Camp Shalom Alumni Spotlight – Marijke Strong
Who are you?
A child of God. My name is Marijke Strong. I grew up in the Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ontario. I studied English and Theatre, lived in New Brunswick for awhile, made my way back to Ontario to work at the best summer camp in the world, went to seminary, lived in an amazing intentional community with some of the awesomest friends a person could have, was ordained as a pastor, became a spiritual director, worked at a fantastic church in Michigan, and recently came back to Ontario again to work for the Regional Synod of Canada (RCA). I have two cats, a hippie sister, a set of pretty wild parents, and a Subaru Impreza. Some of the things I love to do include: kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, biking, camping, creative writing, preaching, meeting new friends, cooking with friends, jamming, drinking coffee, reading, and making art. That’s a long list of incidentals. The first sentence is the most important.
When did you serve on staff at Camp Shalom and what roll did you have?
Oh gosh. I think I served as a drama counselor when I was 19, 20 and 21. Then I came back as the Summer Camp Coordinator in 2001, and became the Program Director in 2002-2003, and 2006-2008.
What was your best memory of your time at Camp Shalom?
There are so many best memories! I remember canoeing the mighty Grand River with staff during our training weeks (this may have involved falling out and breaking my toe), singing songs around countless campfires, hearing bullfrogs at night through the screen window of my cabin, praying and playing with campers, re-enacting the life of Jesus on our “Jesus Walk,” a certain team-building initiative that involved leaky canoes, surviving the great blackout of 2003, staying up late to talk about life, watching the stars, weathering rainstorms, eating Egg McShaloms, doing crazy tricks for mail call, performing Green Eggs and Ham in the Staff Show, and singing “Tell Me How You Get Down” for the hundredth time. Some of my most profound memories are of our Special Support campers. Once one of our campers ran away and we were panicked because we couldn’t find him… until we looked in the back field, where he was dancing around the cross and singing to Jesus. How can you beat that?
How did your service impact you then? Do you feel it had a lasting impact in your life?
At the time, working at Camp Shalom taught me that I was a leader. It taught me to serve others, even when I was tired or felt impatient. It taught me that joy comes in the morning. And the profoundest lessons come from the simplest people. It taught me that God is larger, more powerful, present and creative than I could ever comprehend. It taught me about flourishing Christian community.
As for lasting impact, wow. Yes. I am a different person now. The most obvious impact is that the experience of leading and shepherding God’s people helped me discern my call to be a minister of Word and Sacrament. Of course that’s not everyone’s call. But I’d guess most of the staff members at Camp Shalom have discovered the unfolding of their call in some new way through the experience. I also tasted one of the deepest expressions of Christian community, which led me to live in an intentional community later in life and to try to form community wherever I went after that. The experience also taught me that beauty is to be found in brokenness and joy in difficulty. Finally, it confirmed for me that God’s fingerprint is all over creation. I only need to look to the wide-open, starry sky to know that God is love.
Did you meet someone special at camp?
I met many special someones! Oh, do you mean a romantic special someone? Well, in that case, ahem. That’s classified information. Maybe! But I’d rather focus on the amazing friendships and inspiring coworkers I met. So the answer is yes — I am still great friends with many of the staff members I worked with and the campers I led (and who led me). There is one Special Support camper who comes to mind. He always asked female staff members to “marry” him. Maybe you know who I’m talking about. I think that guy was pretty wise. He knew how important it is to live with humour and love.
Would you recommend serving of staff to students today? Why?
Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes. If you want your life to be changed, if you want to discover the unfolding of who you were created to be, if you want to understand the beauty and difficulty of human beings, if you want to learn the extent of your strength and compassion, if you want to be reminded that God exists and is powerfully at work in the world… then, yes.