coast,” recalls Szablowski. “Through a series of events, we got hooked up with this property in Monterey, Massachusetts and decided to purchase it in 2012. The intent is to bring the programs that we have in California, here to the east coast. We’ve been running this camp now on our own for about six-years.”
In the summer of 2011 Hume began to help run camp at Keswick, and by the following summer Hume New England was officially established. Hume’s staff and leadership feel extremely privileged to have been welcomed into the New England community, and have a deep respect for the tradition and culture it holds. It is Hume’s most sincere desire to build lasting relationships with local churches in order to provide an outstanding camp experience for students and adults to grow in their faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Szablowski was introduced to Hume through his participation in their programs. A former chemical engineer, he was in the oil industry some twenty-seven-years before leaving to accept a pastoral position. Through a divine sequence of events he wound up leading a church that was planted by the fellowship he was a member of at the time and never looked back. “In 2008, I went over there full-time as executive pastor,” Szablowski says. “We planted the church and our first Sunday we had about 75 people — when I left, there was about 2,300 people. The church is healthy and God is using it in amazing ways.”
Continuing, he adds, “When I left the oil industry in 2008 and went full-time as an executive pastor at The Bridge Bible Church in Bakersfield, California, we took a lot of kids up to Hume Lake Camp in the mountains of California — that was my first introduction to Hume. In early 2016, they called me and asked me if I would be interested in coming out here to New England so my wife and I moved out here in June, 2016.”
Originally from Ohio, the father of three has been married 35-years and gave his life to the Lord comparatively late in life at 43-years old. “Right around late 2001, both of my wife’s parents passed away in a helicopter crash then 9/11 happened,” Szablowski recalls. “A combination of events made me feel like my world was falling apart.” He continues, “Through a myriad of circumstances, the pastor in church one day after 9/11 said that if anyone is out there and is just feeling the stress and anxiety of these times and if you desire to give your life to Jesus Christ, please stand up — and so I did. In late 2001, I accepted Christ as my Savior.”
With stunning views of the panoramic Catskill Mountains, Hume New England is tucked into 400-plus breathtaking acres that are bejeweled with quaint, fragrant meadows; densely textured foliage; and the exhilarating charm of rolling groves of picturesque trees. “It’s beautiful here in the fall,” Szablowski observes. “We have a large pond — almost a small lake that we use for boating activities as well as a 450-foot water slide that goes into the pond. It doubles as a tube run in the winter.” He adds, “We’re at an elevation of 1,500-to-1,800 feet and you can see the sun set to the west.”
The facilities and activities of HNE, whether characterized by convention or innovation, bring an engaging freshness and inspiration to the camping experience. Boasting volleyball and basketball courts, they also have a synthetic ice rink which is used primarily for winter camp. “We purchased a high-density polyethylene synthetic surface that we use for ice hockey out there,” says Szablowski. Additionally, there are your traditional pastimes, “We have activities available so you can decide if you want to do archery or boating or paintball or a ropes course…” he adds. “You’re just providing whatever chapel time you have; your speaker, your worship, a11nd we provide everything else.”
HNE also offers financial aid in what they call “camperships.” “These camperships are available for summer and winter camp,” explains Szablowski. “We will reimburse up to fifty-percent of a camper’s fees. It’s an easy application and we look for a minimal amount information, but, we do provide camperships. That is also an opportunity for donors to donate throughout the year. It’s a very successful program both here and at Hume Lake, California.”
HNE runs six-weeks of summer camp and six-weekends of winter camp alternating between middle-school and high-school age groups. “During summer, when we run the week long program, campers come in on Monday afternoon and depart on Saturday, late morning,” Szablowski explains. “That’s the same program every week. We just want campers here for one-week, we’re not a camp where you can come for five-weeks or eight-weeks. We’re a one-week program in the summer for the churches or students to come here.” Continuing he adds, “In the winter, it’s the same exact program every weekend for six-weekends. We want everybody to have that same experience.”
While young people are their primary focus, HNE also ministers to various groups that are different ages. “We have all kinds of groups coming in,” says Szablowski. “We have men’s ministries, women’s ministries, youth groups, college groups… We’ve had some leadership from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Young Life — everybody. The Gospel is presented here each and every week.” However, they do limit participation to strictly Christian entities. “We really don’t bring in corporate or secular groups,” Szablowski explains. “The idea here is; we are a Gospel based ministry. We have a statement of faith that we would like our guests to adhere to. What it boils down to is a partnership with churches.”
To learn more about these camps or their other locations and ministries, call Hume New England at (413) 528-3604 or Hume Lake whose toll free number is (800) 965-4863. Additionally, you can explore their website by visiting www.hume.org.