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By Hannah Schumacher
Camp Friedenswald, Cassopolis, Mich., has motivated to teach and uphold the Mennonite and Anabaptist faith for over 60 years. Throughout those years, a variety of people have helped cultivate what is now a thriving and efficient camp.
Although staff members and volunteers of Camp Friedenswald come from all over the world, there is a large group of people from the Bluffton and Pandora area who have felt it their calling to serve at Friedenswald.
From the countless Mennonite church volunteers to college students employed as summer staff, all have helped in the creation of making Camp Friedenswald the outreach program it is today. From 2002 to today, Friedenswald has employed close to 40 summer staffer members who either grew up in the Bluffton/Pandora area, or attended Bluffton University.
For summer 2011 Camp Friedenswald has 28 summer staff members and seven of those are students or 2011 graduates of Bluffton University.
Seven with direct connections
Those seven include: Christine Amstutz, Gregg Beitler, Bracton Eicher, Darin Gundy, Maegan Rohdes, Kristen Rohdes and Blake Zickafoose.
For some of these students the connection Camp Friedenswald has with the Bluffton/Pandora community was introduced to them while attending Bluffton University.
"After the second winter retreat Shining Through, the Bluffton University's music ministry team, helped lead, I was interested in working at Camp Friedenswald," said Maegan Rohdes, "It was the right decision because I was able to use my passion for teaching and leading when relating to each camper."
Also working on summer staff are two natives of the Bluffton/Pandora area, Hannah Schumacher and Aaron Shelly. "Growing up going to Camp I experienced firsthand the impact Camp has on each camper," said Shelly, "Now, working my second summer at Camp, I've had the opportunity to be on the other side. Camp continues to be a place that not only houses fun but also growth."
Each summer, college-aged staff members of Friedenswald have routinely been youth who have grown up living in Bluffton/Pandora, or are currently going to Bluffton University.
Because the communities of Bluffton and Pandora have a strong Mennonite faith heritage, as well as a connection with Camp Friedenswald, the students who come to serve throughout the summer have commonly come to Friedenswald previously as campers. Some have come once; for some, this is their home.
Alongside those who are temporarily serving at Friedenswald for the summer, there those who work as permanent staff. Over the years, different people have given their times to help keep Friedenswald running smoothly and operating effectively. Currently, there are three permanent staff members who have lived in the Bluffton/Pandora area, and/or have studied at Bluffton University.
Portia Amstutz is the Operations Director of Camp Friedenswald. Amstutz's connection to Camp Friedenswald started at a young age when she began attending camps in 1st grade and continued though 12th grade. Amstutz then worked on summer staff for four years while attending Bluffton University.
Amstutz graduated from Bluffton University in 1987 then lived in Bluffton for 12 years with her husband Pete Amstutz, a Pandora native, and their three children, Christine, Jeremy, who will be attending Bluffton University in the fall and has worked with Camp Friedenswald's maintenance for three years, and Ezra.
It was in 2003 when Portia's husband Pete was offered a maintenance position at Camp Friedenswald and their family of five moved to Cassopolis, "Camp is a great place to raise a family," states Amstutz, "A strong sense of community and constant support is offered in all situations."
A testament that the community Camp Friedenswald offers in not solely offered to those who visit Camp as a break from their everyday lives, but also for those families where Camp Friedenswald is built into their daily routine.
Throughout the restructuring of the Camp, Amstutz was offered to have to the job she currently holds. "It's a great opportunity to have a part in the spiritual formation of the children who come to Camp," states Amstutz. For the Amstutz family, Camp Friedenswald is their home, and they are making it possible for other people who come to visit Camp to make it theirs.
Another full-time Camp Friedenswald employee who also graduated from Bluffton University is Eric Martin, the Program Coordinator. A native of Berne, Ind., Martin grew up going to Camp Friedenswald and established a real love for the people and the message that surrounds Camp.
Graduating with a degree in religion with an emphasis on youth ministries in 2008, Martin began working at Friedenswald the summer after graduation. "I think Camp offers a unique opportunity for people of all ages, especially youth, to find a faith-based community to connect them to the wider church. Camp welcomes spiritually formative events to take place," states Martin.
Camp Friedenswald has given Martin an outlet to share stories and spread the Word of God to a variety of different people.
"I have realized that Camp is important to so many people, but it's not because of where it is, but because of what it is and what it stands for. Whether the camper is in 1st grade or is 80 years old, it's amazing to be able to witness people growing in the Lord while at Camp. For so many people, this place represents God's peace and love, and I appreciate being able to share in that experience."
Another staff member at Camp Friedenswald who has a strong connection to the Bluffton/Pandora area is Jill Schlabach. Through the support of friends and mentors, Schlabach decided to attend Bluffton University and major in youth ministries and recreation with a minor in missions.
While attending Bluffton University, Schlabach worked at Camp Friedenswald as a summer staff member for two years. After graduating in 2010, Schlabach began a year of voluntary service at Camp Friedenswald serving as Camp's Guest Group Coordinator.
"Over the past year, I have grown to appreciate the variety of people who come to Camp," states Schlabach, "I enjoy being at a place where people come at certain times in their lives, times where big impact can happen. It's great to be working at Camp and given the opportunity to observe how Camp is influencing people's lives."
Because of the strong influence Camp has on people involved, stories are shared and Camp Friedenswald's message is passed along creating a strong bond with not only the Bluffton/Pandora area but communities everywhere.
Through record-setting numbers of high school campers, along with great attendance for the other weeks of youth and family camps offered throughout the summer, Camp Friedenswald is blessed to have yet another successful summer.
The staff at Camp Friedenswald constantly strives to uphold Camp's mission statement: Camp Friedenswald provides people of all ages the opportunity to grow in relationship with God, self, others and nature. This mission rings true in all that Camp Friedenswald has done and continues to do. Recognized within the Camp Friedenswald community are eight core values; Discipleship, Peace, Stewardship, Nature, Simplicity, Community, Faith, and Hospitality. Set in place as guidelines to succeed in a well-lived mission statement, these eight values are shown in every aspect of Camp, to every person associated with Camp.
By establishing a community of believers, firm in spreading the Word of God, as well as teaching the Mennonite and Anabaptist faith, Camp Friedenswald is touching the lives of people not just from Bluffton and Pandora, Ohio, but around the world.