The Mystery of Camp
For 17 years, I was privileged to work with Campbell Loughmiller (fondly known as “Chief Lock”) in developing the therapeutic camping program he describes so well in Wilderness Road and Kids in Trouble. At this writing, I have worked over 50 years in this model. It truly works- and has salvaged countless young lives.
Chief Lock often said to me, “It is a mystery how all these parts of camp came together as a whole.” He compared it to a pound cake in which each ingredient is essential for the cake to be successful. In the same way, removing or changing any principle of camp may well undermine its effectiveness. As I watched and worked with Campbell Loughmiller, I came to believe that he saw children and their families in accord with the way God saw them. He saw what they could become.
The “mystery” of camp is really quite simple, but often not palatable to many in our present cultural atmosphere. The essential question is, “Why do we do camp this way?” We do so because God created us for relationships with Him and with our fellow human beings. In the lives of our campers, relationships with God and others have been destroyed by trauma, abuse, tragedy, and neglect. Our goal is to retrieve these children and their families by introducing them to their Creator and the life-giving touch of His love expressed through us. The people who are the most successful at adopting and following the living principles of this model of camping are those who have a vision for the transformation that can happen in the soul of a child who is loved and rescued from despair and ultimately hell.
Chief Lock has said that a boy would be good if he only thought he could. We must see families and children in the way Christ sees them. There is not enough money in the world to pay someone for the “blood, sweat, and tears” that therapeutic camping requires. A greater motivation is needed. If our goal is merely pragmatic- measuring our success by overt behavior changes alone- then we have missed the mark. Camp is most successful when God’s love is the goal translated into action by these therapeutic principles. It can create a heart change that humanly is impossible. A conscience is awakened, or created, by God’s Holy Spirit working through our attitudes and actions toward campers and their families.
In the words of Segred Belcher, a pioneering social worker in the early days of camp, “This ‘caring’ attitude needs no defense or explanation to people who do not have it. It belongs to God and is carried out through you.”
Applied Christianity in camp principles keeps us from giving up on kids and families when they fall down. Camp is often the first time in the history of a child or family when they have the opportunity to agree and to choose the kind of help they will receive. The change that is created in their lives is in direct proportion to the degree of purposeful love we are able to convey. These concepts, however, are spiritually discerned, but often ignored or underrated in our society’s treatment of disturbed children. In camp, God’s love and standards in action are the most essential ingredients.
Therapeutic camping- Loughmiller style- offers youth a challenging atmosphere of adventure, friendship, acceptance, and goodwill. It is permeated by the spirit of hope that indeed problems can be solved and broken relationships healed. It is also a mission, an incredible opportunity, and a way of life with principles that apply to every human being created in the image of God. This is what I saw and did. This is what works. This is the “mystery” of the immense success of therapeutic camping as modeled by Campbell Loughmiller and his wife, Lynn. I am deeply grateful for their leadership and friendship over the years.
Buford “Chief Mac” McKenzie
Our camp seeks to hold true to the guiding principles described here.