A 50 year Journey of faith, obedience, and God’s provision!
I have privilege of recording some of the history of God’s ministry at “Camp Shalom.” Over the last month I have spoken to a number of individuals that have shared the enthusiasm and testimony of God’s faithfulness. I had opportunity to speak with Herma Savard at our April Camp Representative meeting regarding the 50th Anniversary celebration of “Camp Shalom” and her role on the Classis Youth Executive in 1969. Herma has always been excited about the ministry of “Camp Shalom” and served in 1969 as the Secretary for the Classis Youth Executive. She remembered walking the grounds with John Kapteyn at the very start, considering and visioning what a youth camp on this site might look like. “We were only teenagers!” God had given those young adults and teens a vision, a passion and direction and despite of their age and they responded in obedience.
In 1st Timothy 4 we read the following verses:
12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.
Clearly, the early stakeholders and visionaries walked in faith and obedience even though they were young!
What a message of hope that sends to our youth and young adults today. Be an example: in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.
If you want to hear how God guided the search, purchase and ultimate development of “Camp Shalom”, you need to sit with Pastor Cliff Turkstra. Let me bring to light the history as shared through Cliff.
“In the fall of 1968, I was appointed youth adviser with the instruction to assist the youth in buying a camp. They had $17,000 in donations. We looked in Owen Sound area, but I advised against the purchase since it would be too far for people to travel to volunteer. I started looking around and someone informed me of the Cambridge property that was for sale by a couple who both worked for Bell and were getting divorced and wanted a quick sale of their house. Since there were 5, ten acre, lots on the road which were selling for about $10,000 each, I met with the Classis executive to get approval to buy the property. I assured Classis Exec that we would be able to raise the funds for the balance and that the bank had agreed to interim finance until we could survey the lots and sell them. The Classis Exec gave me permission to buy the property. Four weeks before closing, the government instituted a tight money policy that stopped banks from issuing new loans that had not already been signed. The bank had to withdraw the approval.” If you know Cliff, here is where his excitement starts to build as he shares God’s miraculous provision. Let’s continue.
“Since we only had 4 weeks to try to raise the funds and nobody was able to borrow funds. It was nearly impossible to get funds. John Van Hoeve had a line of credit for his company and before the bank had a chance to put a hold on it, he withdrew the $10,000 and contributed it to the camp loan fund. With a week to go before closing, we were $35,000 short of raising the funds. We were convinced that we were going to lose the deposit and the property. In my study, I prayed a hopeless prayer. ‘Lord, we have tried everything to buy this property and there is no way we can do it. If you want this camp, you are going to have to do it.’”
Do we serve a mighty God? Do we serve a God that knows the desires of our hearts? Do we serve a God that makes clear His way? Read on.
“Within 5 minutes, my family doctor called, between patients, to talk to me about Salem Counseling. Instead of talking about the counseling, he mentioned that Salem had $100,000 in the bank. He then remarked that he had no idea why he had said that because he had called to talk to me about the counseling. I asked if we could borrow $35,000 since I had just told the Lord that if He wanted the camp, He would have to raise the funds and it seemed strange that the doctor called and mentioned the $100,000 right after the prayer. He assured me that it would be impossible. The board was not meeting for another 3 weeks and they had just turned down a temporary loan for $5000. Since I was desperate, and it seemed like the Lord was doing something, I asked whom I should call to request the loan. He gave me the name of the president who was a gynecologist in St. Catharines. He said that it would probably take a week to get hold of him since he was so busy.”
Here’s the good part!
“I called and he answered the phone as he was walking between 2 patients and both his assistants were both on the phone. He never answered the phone so he was surprised that he had. When I explained the situation and the call from my doctor, he again assured me that it would be impossible, but he would try to call the other 11 board members, but it would take at least a week before he would be able to reach them. An hour later, he called me back to say that a miracle had happened. He had reached all the board members on the first call and all of them had said that they should loan the funds. Since the funds were needed right away and the treasurer was in London, the treasurer would make out the cheque and since he was leaving for vacation, ( It was July 1969) he would leave the cheque on the seat of his car in the driveway. This was Friday and the closing was on Monday!
Later he called me and told me that the board could not believe what they had done. They did not even have a receipt and they did not even know anything about the Classis. He wondered how the board could explain the action to the members. How could doctors, lawyers, accountants, and the like, do such a thing. I assured him that I would have a mortgage drawn up.”
The property was purchased in May 1969 for $75,000 from Clarence and Vera Simmons and registered to the Classis of Ontario on July 3, 1969.
Peter Turkstra, Cliff’s father, played a huge role early on in direction, development, and governance of “Camp Shalom.” Peter had a vision of the camp prior to visiting the site and clearly felt this was the place to build. After accepting this challenge, Peter was walking around the property feeling the weight of the world. He was running 11 businesses at the time and was over his head in troubles and did not know which way to turn. As he was walking in the field, suddenly this incredible peace (Shalom) came over him. All his troubles just disappeared and he was totally free! He exclaimed “God is here! Here is Peace!” Out of this experience came the name for the camp. Shalom, God’s peace! “Camp Shalom” became the name and Peter Turkstra carried that banner throughout Southern Ontario sharing what was, and is and is to come with countless members of the reformed Christian community. His business sense and love for the camp became apparent with anyone he shared this passion.
Leadership-Past, Present and Future
Reverend John Drost was extended a call in September of 1976 and served as the first director of “Camp Shalom.” I had many opportunities to sit and listen to him speak of the early vision he and Joan had for God’s ministry at “Camp Shalom.” The development of the discipleship program for youth, the expansion of the adventure camps, the creation of the Fall Fair, and a continued calling on the church to rise to a new vision for “Camp Shalom.” Let me share his words from a March 15, 1980 Directors Report to the Classis of Ontario following the 10th anniversary celebration of “Camp Shalom”. “With a new decade upon us we are challenged by a vision that in no way stands before us in full clarity but the shape of which we are beginning to discern. I am referring to the proposal for a more extensive use of Camp Shalom as a Centre for the reformed churches in Canada. The proposed Centre is to house certain administrative functions, it is to provide resources for Church Growth and for more advanced Christian training. The hopes are that with God’s help and by concentrating and integrating these resources at Camp Shalom we shall be able to strengthen leadership and vision for the life, ministry and mission of the local church and the Church at large. ….. It is our hope that as these plans unfold care is taken that we do not shortchange the Camping Ministry which has been an integral part of Camp Shalom and which has played such an important role in the Youth Ministry of our Classis.”
During these foundational years the following building projects were completed: Centre Hall, Swimming Pool, Summer Cabins, Whispering Pines, Six Pillars, Winterized Cabin, Family Camp Washrooms and Pavilion, and Drost Lodge. In 1978 “Camp Shalom” was one of the first Christian Camps to join the newly formed Christian Camping International Canada organization.
In March of 1983, Reverend Drost accepted a call to Ebenezer Reformed Church in Stoney Creek, Ontario.
In the fall of 1983 we saw a new face as director of “Camp Shalom,” Reverend Siebrand Wilts returned to Ontario from serving in Manitoba with his family joining him in early 1984. Reverend Wilts brought in the development of a new program serving individuals with ‘special needs’ and initiated the first program in 1985 with 15 guests. Pastor Wilts, as I called him later when I arrived here, was a soft spoken spiritual giant in discipleship, with a great sense of humor and a caring heart. Many of the staff he trained at “Camp Shalom” became involved in ministries throughout Canada.
Throughout his tenure, Pastor Wilts, educated the board in current trends in program and facility development at Christian Camps and encouraged planned sustainability. Pastor Wilts’ relational impact development within his staff impacted thousands of summer campers, especially the new guests attending our “Special Needs” programs.
In June of 1990, Pastor Wilts accepted a call to the newly constructed Countryside Reformed Church located at the front of the camp property.
During these program developmental years at “Camp Shalom” our rental ministry started providing year round financial support for the ministry and the Fall Fair helped to keep the ministry out of deficit.
The transition years from 1990 to 1995 saw a number of familiar faces leading God’s ministry here at camp, but in my archives Mr. John Logtenberg, who later became one of my good friends, served as interim director until the call of Reverend Calvin VerMulm in 1995.
This time of transition was led by strong board leadership and a vision to develop the new Office building, nurses station, accessible bedroom and washroom and 8 ensuite 2nd floor guest rooms.
Reverend Calvin VerMulm was the first non-Canadian to serve as both the Program Director of “Camp Shalom” and the Classis Youth Director. In 1995 Calvin, Jane and their family arrived at camp and took up residency in Six Pillars. Calvin’s youthful spirit and quick connection with the senior high youth of the Classis Churches helped him immensely in the recruitment and hiring of many summer camp staff positions. The new Office building was finished and the ministry was growing. Calvin’s leadership in the development of camp programs for multiple ages simultaneously on site (The Munchkin and Adventure Programs) quickly began to grow the numbers. Our impact with serving individuals with “Special Needs” was also increasing and “Camp Shalom” began to be recognized as one of the few Christian Summer camp ministries serving our “special” guests. Calvin’s heart was developing disciples and his gift for writing curriculum that was exciting, relevant, and biblically centered was timely.
I witnessed Calvin’s shared role with the Classical Churches as one that brought unity of focus to youth ministries that were sometimes stagnant or struggling. His relational approach helped to grow youth ministries across the Classis proportionately with the growth we were seeing in summer camp enrollment. In the seven years Calvin served her at “Camp Shalom” the summer camp attendance went from a low of 630 to the highest in our history 1037.
In the spring of 2002 Calvin accepted a position at Inspiration Hills, an RCA Christian Camp Ministry in Iowa.
It was in 1999 that God and board of “Camp Shalom” extended a call to me, to serve in a new role as Managing Director. The Partridge Family; Tim, Sharon, Seth, Anna, and Ethan, arrived on June 21st and I started serving on June 28th, 1999. Having served in three separate and unique camp ministries in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida for twenty years prior to “Camp Shalom”, I felt excited and overwhelmed by this totally new opportunity in Canada!
It is hard to express all my thoughts regarding the blessings I have witnessed and experienced over the last 20 years while serving as Managing Director. Like so many of the leaders before me, the mission and vision for the Kingdom Building Work being accomplished here at “Camp Shalom” is what drew me into service. I have had the privilege of working alongside great people, with great hearts, and great talents used specifically for ‘just such a time as this’. I want to honour them first and thank them for being willing to serve together making a huge impact in the lives of men, women, boys and girls throughout Southern Ontario: Cindy Bloemert, Heidi Mouy, John and Anja Pluim, Bill and Dorothy Bonvanie, Kim Higgins, Joan Albert, Larry and Betty Harris, Lea Stelpstra, Andre Vanderlaan, and Dan and Jody Godwaldt. In addition to these great men and women, I want to honour the Program Directors that made “Camp Shalom” a Christian Ministry second to none during these last twenty years: Calvin VerMulm, Marijke Strong, Chris Godwaldt, Adrian Stelpstra, and this season Ethan Partridge. Thank you for your Servant Leadership mentored and lived out for all to see and for His honour during your time at “Camp Shalom.”
The board of directors has also been the driving force behind much of our progress and direction over the last 20 years. I have served alongside over 70 different board members during my time as Managing Director and want to express my thanks to each of you for your passion for God’s ministry at “Camp Shalom.” It is because of the strategic planning and governance that I am still excited to serve alongside many new board members in our quest for God’s new vision and direction in the next 50 years.
For the record, in 1999, working through our first strategic plan and under the mandate from Classis we incorporated as Countryside Camp and Conference Centre Association and maintained the “Camp Shalom” name for the summer program. This transition was not easy for the Reformed Churches in the Classis of Ontario and through much prayer and effort; visits across the Classis were made sharing the reasoning behind the decision of Classis and opening dialogue with churches regarding the new name that now surrounded the cherished ministry “Camp Shalom.”
During those transition years I witnessed a new birth in the Rental Ministry of Countryside Camp and growth in the Discipleship ministry of “Camp Shalom.” Raising awareness in the Region of Waterloo that Countryside Camp and Conference Centre existed became news. Local Christian churches outside of the RCA began finding us for the first time.
In the five years of transition we saw every building re-sided, new roofs installed on nearly all the buildings and a $90,000 renovation and upgrades to Drost Lodge were completed. We replaced the camp truck and a tractor and much needed newer mowers were all donated.
The Program Director position had transitioned from Calvin VerMulm to Marijke Strong then to Christ Godwaldt with the Special Needs program gain more popularity. A close partnership with Christian Horizons helped to bolster the summer program for “Special Needs” with funding from Foundations starting to be a regular occurrence for these excellent programs.
In 2004, the ministry received a major gift from Ben Schuurman –Hess, which set in motion the development of the new spray pad, updated pool, and renovated washrooms for Centre Hall: a $375,000 project. This project was the largest undertaken since the Office building in 1995 and was completed in 2008. The drinking water tragedy that struck Walkerton in 2003 also changed the way camps operated their drinking water systems forever. Today we invest nearly $7,000 each year in the safe drinking water systems we have on two wells at the camp and have four licensed drinking water systems operators to conduct the daily tests now required by the provincial government.
In 2006, Marijke Strong returned as our Program Director developing great curriculum and training our servant leadership model of Christian Leadership to summer staff. Her style of leadership is mirrored in many of those seasonal staff even to this day. During the 2006-2009 years Countryside Camp and Conference Centre became the second largest Christian residential summer camp program for individuals with “special needs” in Southern Ontario. It was also during this time that Lea Van Ryn and Adrian Stelpstra developed and implemented the very first “Spec Trek” special needs program including a 5 hour canoe trip down the Grand River. For over ten years now the Spec Trek program has been full nearly every summer.
The economy here in Ontario crashed severely with the automotive sector with job losses in the thousands across Southern Ontario. God’s provision became so apparent with an estate gift of $250,000 from Elizabeth Van Leeuwen which not only carried the shortfalls in our operations during this seasons but assisted with further capital improvements.
As the economy began to recover, our Rental Ministry revitalized as did our summer camp program with the arrival of a new Program Director; Adrian Stelpstra. Adrian’s firm, soft-spoken, steadfast servant leadership style complemented the ministry reach of “Camp Shalom” and I saw for the first time consistency in how program was developed, implemented and marketed. Technology began to take our industry by storm and Adrian was well suited and up for that challenge. He quickly became eager and the expert on all things computer in the office and website development and social media marketing. Adrian has now served for over 10 years as our Program Director refining and continuing to develop his leadership skills. His giftedness and compassionate heart are just two of the many reasons he has been so timely in our program development. Now as Adrian and Lea Stelptra are planning to soon arrival of their next child, Adrian has taken parental leave and my son, Ethan Partridge has assumed the role of Program Director.
Ethan, a recent graduate of Grace Christian University in Michigan, is not a stranger to “Camp Shalom” having served under Adrian’s direct mentorship while completing his high school requirements and on seasonal staff for 6 years, serving in each key leadership role. The board is truly excited to see how God uses Ethan in this new role and look forward to seeing him develop into the leader God has intended him to become.
Shortly after Adrian arrived, Dan and Jody Godwaldt filled the vacancy of Maintenance Manager and Assistant as Larry and Betty Harris sought other opportunities. Dan brought his skill as a licenced and now Master electrician to bear on many of the current projects. Dan had served on our board of directors and previously completing the electrical work necessary for the swimming pool and spray pad projects. Jody had served as our Camp Cook at “Camp Shalom” in 2004. They both have generated such goodwill and connection with the North Dumfries community with their involvement in Cedar Creek Community Church, Scouts Canada, and the Ayr Public School system.
Dan has developed into a seasoned project manager for the camp, coordinating various trades and volunteers to accomplish many capital projects such as the complete replacement of the Drost Lodge Washrooms, the Spruce Lodge Washrooms, Centre Hall Window and Dining Room wall renovation and most recently the Centre Hall Dining Room Ceiling, Lighting and Worship area renovation to name a few of the many highlights. Dan has proven again and again his leadership and hard work pays dividends to God’s ministry at camp.
Jody has also recently transitioned from Dan’s assistant in maintenance and housekeeping early on to now a new department head as Food Services Director for Countryside Camp and Conference Centre. Jody’s passion for food service and her intentional leadership skill development led to her fulfilling this newly created role. As our Rental Ministries continue to grow, the impact that our in-house catering services have on meeting their needs have also provided a new revenue stream for God’s ministry at camp. Jody has proven to be an effective leader in developing the food service teams throughout the year and especially in the “Camp Shalom” summer team.
God has continued to support His ministry her at camp with dedicated mature followers of Jesus Christ. Within two years of taking on the new role as Managing Director, I hired Kim Higgins as our Office Administrator now Office Manager, and Joan Albert, recently retired, as our part-time Bookkeeper. Both Kim and Joan have grown to be very close friends, sharing faith journeys and ministry peaks and valleys. God has used them both to better His ministry continuously. Kim, completed training and developed our camper registration data base, which until recently was updated to CampBrain. She developed our Rental Ministry and Donor database systems and both are being used today. The tasks, projects and coordination that these two women of faith were able to orchestrate and accomplish on a continual basis always amazed me and with Kim it still does.
All I can say, while serving over 20 years here as Managing Director, is Praise God! God has and is continuing to guide and lead us on this journey together for His honour and Glory. I have had and continue to have the privilege of sharing the impact of God’s ministry here at camp with countless number of people each year and total enjoy each and every opportunity.
In closing, I want to share my passion with you in hopes that your spirit will be stirred to action.
In 2010, I presented a stewardship program to the board of directors to memorialize the lives of two individuals, Elizabeth Van Leeuwen, whose husband Dick volunteered regularly and John Logtenberg who served tirelessly on the board, on staff, and on numerous other committees. Each of these individuals made estate gifts to Countryside Camp and Conference Centre with no designation.
The stewardship program was called Stand in the Gap, a program that partnered with local congregations, churches, and charitable organizations with the capacity to identify and follow-up with children and youth of families they served that were marginalized in society or under-resourced by the agencies and government programs.
Many of you may know that two of the three Christian camp ministries I served with in the USA were with the Salvation Army. It was during that service I saw directly the impact Christian camp ministry had on children less fortunate. Stand in the Gap is an extension of my heart in God’s ministry here at “Camp Shalom” each season. I am so pleased that many of you and others have joined in this cause, as sponsoring organizations and churches or as Stand in the Gap partners paying for the difference in cost so children and youth can experience the love of Jesus Christ through the staff at “Camp Shalom.” By the end of this season we will have served over 800 campers and guests through the Stand in the Gap program since inception.
As I have shared but a snapshot of the activity and blessing of the last 50 years, I also have the honour to share a taste of the future plans for the start of the next 50 years.
With God’s direction and guidance, in the next year, Countryside Camp and Conference Centre will be initiating a capital campaign for building a new lodge. The lodge will be one story able to accommodate 60 guests or more with meeting spaces and a worship area for at least 250 guests. This new lodge will be accessible to guests and expand our existing summer camp special needs programs. This new lodge will replace the inaccessible sleeping accommodations currently in Centre Hall. Centre Hall will then become the Dining Room for the entire complex with all groups taking their meals there while on retreats. Please be praying with me now for God to go ahead us in making the way clear and providing the much needed funds to accomplish such a large vision he has placed on our hearts.
Thank you for taking the time to read this brief historical account of our first 50 years of ministry at “Camp Shalom”, now the summer ministry of Countryside Camp and Conference Centre.
Managing Director, May 2019