More than 200 inner-city children in Prince George, BC, had a summer 2019 experience they won’t soon forget, thanks to an exciting project that inspired the northern community.
Ness Lake Bible Camp’s leadership had been praying about the camp’s direction for more than a year and a half, and how best to reach the community in and around Prince George.
Building projects and other ideas were considered, but didn’t seem quite right. “We knew we could do them, but we weren’t really excited about them,” says Executive Director Elliott Harder.
Then board chairman Robert Hillhouse presented an idea that grabbed the board’s attention.
An avid cyclist, Hillhouse had participated in a charity ride for cancer research and sending kids with cancer to camp. Children from Harwin Elementary, a Prince George inner-city school, had raised funds for the project.
When Hillhouse visited the school on the charity’s behalf, it struck him: these children would likely never attend camp, even with Ness Lake Bible Camp nearby. What if they could attend for free?
That fall, when Hillhouse took the no-fee-camp idea to his camp leadership, it piqued their interest. “The more we talked and prayed, the more excited we got,” says Harder.
Discussions with the school principals went well—they, along with excited students and parents, backed the idea.
At the camp’s annual fundraising banquet in November 2018, Harder presented the idea to Ness Lake supporters. The goal: raise funds to send downtown Harwin children, including those from Harwin Elementary and St. Mary’s Catholic School, to camp for a week.
The response was immediate. That night, Ness Lake Bible Camp received $65,000 toward the project. Within a month, a total of over $100,000 had poured in.Thanks to that generosity, 230 students from the Harwin community were able to spend a week at camp.
“The Christian community,” says Harder, “wants to see kids attend Ness Lake, where they hear the Gospel and lives change.”
Having the kids from the Harwin community at camp was “an amazing experience,” he says. “Cabin discussions were great because the kids, interested in getting to know about God, asked many authentic questions about Him and Jesus.”
This isn’t the end of the story. The Ness Lake team continues to connect kids with local churches.
“Our hope is to be a bridge between camp and church,” says the camp’s Discipleship and Follow Up Coordinator Karissa Klassen. “The kids know those who work at camp and feel safe with them, but many have no idea about church. Our goal is to introduce them to a youth group or kids club.”
One of those churches is Fort George Baptist. Six years before, this Prince George church began praying for Harwin Elementary and how to connect with its families, says Senior Pastor Dan Hoffman. Time passed, but no opportunity arose.
When they heard about Ness Lake’s project, they saw it as an answer to prayer and became involved.
“We had no idea what saying yes would look like,” Hoffman says of his mostly older congregation. At that time, even though the church had no children’s programming and few financial or personnel resources, they had recently started a Saturday evening service..
After agreeing to be part of the Ness Lake project, Hoffman learned that his denomination was giving grants to churches that partnered with community projects dedicated to sharing Jesus.
“It was an answer to prayer,” Hoffman says. “Jesus is doing something in our neighborhood. He presented the opportunity for us to partner with Ness Lake.”
Fort George Baptist Church hired a family ministries pastor, renovated the children’s area, and in September launched two youth groups, now attended by more than 40 children from the Harwin community. Many of Ness Lake’s summer team, who attend the Saturday evening service, continue building relationships with the kids they met at camp.
Before the onset of COVID-19, Ness Lake had planned to invite children from the community surrounding Ron Brent Elementary, a difficult inner-city neighborhood, to experience a week of camp at Ness Lake.
“If there’s a school in Prince George that could use an opportunity for kids to find hope, this is the school,” says Klassen. “There are many hurting kids. Sharing Christ is what I’m most looking forward to.”
While on-site plans are undetermined for the summer, the Ness Lake team continues to find innovative ways to stay in touch, like a grocery delivery service, reaching out online and posting videos featuring camp life.
“We’re amazed how God provides and leads and with what He did last year,” says Harder. “I pray that what we do here will have an eternal impact and that lives will be changed.”
Kelly Rempel is Director of Creative Communications for One Hope Canada. This story first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2020 edition of Canada’s Hope magazine.