sanford width=

Northwest Salmon



Bible camp going strong after 75 years

by Amanda Fanger

For 75 years, northeastern Day County has held what some consider a well-kept secret.
Pickerel Lake Bible Camp celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. A public service was held July 26, at the start of the annual junior high weeklong camp session. Afterwards, cake was served.

“A lot of people have called us the best kept secret around,” said Pastor Mike McCarlson, a counselor at the camp. “We stay focused on the word of God.”

The concept for the camp began over 75 years ago when a group of Free Lutheran churches from around the region gathered in Waubay to develop an idea of a joint camp. The camp was officially begun in 1940, hosted by the Pickerel Lake Bible Camp Association.

There were 54 kids, grades six through eight, at the junior high camp last week. At the end of June, a senior high camp was held for ninth grade through first-year college students, where 45 students attended.

The title of the sermon series last week was “Seeing the Savior in the Old Testament,” taught by Pastor Jason Holt of Minnesota.

“The Bible is about one story ... and paints these pictures of how great Jesus is,” he said last Sunday at the celebration service. “The whole Bible, it all comes back to looking at the cross, to the shed blood of Jesus.”

Holt told students they were going to spend the week, “thinking through (our) faith. We’re going to go out from here knowing we can trust our Bibles.”

According to a history published in the 50th year of the camp, the idea for Pickerel Lake Bible Camp was first conceived in 1937. At first, the land was rented, but the Pickerel Lake Bible Camp Association bought land in 1945. Electricity didn’t come through until 1948, with kerosene and gas lamps in use prior to that. Running water came in 1974 when a well was drilled.

Pickerel Lake Bible Camp has seen multiple generations pass through in its 75 years.
Liz McCarlson has been involved with the camp, literally her entire life. Currently she is camp coordinator and registrar, but prior to that she was a counselor. Before that, she was a camper. And even before she was old enough to attend as a camper, Liz was tagging along with her parents, Mike and Julie McCarlson as they volunteered at the camp, since she was a baby.

To her, camp was a “highlight for my walk with Christ – to be reminded of the truth that God remains faithful,” she said. “I made a lot of friends here. (Camp is) a good place to meet friends who have the same faith.”

Liz is now responsible for lining up staff and volunteers for the two weeks of camp as well as seeing to it all association member churches receive the registration information they need as well as answering questions about students’ registration.

While she says her roll at the camp has evolved over the years, Liz’s favorite part of camp today is, “seeing the kids being fed by the word of God and God growing them in the word of God and the excitement they have in that as well.”

Liz’s story is similar to that of most of the other volunteers. Many camp staff became involved because their church is involved or because they had attended the camp as a youth and want to help out now that they’re an adult. There are approximately 20 volunteer staff this year, Liz said.

Like his daughter Liz, Mike also started out as a camper himself before becoming a counselor and later a pastor of Tabor Lutheran Church in Webster, which is a member church of the camp association.

One of the biggest changes Mike has noticed over the years is the demographics of the students who attend the camp.

“Back in the day, it was a lot of farm kids; they were more sheltered... now students come from all backgrounds. I’d say there are more from the metro/urban areas than rural anymore,” he said. Standing outside of the sanctuary just after the service last week, Mike continued, “The issues kids face today are a lot bigger too. There are kids here who come from broken homes... counselors will deal with a lot of heavy issues this week.”

While there is a $75 per camper fee – which, in addition to donations, is primarily how the camp is funded – Mike says they won’t turn anyone away because they can’t afford it. In fact, he says students don’t have to go to an association member church in order to attend.

“Any youth who would like to come, we’d love to have them,” Liz commented.

A typical day at camp contains recreational activities with silly group games – such as passing a banana between team members using only their feet – crafts, music and songs, meal time, small groups and more.

“The most important part is the teaching time,” Liz said. “That’s what’s most important. Lessons are centered around the word of God, to give kids the opportunity to learn what Jesus Christ has done for them.”

Each day ends with time gathered around a campfire.

“As a kid, campfire was a special time,” said Mike, adding that today it still is. “It’s a peaceful time when kids can open up. The (Holy) Spirit really starts working around the campfire.”

The sanctuary at the camp has exposed studs and no insulation. According to Mike, the camp association will not be finishing the inside.

“We’ve heard more comments from people, saying, ‘this is camp.’ I think we’re going to keep it like this,” he said.

Currently, the Pickerel Lake Bible Camp Association only uses the camp for two weeks out of the year and would like to see it utilized more. For more information, contact Pastor Mike McCarlson at Tabor Church.

Fiksdal Funeral Home

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player