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Camp directors’ evangelism and discipleship awarded

By: Beata Ferris, outreach and marketing project coordinator, Dakotas-Minnesota Area Camp and Retreat Ministries

Dan Ziegler, right, receives the Harry Denman Award from Keith Shew, Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries. Photo courtesy of Minnesota UMC.

"I have come to understand faith as a vocation—that whatever we do in life, we are called to do it as an outgrowth of our commitment to Christ. When I was a teen at camp, about 40 years ago, I remember quite clearly sensing God's call in my life to serve the church, my dream back then was and still is, to do it at camp. More than anywhere else, camp was the place where my faith found wings. I want to be a part of helping other kids like me find what I found," says Dan Ziegler, camp director for Kornois Ministries and Kowakan Adventures. 

Dan Ziegler has spent 39 years as a camp staff member somewhere. He currently serves as the Dakotas-Minnesota Area Camp and Retreat Ministry at Koronis, in Paynesville, Minnesota, and coordinates camping experiences in northern boundary waters area of Minnesota. Ziegler sums up his call to serve as a camp leader this way, "Well since there are still 'kids like me' out there who need to know Jesus, that call has not faded. Camp has had a profound effect on my spirituality."

Similar to Ziegler, Rev. Paul Lint, who serves as a co-director at Wesley Acres Camp and Retreat Center with his wife Brenda, is living out his call to ministry at camp. Lint began his work with youth at camp. "My years of youth work started in camping and provided an opportunity to walk with, cheer on, and challenge people in their faith journey," says Lint, who lives out his call at Wesley Acres in Dazey, North Dakota.

He shares that as a camp director he still has the opportunity to do those things, but also partner with local churches to enhance their youth programs, help develop a new generation of youth leaders and provide a place for powerful youth ministry to happen. Lint says, "My spirituality is steeped in a genuine relationship. This is central to what camping ministry has been, is, and will be."

Both leaders are being recognized for their efforts to make disciples and reach the next person for Jesus. Ziegler is Minnesota UMC's recipient of the 2019 Harry Denman Evangelism Award for Laity. Lint is the Dakotas UMC's recipient of the Youth Worker Hall of Fame Award. 

The mission of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area Camp and Retreat Ministries is to invite campers and guests to experience "Christ. Creation. Community." Zeigler states that the mission has become central to how he lives out his faith. "In many ways, camp is my church," he says. "In fact most evenings in summer I get to worship the Creator surrounded by creation, amidst the incense of wood smoke, encircled by the arching branches of tall trees, under a canopy of stars, joining my voice with the call of the loon as it echoes across the lake."

Rev. Paul Lint, center, receives congratulations from Bishop Ough, right, as the 2019 Youth Worker Hall of Fame Award winner. Photo by Joni Rasmussen, jlynn studios.

Lint sees that God is calling the Dakotas-Minnesota Area Camping and Retreat Ministries to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world by living out the mission through offering radical hospitality to every person who encounters camp. "It is about radical hospitality. Every person who finds themselves involved with Dakotas-Minnesota Area Camping and Retreat Ministries are invited to share their important voice, views, faith, and growth," he says.

Camps bring people to Jesus. Evangelism is a vital part of both leaders' roles as camp directors. Rev. Lint recognizes that camp is often people's first encounter with God's unconditional love as adult volunteers or as children and youth. "We have seen volunteers who finally understand that even in their brokenness, God's love draws them into a lifetime of ministry," Lint explains. "We have walked with kids who are not welcome at home, safe at home, or feel safe in their own skin and we have witnessed to them how far God will go to reach into their 'yuck' to bring them, love."

United Methodist camps in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota focus on creating a safe space, where persons of diverse backgrounds and perspectives experience the body of Christ.  These two camp directors exemplify efforts to help make camp a place that is safe and welcoming not only in a physical sense but also in an emotional and spiritual sense. It is within this context of safety that campers feel accepted and appreciated, and experience the love of Christ through relationships with staff and volunteers who genuinely care about their faith and wellbeing.    

Ziegler says," I've always felt that camp is the great leveler. A lot of the barriers between us fall away when we are removed from our normal setting. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but there's something about camp that helps break down the barriers between us, and as a result, opens people up to exploring with others questions of faith and the deeper things of God." 

The collaboration with the other site directors has assisted both Ziegler and Lint in their leadership and faith. Both recognize that the role of camp director has unique demands associated with it, including great complexity, and tremendous time and energy commitment, especially during the summer months. Being part of a team with other camp leaders across the Dakotas and Minnesota conferences, allows everyone to share successes and challenges.   

Lint explains that collaboration is creating a transformational ministry. "We have been able to highlight and utilize other camp directors' ideas and strengths. We continue to collaborate with the current directors of camping toward transformational ministry."

There is strength in leadership through collaboration Ziegler notes. "We are collaborating with people who not only care but who also have faced many of the same issues. We can be a real encouragement to each other, celebrating together God's work in our midst, and bearing each other's burdens when the going gets tough.  Over these last few years, we have grown very close as a team, with a lot of mutual respect and appreciation shared between us. That alone provides a real encouragement to press on in our work for the church."

These award-winning leaders share these ideas about leadership: 

  • The act of listening and sharing in a meal opens us to new possibilities. Sit down and eat with campers, with youth, with volunteers, and with all in your community.
  • Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. God doesn't always call you to what is easy to you, but to what is an opportunity to grow and situations to practice important kingdom work.
  • As leaders, one of our prime tasks is to discern our organization's culture and explore how the existing culture might help or hinder the organization's mission. Peter Drucker once wisely said, "organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast." Leaders often spend tremendous energy creating strategies to propel floundering organizations forward, when the reason for the floundering is not the lack of strategy, but an unhealthy organizational culture.  
  • As leaders, one of our prime tasks is to discern our organization's culture and explore how the existing culture might help or hinder the organization's mission.  
  • Organizational culture at places like camps does not change easily, in good part because the organization is often married to the interests of the culture-holders, who will work hard to defend the status quo.  However, within dying or struggling organizations, culture change, and sometimes changing the culture-holders, maybe the only way to achieve the organizational renewal needed to move it into a vital future.      
     

God is present at camp, through Lint and Ziegler, and all of the camping staff. "We see God's presence in a returning camper who clearly has found himself in the uniqueness of Minecraft Camp. A person who found the ability to lead from his place of passion faithfully," says Lint. 

"Our commitment as UMC camps is to be 'camps without barriers,'" says Ziegler, "To do all we can to offer an open-armed welcome to whomever God sends our way.  We are asked to serve campers who stretch our capacity, and sometimes our patience, to its limits. I like to remind our staff that it is precisely the children whom we struggle with most who are those who are most in need of the love of Christ in their lives.  These are the campers Jesus would invite to his banquet table. He has reminded us that when we welcome one of these little ones in his name, we welcome Him!"

UMC

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