Camp Brookwoods: 75 Years

by Peter Greer, Brookwoods Alumnus

 

While I didn’t know it at the time, my entire life changed underneath the giant stuffed moose outside the Camp Brookwoods office. It was in this spot that my mother, Bonnie Greer, made an introduction to Laurel Steinweg. They had recently returned from leading the Martha’s Vineyard trip and it was obvious that my mom had a subversive plan behind this introduction. Four years later, Laurel and I were rafting the Nile River together in Uganda as she moved to East Africa to serve as a schoolteacher. We were married 6 months later.

That wasn’t the only moment when my life changed at camp. In much simpler and less dramatic ways, my life subtly shifted because of the influence of counselors who lived out their faith, the encouragement of friends to complete the inclined log on the ropes course, the solo experience where a journal and a Bible were all that was required for significant conversations with God.

Camp Brookwoods was more than a summer experience. For ten summers of my life, it was the place where wild adventure replaced normal routine and where deep friendships with God and others took root. For 75 years, Brookwoods has been a place where these types of significant moments are woven together through faithful service and a clear mission. It has been a place where God has drawn together people from all backgrounds, transformed complete strangers into lifelong friends, and changed the trajectory of lives.

Another of the memorable moments for us was the Allagash canoe trip. As our group was canoeing across Eagle Lake, we casually paddled, but mostly were caught up in conversation and using our paddles to splash the other canoes. We sang loudly and poorly, and munched on gorp.

But we didn’t go very far. The currents and winds silently counteracted our feeble efforts and as the day wore on, the wind picked up. Small talk ended as we put our heads down and paddled with all our might against surging whitecaps. But looking at the shoreline to measure progress, it was clear that we weren’t moving. We decided to put up camp and weather the storm overnight.

We woke up at 3 am to make up for lost time and get back on the water before the winds picked up again. But once we reached the river, we faced a completely different situation. The river narrowed and sucked us into foamy whitewater. As we navigated around rocks, our small canoes journeyed where the currents took us.

The Allagash trip taught me never to underestimate the currents and the winds. You pay attention to them because they have their own agenda. You ignore them at your own peril. And at times, you fight with all your might not to let them take you to a place you don’t want to go.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the winds and currents at play in faith-based nonprofit organizations, too. Slowly, silently, and with little fanfare, organizations are caught up in the currents and drift from their original purpose, and most never return to their original intent.

Take Harvard University, for example. Early in its history, Harvard had the mission, “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” They emphasized character formation above all else, and rooted all policies and practices in a Christian worldview. Yet, today, Harvard University resembles very little of the spiritual vitality their founders espoused. At Harvard’s 350th anniversary celebration, Steven Muller, former president of Johns Hopkins University, didn’t mince words: “The university has become godless.”

Or consider Franciscan food banks. Created as an alternative to loan sharks in the Middle Ages, these montes pietatius helped those in poverty to manage their incomes. The lifeblood of European peasants, these institutions were even endorsed by Pope Julius II. Today, however, we know these institutions as pawn shops. Over time, pawn shop owners lost sight of their identity. Designed to care for those in need, they have now become a place used to prey on families in distress.

Harvard and pawn shops got caught up in drift, and they are far from the only examples. Mission drift is all around us. But thankfully, drift is not the story of Camp Brookwoods, Camp Deer Run, or Moose River Outpost.

As Brookwoods celebrates their 75th birthday, the Main House looks a little different. The facilities have been expanded and improved. I heard that there is even air conditioning in the Main Office! And while SCUBA diving, archery, and wakeboarding are new camp activities since my time, the mission of Camp Brookwoods has remained staunchly the same: to foster vibrant Christian communities located in awe-inspiring outdoor settings in which young people are spiritually transformed through Christ-centered relationships.

In 1944, in the midst of WW II, Lawrence Andreson (Doc. A.) opened Camp Brookwoods’ doors to 8 campers on 110 acres of land. Today, Camp Brookwoods and Deer Run have grown to house over 850 campers each summer along 500 acres.

Diligently committed to the mission, Doc. A. hired strong leaders committed to Christ and skilled in teaching. When the camp changed hands in 1973, George Bennett, Sr. gathered an intentional board of directors, and the board has fiercely safeguarded the mission. Due to the careful attention of camp leaders like Doc. A., George Bennett, David Strodel, and many others, the Camp mission vibrantly lives on to this day. “The history and traditions, first established by Dr. Andreson, and saved by the Bennett family,” noted a Camp Brookwoods newsletter, “will continue to the next generation of campers and staff.”

Despite changing leadership, a rotating board, and new camp activities, Camp Brookwoods, Deer Run, and Moose River Outpost continue to keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ centrally integrated into every part of the camp structure – woven into camp life through Bible studies, mealtime prayers, morning quiet times (PQT), evening devotionals, relationships, and Sunday chapels.

Camp Brookwoods continues to be grounded in Christ, building lives of faith and character.

George Bennett said of Camp Brookwoods, “The goal of camp still remains to introduce young people to Jesus Christ and to help them develop their relationship with God… the purpose of camp life is to integrate a spiritual life with daily activity.” And each summer, more and more students are introduced to the saving grace of Jesus and equipped for lives of service. What a powerful history and legacy!

Happy 75th Birthday, Camp Brookwoods… and to many more!

Editor’s Note: Peter will be preaching Sunday morning at Brookwoods’ 75thAnniversary, July, 28th.

Peter Greer is President and CEO of HOPE International, a global Christ-centered microenterprise development organization serving throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Prior to joining HOPE, Peter worked internationally in Cambodia, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda. More important than his occupation is his role as husband to Laurel and dad to Keith, Liliana, and Myles. For more info, visit www.peterkgreer.com.