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God’s love is ever present at Lake Poinsett Camp and Retreat Center

By: Doreen Gosmire, director, Dakotas Conference Communications

"God is always with me." "I learned to whole heartedly commit to God." These are words from two campers who experienced God at Lake Poinsett Camp and Retreat Center this summer. Despite the challenge of battling flooding all spring and summer, God's presence was strong.

The bridge to the cabins at Lake Poinsett Camp and Retreat Center was almost underwater for much of the summer. This photo was taken July 25, 2019. Dave Stucke, Dakotas Conference Communications.

"The last year has been extremely challenging, but also very rewarding," says Christy Heflin, director at Lake Poinsett Camp and Retreat Center. Heflin and her husband Jim have been serving the camp since 2014, with their two sons Spencer, age 13, in grade 8, and Bryce, age 11, in grade 6.

Spencer notes that living at Lake Poinsett Camp has been life-changing for him. "When you are around an environment where God is present always it really changes you," he says.

"The great part of living at camp is that you get to go everywhere in the camp and swim. The not so great part is that all of the counselors think you are a camper. Counselors give you a lot of instructions," Bryce says about his experience living at the camp.

Sandbags protected the waterfront cabin, which sits lower than all the other cabins, and houses the watersports equipment for all the campers.

The Heflin family experienced an outpouring of support and love throughout the summer to deal with the challenges of flooding. The lake was almost six feet higher than usual at one point. Thankfully, none of the buildings were destroyed or damaged. The canal, footbridge, and shoreline took an extreme beating.

The waterfront program had to be revamped entirely because the anchor systems for the inflatable toys were too deep. Thanks to a professional scuba diver in Brookings, South Dakota, new anchors were installed for most items on the lake for waterfront time. It took almost $100, 000 to make necessary shoreline repairs and fix a retaining wall by the Living Waters Retreat Center.

"This year has been rewarding because people from all over have come and helped us at camp in many ways," Christy Heflin says. "Towards the end of March, we started sandbagging, a new endeavor for me and tough because I had toe surgery the week before. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from the Camp and Retreat Ministry staff, the Dakotas Conference, and the Minnesota Conference. We had 103 people that came and helped fill more than 10,000 sandbags over a few days. We couldn't have done it without everyone's help."

Heflin notes high points to the 2019 summer camping season. "It is always super exciting for me when our first wave of campers come each summer! I always love greeting campers, guests, and families. It always makes me happy to see them come to camp and experience God in many ways," she says.

Volunteers came to Lake Poinsett from across the Conference to fill and stack sandbags. They protected the vulnerable buildings from the rising floodwaters as the heavy snow melted. Courtesy photo.

Another high note at Lake Poinsett this summer was an outstanding summer staff. "Camp would not be possible without amazing summer staff," says Heflin. "When they arrived this year, we had to immediately do a tremendous amount of work to get camp ready because of the spring flooding. We spent a lot of hours doing hard work. They didn't complain a bit. It was awesome watching them be here with an amazing servant heart and work together as a team."

Staff pitched in to fill the gap when the fulltime maintenance manager was unable to work due to a back injury.  Many of the crew stepped up and did things around camp that they might not normally do.

Staff shares the love of Jesus in so many ways Heflin says. "I love watching them interact with campers and volunteers. They share the light of Christ in so many ways."

Another highlight for Heflin is serving as a dean for camps. "I lead two each summer. I always do a Parents and Me Camp, with 35 participants, and Summer's Last Blast with 100 participants. These camps allow me to share my faith with others and build relationships with campers and adults."

The late day sun backlights the cross at the Lake Poinsett Campfire amphitheater.

Heflin's son Bryce shares his mom's desire to share and grow in his faith. "Living at camp, you learn about God. Every day it is more and more. You start to love God very much," says Bryce. "I tell my friends at school, hockey, and lacrosse that living at camp is chaotic. I tell them I live at a camp and they think I live at a campsite for tents and stuff. I explain to them it is a Methodist camp or a Christian camp. After we talk, they start to get it and ask how to sign up. They want to experience it. "

During the past five years, Christy and Jim Heflin have worked to build relationships with people in a variety of ways. "We have worked hard to get more guests and groups to come to Lake Poinsett Camp," says Christy. "As a part of that, I spend a lot of time working with various groups in the community. I spend Wednesday afternoons, helping with Holy Cow at the Arlington UMC. Many of those children now attend summer camp."

A very good turnout enjoyed the Easter Eggstravaganza at Lake Poinsett Camp and Retreat Center. Photo courtesy Lake Poinsett Camp.

Another way that the Heflins build relationships are through holding community events. Recently, Lake Poinsett Camp and Retreat Center co-sponsored a Trunk or Treat night with the United Methodist Church in Arlington, South Dakota. There were 273 participants.  

"The community loves our annual Christmas Open House and Easter Extravaganza that are held at the camp," says Christy. "In addition to these events, we spend time promoting camp in churches and helping with events such as their Trunk or Treat nights."

Heflins have worked hard to continue upgrades throughout the camp. In 2017, the Voas Cabin was completed, replacing all of the old cabins that had been in place since the 1950s. The two-story cabin sleeps 80 and has four bedrooms with bathrooms. The old cabins have been removed, opening up a beautiful grassy area for programming by the lake.  

The new maintenance shop under construction at Lake Poinsett is on Camp property, but away from campers and the waterfront.

An immediate goal at the camp is to complete the construction of a brand new maintenance building and remove the old maintenance building from the center of the camp. The new maintenance building is 50 x 80 feet, located on the farmland across the road from the main camping facilities. The project is being funded through the Jim Larson Estate gift. Heflin noted, "It has been quite a project emptying the current shop. Once the old building is removed, we hope to put in a basketball court and maybe a playground."

The lake continues to be high, and more flooding is anticipated for 2020. The retaining wall behind the outdoor chapel failed recently. Additional repairs will be needed before winter. Despite the challenges Heflin perseveres, with the support and love of God and others, especially her family.

"My husband and boys have helped in so many ways," says Christy. "It is heartwarming to see many share their love and commitment to a place I love so much!"

The Heflin boys share the same sentiment. "Camp is a great life experience. You can make a lot of memories and learn about God at the same time," says Spencer.

Bryce says, "Come to Lake Poinsett camp because it is a great experience, it is a lot of fun, it is awesome. You learn about God and have more faith in him."

UMC

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