by: Elaine Tomski
How grateful we are for an Almighty God who placed the sun, moon, and stars in the sky. He created just the right light for our days and nights. But, do you know, He also made special people who love to shine? At Round Lake Christian Camp in Lakeville, Ohio, these special lights are called Very Important People (V.I.P.). They are the campers who just can’t wait for July to come. They keep their “little lights” shining and stay ready to return to V.I.P. Camp every year.
What is V.I.P. Camp, you ask? It’s a church camp for individuals with disabilities. Offered since 1986, the lodge at Round Lake, accessible to those with special needs, is the perfect facility for V.I.P. campers. The center of the lodge features a chapel and a dining room. A wing extends on either side to house the men on one end and the women on the other. However, more important than the right facility is the right experience. Excited campers arrive on Monday morning for three days and three nights of fun and fellowship. Hallie says, “It’s a blast!” The daughter of camp deans Bart and Amy Rine should know. Hallie has been attending camp with her dad and mom since she was only two years old.
Back in 2004, with daughters Rowan and Hallie in tow, Bart and Amy attended camp as “buddies.” Amy explains; “Buddies are one-on-one helpers for each camper. Like a best friend for the week.” Bart says, “I have a nephew with Down syndrome, so we’re familiar with disabilities.” His nephew Blake attended V.I.P. Camp the year prior. Because Blake’s excitement was so contagious, when the pastor invited Bart and Amy to serve as buddies, they jumped right in. Now the members of the Rine family are the ones who can’t wait to get back to camp each year.
Four years ago, after much prayer and waiting on God’s timing, Bart and Amy had the peace to say, “Yes!” to taking on the role of V.I.P. Camp Deans. Amy says, “We decided we were all in. Camp deans take on the responsibility of planning the week, and make sure they have the volunteers for it.” There are advantages to having a married couple become co-deans. As Amy says, “Certain things require a man and some issues require a woman.”
Amy handles the paperwork before camp begins. She says, “I do a lot of preparation before camp, so when the campers arrive, my work is done and I’m available to fulfill needs as they arise.” Bart serves as the spiritual leader throughout camp. Amy says, “Bart helps a lot with the physical aspects of our campers. Many of them are in wheelchairs.” Bart also keeps everyone moving along with the day’s schedule. Through the night, Amy addresses concerns on the women’s side of the lodge and Bart handles the men’s issues. They both love working with their committed staff to bring a fun, faith-filled experience to their V.I.Ps.
THE VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE
“Hey, when’s camp?” asks Blake. “I’m ready for camp!” Bart’s nephew Blake continues to attend camp each year. Registration packets arrive by mail beginning in February. By March, Blake wants to know if it’s time, yet. His siblings also love camp. Each one has volunteered over the years. Amy says, “A lot of times a family member will come as a buddy. But they won’t be paired with their relative.” In this way, the V.I.P. has the opportunity for new experiences and the chance to make new friends.
V.I.P. Camp is for all ages, but typically, campers are adults ranging in age from 17 to 70. Of course, there are always exceptions. Amy says, “I think our oldest camper is 72 years old.”
For Katie, a camper in her thirties, Amy says, “V.I.P. Camp is absolutely her favorite week of the year. Her mom has to hide the camp booklet until just a few weeks before camp. Otherwise, she gets obsessed with it. She loves it so.” Katie comes to camp and does things for herself. She loves her independence. “I love that these are the only three nights of the year her parents can go away on a little vacation.”
“My favorite time is their first day there, Monday morning,” says Bart. “They charge the door with big smiles.” Bart gets these special people. He says, “They don’t sugar-coat anything. They’re authentic. They don’t want anything out of the ordinary. They want what life is like for you and me every day. They just want to do what everyone else is doing. Be included. It’s that simple.”
Hallie, who first came to camp at age two, is now sixteen. She appreciates the positive nature of the V.I.P.s. She says, “It’s nice to see how others love the world for what it is. They love their lives, and it’s amazing to see that.” Hallie notices how campers shine. She reports that Jenny is always positive and that Joyce jokes all of the time. “They live gratefully. They get caught up in all of the things that are right.”
Bart says, “There’s a dedicated core group of people who come back year after year. We know we can count on them. We do this together. People who aren’t led don’t commit themselves to something like this.” The prayers of the staff members cover the preparation for camp. Then in July, people of all ages and stages arrive to serve and have fun.
“The staff includes several teenagers,” says Amy. “Volunteers begin at the age of fourteen as a buddy. If they have jobs, many teens will tell their bosses in February, ‘I can’t work the week of V.I.P. Camp.’ ” She also says, “The teens work their tails off, but they get a little bit of social time.” Teens always enjoy scheduled social time the night before campers arrive. However, once the V.I.P.s come, days are so full even teenagers discover they need to sleep more than they need social time. Bedtime quiet is required and welcomed.
Teenagers are not the only volunteers who must free up their busy schedules for V.I.P. Camp. Amy says, “Most of the men on the staff give up a week of their vacation time.” Women must rearrange their lives to serve at camp, too. It takes lots of volunteers to make V.I.P. Camp run efficiently. In addition to the camp deans and the forty buddies, the camp functions with the help of volunteers on the kitchen staff and the craft crew, a camp photographer, camp nurses, and the assistance of camp kids.
Nurses are a necessity at V.I.P. Camp. Amy says, “We have a licensed nurse—and sometimes two or more—on staff to help us out with medical needs and medications. It’s definitely a full-time job for more than one. They do it with a smile.” The Rine’s daughter Rowan, who is now twenty, attends nursing school. She has been a buddy for many years and looks forward to serving as a camp nurse once her certification is complete.
One V.I.P. has significant medical needs. Therefore, it is necessary for her mother to be her buddy. Amy says, “We learn who our campers are. We consider their needs, and we try to pair them with buddies for the best fit.” Bart says, “It’s really a group effort; even though we’re paired one-on-one, we help one another out. It works out well. People show up and do what needs to be done. We don’t even know half of what they do, really. The camp happens because of the people who volunteer. Forty people volunteer to be one-on-one with the campers and love them in the Lord. They do it.” The Rines estimate that forty percent of the staff have been serving at camp for as long or longer then they have. Bart says, “We are very blessed.”
There are many fun activities to do at camp, and V.I.P.s love to do them all. “We start early and go late,” says Bart. “We pack a lot into the day’s schedule.” When you hear the pop, pop, pop of a tractor, you’ll also hear hootin’ and hollerin’ from the wagon. Everyone loves a wagon ride, and everyone gets to ride. Thankfully, it’s the first activity on the Monday schedule when campers arrive. Bart says, “You know, I can take a wagon ride anytime I want to. But to see the smile on a camper’s face, I realize how much joy the simplest things bring them. We work really hard to make sure they get to do things they normally don’t do.”
Another treasured activity each day is water time on Round Lake. Some V.I.P.s will only put their feet in the water, while others take it all in. Everyone is encouraged to participate. Many V.I.P.’s choose to swim and “Yahoo!” down the water slide before making a splash. Other campers glide across the lake on a pontoon boat. Some are brave enough to kayak and go tubing. Casting a fishing pole is the favorite water sport of some campers. Finally, fearless V.I.P.s like Joyce enjoy the water spray and wind in their faces as they hold on tightly to the camp director, Lance. He operates the jet ski at high speed, creating white trails—and squeals of delight—across the lake. Joyce’s response is, “Incredible day!”
Do you think wagons and water are enough fun for a day? Oh, no; there’s so much more to do! Campers love to consider God’s creation during nature time. They seek for treasure during the scavenger hunt. Skits and songs bring joy and laughter to all who participate. Competitive basketball players make a ruckus on the court, while creative abilities are revealed and satisfied during craft time. At quiet times, campers often choose to sit on the shady porch to catch a breeze.
July heat creates a big thirst. A schedule packed with activity brings on hunger pangs. But such problems are quickly solved at V.I.P. Camp. The canteen is open for business every afternoon, allowing campers to choose from a variety of satisfying beverages and yummy snacks. For V.I.P.s who wish to take home an extra t-shirt or a Round Lake souvenir, a stop by the camp store is also a must.
V.I.P.’s discover how people make a difference around the world during mission time. They also have the opportunity to participate. Amazingly, since 1949, over one million dollars has been donated to missions by Round Lake campers and volunteers.
Music is also a big hit at V.I.P. Camp. Whether it’s song time or a music concert, it’s almost impossible to sit still. Toes will tap, hands will raise, and folks will move to the tunes. Amy says, “It’s loads of fun.”
Who among us can climb a rock wall? We may consider such an activity to be out of the question for a young man in a wheelchair. “But guess what?” Bart says, “At V.I.P. Camp, a person in a wheelchair has climbed a rock wall.” With a harness and a lift, several guys guided the young man’s feet onto the rocks as he reached higher with his hands. Can you imagine the freedom, the accomplishment, and the victory everyone experienced as he reached the top? Unbelievable!
The theme for Round Lake Christian Camp, Summer 2018, was SHINE. Groups created for the Bible lesson schedule were rightly named the Sun, Moon, and Stars. When Bart, Amy, and the staff added the memory verse, V.I.P. Camp had just what it needed for inspiration.
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).
“The Bible lesson each day reflects our theme,” says Amy. V.I.P.s enjoy Bible Class daily. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” is just one of the tunes sung in Chapel before lunchtimes. Then, each evening, V.I.P.s attend Chapel for worship. Finally, devotions happen before lights out. “The Spirit shows up, without question,” says Bart. “That’s the most spiritual place I probably ever see.”
One summer, there was tension at camp because two V.I.P. friends had a severe falling out before coming. Amy says, “They couldn’t even be in the same room.” It seems no coincidence that the preplanned Chapel message that summer was on forgiveness. Amy says, “The lesson also sparked devotions on forgiveness before bedtime. It’s really cool that one of the campers rededicated her life to Christ and was able to forgive her friend. The relationship was repaired.” That V.I.P. admitted to being in the wrong and said, “I’m going to work on this.” Amy says, “A private feud became a public confession to help others who struggle with forgiveness. Although we wonder at times how much a disabled person understands, this story shows they can understand right from wrong, as well as forgiveness.” All people need to hear the Gospel. Amy says, “We bring Christ into the midst of everything they do.”
At each meal, Bart asks for a V.I.P. volunteer to offer the prayer. He says, “So many hands go up. At times we pray twice over the meal to allow more people to offer thanks. Devotion time, prayer time, Chapel times, are neat. I see people truly worship. There’s no falsehood here at camp. They are very sincere people.” These unique campers are not hiding their lights under a bushel. They’re not letting Satan blow their lights out. They are entirely willing to let their lights shine.
THE TALENT SHOW
A favorite event at V.I.P. Camp takes place the final evening. It’s the ever-popular Talent Show. Since V.I.P. Camp never focuses on what campers can’t do, but instead on what they can do, this event highlights a person’s God-given abilities. Bart says, “They show you. They don’t just do something. You discover they’re gifted.”
The V.I.P.s are encouraged to share but never forced to do so. Some sing and some dance. One camper plays polka music on the accordion. Some read scripture or poetry. Another camper shows his talent by dribbling a basketball. Amy adds, “Keven gets up every year and sings the first verse and chorus of “Blessed Assurance.” It takes a lot of time, with many pauses, but Keven sings every single word every single year of camp. It brings tears.”
“One gentleman is blind, but shares what he knows,” says Amy. “His talent is electronics. He brings the motherboard of a microwave oven and explains it to us.” He has also explained radios and sound systems. Even though he can’t see them, he knows what to do by feel. “He actually does repairs. It is fascinating!”
As you can see, there’s a whole team of people giving their time, talents, and efforts to make V.I.P.s “feel like they’re the most important thing in the world,” says Amy. After all, every person is important to our Creator. Each one is precious in His sight. “This camp is designed to give them the best week of their year.”
The only sad event is saying goodbye as camp comes to an end. Then everyone heads home tired but satisfied. Amy has heard from this V.I.P.’s mom that although Katie is too excited to sleep during camp, she sleeps the entire ride home.
Bart wishes they could offer the V.I.P. experience to more special people. He says, “I’m torn every year when we register the fortieth camper and then start building a waiting list, because I know how special it is. We’re physically limited. Forty campers and forty buddies mean eighty people in the dining room, and we’re just completely full. That’s our absolute maximum. My greatest challenge is simple; not enough people get to experience V.I.P. Camp.”
It’s possible that the people on staff come away from the experience with the most gratitude. Amy says, “I think we get more out of camp than the campers do.” Bart adds, “I almost feel guilty. The blessing is so great that I feel like I get more than I should.” He always enjoys the trip home from camp, too. The tradition is for his family and several friends on staff to stop for pizza. Additional joy comes as they share delightful stories of the very important people they were privileged to serve. Bart says, “God brings the people together that He does, between campers and buddies.” The sharing of stories is proof of answered prayer. Prayers offered long before camp began.
The Almighty God who hears and answers our prayers is the same God who placed the sun, moon, and stars. He created people in His image with the ability to shine His light. As V.I.P. Camp comes to a close, it’s safe to say staff and campers alike return home exhausted. But that doesn’t mean their lights are dim. The opposite is true. They leave V.I.P. Camp ready and willing to shine their lights brighter than ever before.
“Let it shine till Jesus comes. I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”
To learn more about V.I.P. Camp, please contact,
Round Lake Christian Camp
114 State Route 3, Lakeville, OH 44638 • (419) 827-2017 • www.roundlake.org