“The Souls at the Top of a Cliff”

William Booth

By Ed Covert –


Photos by John Docter and Joe Rothrock


This summer, in the Western Territory, approximately 8,000 campers were impacted by The Salvation Army’s ministry in resident camping. Of that number, many hearts were won to the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the lives of camp staff, and still many         more re-confirmed their commitment to allow Christ to be the Lord of their lives.

You already know that camp is a place for friends, fun and sun…so why this article?

The Salvation Army Western Territory has a rich heritage in resident camping, as has been reported in a recent issue of New Frontier. As faithful stewards of so great a resource, today’s camps are a dynamic blend of old and new, motivated by the desire to provide programming and services that address current issues and trends in our society and culture. Our camps, historically called “Fresh Air Camps,” find their roots in William Booth’s commitment and belief that every child ought to experience a certain quality of life that affords them the opportunity to thrive.

Archery When addressing the social ills of his time, he used the illustration of many souls broken and battered at the bottom of a large cliff, being ministered to by the Army, and many more souls at the top of the cliff dangerously approaching the edge. The point of this illustration was then, and is even more today, that the Army is and must be at the bottom of the cliff. It is of equal or greater importance for us to be at the top of the cliff rebuilding the fences.

Many young people, campers and staff, are being drawn to the edge of the cliff by the need for the thrill of risk, adventure, and immediate gratification. Without some intervention and guidance, the outcomes of their decisions can be disasterous. The camping programs offered by the Army provide dynamic opportunities for the thrill of risk taking, challenge, adventure and decision-making, all with the added element of achieving positive outcomes when the experience is facilitated by trained and experienced staff.

Adventure programming

Adventure programming can consist of many things from group initiatives requiring no props to highropes course programs (requiring the use of technical equipment and well trained staff) to wilderness camp programs, or just the adventure that group living brings all on its own.

The keys to adventure programming are found in providing participants the opportunity to enhance their self-esteem, to encourage critical thinking and decision making and to promote new skill development–all in an environment that assures safety physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Camp as a tool for early intervention and prevention also provides programs that encourage literacy and develop the imagination. Literacy is more than just words or numbers on a page. It provides a gateway to the development of the imagination and a world of wonder that awaits each child as he or she comes to camp. Literacy programming by its very nature becomes an integrated part of camp life. It includes such things as reading rooms, book distribution to every child through involvement with the “Reading is Fundamental” program, daily camp newspaper, Scripture memorization, word of the day, computation games, magnetic poetry, sidewalk chalk, story illustrations, etc. Today, when so many kids face the loss of personal identity, family, friends, and hope, what a privilege is ours to help them to embrace two things that can never be taken from them: the salvation offered through Jesus Christ and an improved ability to read and understand the Bible they were given at camp.

“Fence rails”

The needed fence rails then can be put into place by the many ministries within the Army that partner with camp to provide a camp experience for people of all ages, such as the corps, the full range of social services, recovery programs and prison ministries that provide camp for dependent children, services to the aging and service extension. The fence rails put in place by this partnership represent an important and vital link to the follow-up in the lives of those touched by our camps. The ministry in camping is then well positioned to enhance and impact the full spectrum of Army programs and services.

Canoeing Without the valuable resources provided every year by the staff, a camp is just bricks and mortar. Our staff have the responsibility to care for children, many of whom face daily stresses and hardships that have robbed them of the basic joys of childhood. Often, these children bring an emotional bag full of unresolved issues and a schedule of medications without which the parent(s) fear that the child would be unsuccessful at camp. To effectively care for these children–as well as all the others who arrive at camp for a week of fun and adventure–requires a well-trained and dedicated staff.

Staff development and recruitment has become a year-round process, and includes visits to corps, youth councils, and many college campuses throughout the division. Recruitment culminates with the completion of a seven to ten day orientation just before the camping season. The development of the staff, however, continues to be an ongoing daily process throughout the summer and the remainder of the year.

We’ve begun a volunteer/discipleship program for young people ages 14-16. This program requires each participant to be present for all the orientation period, and then to commit to a two-week volunteer period in which they are required to complete a set curriculum consisting of Bible study, Scripture memorization, keeping a prayer journal, and preparing and delivering a cabin devotion. These young people are also given the opportunity to explore specific areas of programming that are of interest to them. This program heavily emphasizes discipleship and the development of future staff members. The goal of the program is to assist in the spiritual development of these young people and at the same time prepare them for ministry and leadership in the future.

In addition to the volunteer program, the use of small group accountability has had a very positive impact on the spiritual health of the staff. These groups meet at the start of each new session and before the campers have arrived to pray together, study the Word, and share concerns, hopes and dreams.

Today’s staff live in a world that challenges them to reject absolutes and to look for a value system that satisfies their own needs. Camp provides ten weeks of no-compromise and reaffirmation that some things are non-negotiable, such as the sovereignty of God and his steadfast ability to meet every need of those who faithfully respond to his call.

God has entrusted to the Army’s care and keeping a wealth of resources both in site and facilities and in human resources. His continued blessing on this ministry is contingent on our faithful stewardship of these resources. As you walk into an Army camp you ought to experience the presence of God as your senses are overwhelmed by the wonder of his creation.

Outdoor education

The ongoing development of outdoor education with respect to each of our camps has resulted in a number of programming opportunities. In the Northwest, the Tahoma Wilderness Camp emphasizes environmental stewardship and service learning, and is programmed for young people ages 13-16. The service learning concept is based on developing in the lives of the campers and staff the value of completing a project that will benefit those that they may never meet. Trails were cleared and repaired, footbridges were constructed, service vehicles cleaned, and many other tasks were accomplished.

Providing curriculum and support to both Christian and public schools for outdoor education has proved to be a great partnership with the community.

Also, working with the Christian home school networks to assist with science and outdoor education studies has been a terrific extension of our ministry. We’ve partnered with a regional wildlife park to run a program called “Eco-Camp” that stresses the interconnection of life (man to God and the environment and person to person). Forging these types of strategic alliances helps to keep our camping program effective and current.

Where is the Army’s camping ministry heading? Well, the simple answer to that question can be found in Proverbs 19:21: Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purposes that prevail. It’s in God’s hands. The more complex answer is that God raised up the Army’s camping ministry to be a vital, dynamic, and life-changing experience. Our camps must always remain a sacred and holy place where Salvationists young and old can come to worship and seek God in a way that is not accessible in the city–a place where friendships can be renewed and God can enjoy the fellowship of his people. Our camps must also be a haven of rest and restoration for a society that is weary and in need of hope and salvation.

Future outlook

As the winds of change sweep through our world today, the fence at the top of the cliff has been damaged and the materials that once were strong enough to protect the lives of our young people can no longer be counted on to keep them from the edge. As in the past, can we continue to find new resources to help us build stronger and better fences, or in time will be find ourselves more involved in ministering at the bottom of the cliff than at the top?

Ropes The outlook for the Army’s ministry in camping, as I see it, is bright and hopeful. At the urging and direction of the Holy Spirit, great strides have been made in recent years. With new divisions opening and building camps and other divisions revitalizing facilities and programs, the opportunities have never been greater for the sharing of resources and ideas to help solidify this ministry for the sake of the gospel and the next generation.

As the summer of 1996 becomes a memory and summer 1997 begins to dawn on the horizon, those of us who share in this ministry reaffirm to those of you who entrust the lives of your young people to us that camp will always be a place for spiritual growth and renewal; a place where new friendships and lasting memories will be made; a place where safety physically, emotionally, and spiritually will remain our top priority; and a place where fun will abound.

Sharing is caring!