By Rick Kern
With a moniker gleaned from Genesis 32:30, “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared,’” it is no surprise that the stunning vista just outside the cabin door takes your breath away. Much like stepping into the sublime beauty of an Ansel Adams photograph. “Peniel” means “face of God” and gazing upon the raw, transcendent beauty that makes up the foothills of the Adirondacks, you can see why that name was chosen.
Located within the boundaries of the Adirondack State Park some ten-minutes south-west of Lake George, NY, Peniel is an evangelical youth camp, family fellowship, and retreat center. Its purpose is to teach biblical truths that inspire joyful followers of Christ and present the Good News of Jesus Christ to unbelievers and believers alike. Additionally, they strive to help participants move toward their full spiritual potential and a deeper fellowship with God.
“There are some kids that come here that have never been to church, who give their heart to Christ,” recounts Tobias Kipp, the camp’s director. “We’ve got a little girl, I don’t want to use names necessarily, but she came here from an abusive situation on a scholarship and she gave her heart to Christ.” He continues, “She’s been coming back ever since. She came here for the first time when she was ten. She’s going on 12 now and she’s doing great — it changed her life.”
The 75 acre campus is tucked grandly into the bluffs and slopes at the base of the Adirondacks, where Peniel Bible Conference (PBC), rests against the back side of Lake Luzerne as it nurtures an 84-year spiritual legacy. There it offers camping opportunities for young people and families, as well as special events and group retreats from spring through autumn. Additionally, PBC hosts a number of winter events throughout its February recess.
They also offer scholarships (such as that young lady was able to take advantage of) that are sponsored by people, businesses, and donors. “We have people that do offer scholarships. There are scholarships available on a limited basis like our local thrift shop, which is run by our local Presbyterian church; they give actually, scholarships for local children,” Kipp explains. “They do 12 paid scholarships per camp, which is quite large and they had partnered with us in that.” He goes on, “We encourage kids to get their church to help them raise the money to come to camp and to fundraise on their own. We are working on fundraising for more scholarships. Sometimes we have donors that say, ‘Hey, we want to send some kids to camp. If you’ve got kids that are in need of scholarships, we’d like to chip in.’ Usually each camp will get five of those on the average — full-scale scholarships. So, they are available.”
While the camp is bustling with activity during its busy season, PBC in effect shuts down after the February snow camps. However, they do hold community Bible studies for men, women, and teens throughout the year. “The only time our Bible studies stop is during our summer session because we are all so involved in our summer session for four-to-five weeks,” explains Kipp. “Then we’ll have a community Bible study. But we do invite the teens that come to our Bible study and adults to come to our camp with us. We are really trying to reach the local community as well as part of our mission.”
During the seven-week camping season youth camp includes day and overnight programs for children from kindergarten through high school. Campers participate in dozens of different group activities and games, and they learn new skills while being challenged in daily chapel services by guest speakers and a Christian staff that loves them.
The week-long family camp program gives parents and children a chance to grow closer together as a family and relax in God’s presence, enjoying His beauty and majesty while hearing the Word shared daily from renowned speakers. The facility is also available for retreats and events. For example, it is used for family reunions, ladies retreats, and the Christian Motorcycle Association has been coming for a couple years now.
Running an operation with some 37 buildings, regulatory mandates, and additional demands is not without its challenges. “The greatest challenge we face would be manpower. We have a challenge actually, finding nurses,” Tobias admits. “Now, we have them, God has always blessed us every year because the Department of Health requires us to have a health officer, which is usually an R.N. or that equivalent on the ground.” Continuing he observes, “It’s hard to get that. It’s a paid position but people are busy and in summers it’s hard to get people to take a summer off from work for $200.00 a week, let’s say, at a camp.”
While the challenges may be considerable, the rewards more than even the odds! “Most honestly, the most rewarding thing is that we’re the ones that get blessed,” says Kipp emphatically! “We get fed. We think we’re doing the work and help these kids, but really, God is bringing everyone together here to bless us all. That’s really the most rewarding thing.”
“The most rewarding thing for me personally,” he continues, “is to take a child who has never been churched or an adult and teach them about the Bible, about Jesus, about salvation. Then, also taking people that have been churched and learning together, studying the Bible and talking about the flesh and the things that are current in our world right now as a most honestly, the most rewarding thing is that we’re the ones that get blessed.”
Tobias’ voice swells with passion as he says, “We get fed. We think we’re doing the work and help these kids, but really, God is bringing everyone together here, to bless us all. That’s really the most rewarding thing. The most rewarding thing for me is to take a child who has never been churched or an adult and teach them about the Bible, about Jesus, about salvation.”
Looking to the future, Tobias is focused on strong and steady attendance for PBC. “I’d like to see our summer programs be full to capacity. That’s a good number, by the way,” says Kipp. “”We’re talking 100 campers, 100-plus campers per-each session as well as my adult retreats to be full, that kind of a goal.” Continuing he goes on, “The goal for me is slow growth. I don’t want it to happen too fast. We have infrastructure we have to work on. We work very closely to the Department of Health and with the local fire code office and there’s a lot of buildings that we are steadily building back up to where they should be so we can have full, productive camps. But, I’d say we’re in really good shape as far as growth goes. In the next five-years, I’d like to see us at a point where we are self-sustaining through fund raising and registrations.”
For more information about Peniel Bible Conference, visit their Website at www.penielbibleconference.org or call them at (518) 696-4038. “I’d like to encourage people who want to volunteer to contact us. People who want to teach, to be involved in the ministry,” Kipp says. “We are looking for people and I guess that’s what I’d end with. Come, be involved here, come to a program or come see about coming and teaching.”