Celebrating a Heritage, Creating a Legacy

In 1958 Ed Nelson, Arnold Swanson and a handful of other men parked their vehicles on a gravel road, hiked through the tall grass and got their first glimpse of Lake Wilbur. I’m trying to imagine all the thoughts and dreams running through their minds as they walked that property for the first time. They checked the depth of the lake, considered where a dining hall and some cabins might be built, looked for appropriate places to play and swim. Those are the things that were running through their heads.

But in their hearts was something much more important than buildings and a swimming beach. In their hearts was a conviction that boys need Jesus and that boys need to know how to translate their walk with Jesus into a life that is sold out to living as a godly man. This would be a place dedicated to that. Buildings and lawn mowers and BB guns and bows and arrows were just tools to get a godly man next to a boy, so the man could illustrate with his life what it means to walk with Christ.

That’s Camp Nathanael’s heritage, firmly planted by dozens of men who invested financially, and gave their time, resources and boatloads of sweat-equity to envision and build this ministry.

So now thousands and thousands of boys have come through that gate eager for a fun week exploring and playing hard, and they’ve gone home changed. This summer a dad was dropping off his son for a week at camp. He said, “I’m so glad Camp Nathanael is concerned about more than helping children become adults. You’re about helping boys become men.”

There are dozens of outstanding Christian camps across Minnesota, and thousands across the country. A few are smaller than Nathanael, many are much larger. They’re all unique and special and worthy in their own way. But there is just one Camp Nathanael with an unwavering commitment to raising up boys and young men, showing them the way to Christ, and then teaching, training, and mentoring until they are strong and capable Christ-following leaders in their own rite.

This summer I watched twenty-four high school guys and six staff guys run a summer camp program with incredible competence and commitment. That’s what Nathanael does, unlike any place I know. It raises up strong and capable Christ-following leaders.

A few years ago a dream began to build in my heart about coming back to this place that was so significant in my life. Yeah, I was a little nostalgic about the whole thing but this wasn’t about nostalgia. I don’t work for Camp Nathanael because I’m so excited about red buildings or a small lake that really has no bottom (it just gets gradually thicker). In my heart is a conviction that boys need Jesus and that boys need to know how to translate their walk with Jesus into a life that is sold out to living as a godly man. And coming back to Nathanael I found a ministry that has not wavered from that original vision. I can hardly find the words to tell you how privileged I am to be part of this.

At our 50th anniversary celebration two weeks ago I spoke to the crowd of about 180 people and asked  those who accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior at Camp Nathanael to stand up. Then I asked those who made a significant spiritual decision at Nathanael including rededicating or committing themselves to living for Christ to join the first group. Finally, I asked those who point to Nathanael as a place that played a significant role in shaping their lives as man of God to stand. At that point perhaps three-fourths of the people in the room were on their feet. That was just a small sample of Camp Nathanael’s legacy. We could multiply that number many times over.

We don’t run a summer camp. We grow strong and capable Christ-following leaders. This world needs men like that. This is why Camp Nathanael is a very good place to invest. Camp Nathanael’s programs pay for themselves. But we have an annual budget of just over $100,000 that is covered entirely by contributions from friends of this ministry. We need your financial support to do this important work.

And the infrastructure of this ministry (grounds, buildings, board-level leadership) was built and is maintained almost entirely by volunteers. Camp Nathanael is a good place for you to give time. We’re preparing to build a new dining hall that will give us the modern facility we need to provide food serve for our staff and campers, and will help pave the way for three-season and perhaps year-round use of our facility. This is a good project for you to make a generous financial investment. I’m excited to ask this of you because this world needs strong and capable Christ-following leaders, and that’s what Nathanael produces.