It’s been some 50 years since John Hardy last visited Walcamp, the Kingston, Ill., outdoor ministry that draws families for reunions, couples for weddings and children for camps and outdoor education programs.
“I remember being there on a school trip. I wanted to see it again,” said Hardy, who first visited with fellow sixth-graders from St. Paul Lutheran School, Melrose Park, Ill., and returned as a member of Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s (LCEF) Laborers For Christ. “It was a good chance to see what all has changed.”
While much has changed from what Hardy recalled, the beautifully wooded 200 acres continues to provide opportunities to learn about and explore God’s creation – plus some exciting new opportunities in the works!
Together in mission spirit
More than 3,000 guests annually trek to Walcamp, established in 1963 by Walther League teens. Along with camps and education programs, this Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Recognized Service Organization has become a popular wedding host for locals as well as former camp counselors.
“People love the setting, with the amphitheater overlooking the lake and the three crosses on the other side,” Executive Director Bill Indelli said of Walcamp’s trademark view.
In September, a wedding added a bit of deadline pressure when Laborers For Christ work for the camp included painting the interior of the sizable retreat center, the venue for the wedding reception.
“They started on Monday, priming, taping . . . so they could have the first coat on by Friday and have everything cleaned up and looking pretty for the bride on Saturday,” Indelli said of Laborers For Christ, who finished their remaining work in the center in time for an outdoor education program on Wednesday.
That “together in mission” spirit exemplifies a Laborers For Christ benefit the camp director appreciates along with skill and cost savings – a benefit he doubts could be expected from a commercial contractor. “They do bring a lot more grace,” he said of Laborers For Christ.
LCEF in action!
Also expressing appreciation for Laborers For Christ is Vanda Toner, LCEF District Vice President with the Northern Illinois District. Toner served as a chaperone when daughter, Ava’s, sixth-grade class from Immanuel Lutheran School, Batavia, Ill., went to Walcamp for the same reason that first drew John Hardy: an outdoor education program.
“I was so excited when I heard they were here, too!” Toner said. Although she has heard much about Laborers For Christ since joining LCEF about four years ago, Walcamp was her first opportunity to visit with this all-Illinois team: Terry and Jan Hoge; Stuart Luedtke; and John Hardy.
“It was like seeing LCEF in action!” said Toner, noting that Walcamp also has turned to LCEF for loan support.
Her family is among many who have been touched by the outdoor ministry. Her two older children also took part in the camp education program. Their Walcamp experience “will stick with them for the rest of their lives,” Toner said of Ava and her siblings.
Year-round outreach in the works
So even more young people can experience Walcamp, a year-round youth program and a community-wide vacation Bible school are scheduled to debut in 2020.
“We see kids come back from the LCMS Youth Gathering all pumped up and energized about their faith,” said Indelli, whose goal is to begin by offering quarterly “quality, meaningful opportunities” for young people to get together, selecting their own leadership and working with camp staff and parents.
Instead of small, rural congregations each doing their own VBS, Walcamp plans to offer opportunities for congregations to join forces as partner hosts at the camp – “with canoeing, archery, hayrides and fun” worked into the VBS program, Indelli said.
Looking to the future, the camp director also hopes to partner again with Laborers For Christ, perhaps in the spring. If so, John Hardy, a retired respiratory therapist, says he would like to make another return trip to Walcamp.
“I can’t preach,” he said. “This is a way I can serve.”