I’ve been a guest at Camp SWONEKY, near Cincinnati, Ohio, for nearly a week now. I spent the first few days getting to know the staff, catching up with old friends and teaching a bit in their Staff Orientation. The next morning, 60 teenagers from around the South Western Ohio and Northern Kentucky region showed up and overnight we went from “What to do if…” to “Which ones belong to me, again?”

If there’s anything in Salvation Army ministry that looks like Jesus’ ministry to His disciples more than summer camp, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s frighteningly immersive, it’s painfully constant, and it’s profoundly impactful.

In one bunk, a young man from a stable home gets good grades and is already considering colleges. Just a few feet away, another young man doesn’t see his mom three nights a week because she works and he feeds his little brother and sister dinner. He hasn’t even considered college yet. Yet they play basketball together. They laugh together. They throw popcorn together and walk away from the lights and the crowds with a pound. They don’t even realize it, but they walk away in step with each other. This may be the only time in their young lives that they have fully lived in the moment.

In another cabin a teenage girl cries and cries and cries to go home. She can’t sleep. She won’t sleep. She sits and sobs. Across the cabin, another young lady won’t talk about home…with anybody. She sleeps soundly though. She wakes up rested, at peace. Maybe for the first time in years. She talks to the homesick girl and a bond that can only be created at camp is born. They sit together. They eat together, each one clueless to the deep spirituality present in their breaking of bread and in the silent passing of the peace.

God walks these campgrounds. He walks them constantly, looking for His creation, asking “Where are you?” There’s no other explanation for it. At all. He loves each of these campers, each of the staff, each of the friends and family that come onto these grounds. The Holy Spirit waits at these basketball courts and the archery ranges and even way up on the ropes courses.

There are stories here. I’ve only learned a few of them. I’ve got a lot of people to pray for… and I’m going to pray for even more.

I’m going to pray that the campers find a home and that they meet the God who made them and who loves them and who has plans for them. I’m going to pray for safety and for guardians when they leave this sacred place. May we know them and may we love them.

I’m going to pray for the staff. I’m going to pray that they are discipled as they, in turn, are called to disciple. May WE not leave them on their own, but may WE lift them up in prayer and in support. May we know them and may we love them.

I’m going to pray for the stories I’ve heard. I’m going to pray for the stories that begin here. I’m going to pray for the stories that change because of this place.


Our souls are like camp, I think. Full of apparent paradoxes. It’s chaotic and it’s quiet. It’s struggle and it’s peace. It’s will and it’s grace, all at the same time. Moments in the profound and moments in the petty, in the deep and in the shallow. Yet there, we find the divine and we find the mundane. We find the loved and the unloved. We find the elevated and we find the forgotten.

There, we find the unfound.

Tonight was a pool party. It was pure joy. Rambunctious and adolescent and beautiful. Then, I watched as the crowds left the pool. As the cabin groups went their separate ways, the whole world seemed to quiet down. The lights will go out soon. Each one will crawl into a bed and lay a head down onto a pillow. Each one will be left to themselves. They will have only the voices in their heads, then.

Will they be loved? Will they be accepted? Will they have peace?

And I wonder, will they know they have been found?




  • Mary Ann Barnes August 28, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Brings me back to my days many years ago at Camp Swoneky. I was that homesick kid. I then became a counselor in my mid teens and spent 5 summers there. I received my calling to officership at Labor Day Camp. Precious memories.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Mary Ann. Glad to hear the impact that camp had on you. Thanks for your faithful response to the call on your life.

  • i went to Camp NEOSA as a kid, very young but identify with your line…”God walks these campgrounds.” I didn’t commit my life to Christ until i was a teenager but it also was at a S.A. camp (Camp Walter Johnson in N.C.) and lived out that new commitment at Camp Keystone in FL) as i served on staff. Even though i had not personally committed my life to Christ back at the camp in OH i look back now and recognize that HE WAS there and HE is everywhere We are sanctified, set apart for Him and bring Him with us. THANK YOU SO MUCH for your blog. Are you on FB too? I am as TomBeetle Bailey and my blog on wordpress is Tombeetlebailey but it is not like most blogs i don’t always write short things for people to read i post/publish my sermons, program ideas, unedited stories and stuff i am still working on, no the less THANK YOU.

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