Zion's Mission: 5 Star Bible Camp Celebrating 21 Years
https://www.facebook.com/5starbiblecamp Last year’s 5 Star Bible Camp celebrated 21 years of a camp which is a testament to God’s love and the dedication of the many who have shared God’s love by working to make the camp possible. This year’s camp is set for July 16-22 at Camp Jefferson. The first camp was held in July 1996 as a joint effort of five area churches (hence the name): Zion Countryside Church at Gladstone, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ at Jansen, First United Presbyterian Church of Fairbury, Steele City Presbyterian Church, and the Fairbury Disciples of Christ. Ivan Zimmerman, a member of Zion Countryside Church at Gladstone, said he remembers sitting at someone’s home and commenting that at their Bible School it was mostly moms teaching their own kids. The church’s denominational church camp was located out in the sandhills, making it difficult for kids to go away to camp. Those in the discussion also knew that many others were in the same type of position. They also knew that at one time former Pastor Henry Vieth had held a camp with youth from Zion Countryside Church and the Alexandria Presbyterian Church at Camp Jefferson. So they wondered if they could get some churches together to have a joint camp at Camp Jefferson. Other churches were interested and the camp was available and booked – and then the work began. “It just kind of snowballed,” Zimmerman said. Karen Dux, who has also been involved since the first year, said it is wonderful to watch all of the churches come together willing to do something for God together. Dux directed the first year, and that first year, all ages of children spent the night. “On the first day of camp it rained and rained and rained. It was just crazy,” Dux said. “It was by the grace of God that we had camp. We knew we could do it better the next year.”
Planning is a nearly year-round job, and has taken a lot of willingness to work together. Coming to consensus isn’t always easy. The planning committee has always drawn some of the strongest-willed and most passionate leaders from every church involved. The churches involved have changed over the years, and have grown. But Dux said it has always been “well worth it.” “The week of camp is my favorite week. Watching these kids grow in their faith is the best,” Dux said. Zimmerman said it is wonderful that so many people are willing to give a week of their vacation to make 5 Star possible for the area youth. He said that there are many people who have been involved in some way since the beginning – and many more who have joined into this major undertaking. Zimmerman was treasurer for 15 years or more. He pointed out that many volunteer have taken more than one turn in the director spots. And by the 20th anniversary, many current volunteers were participants in the early years of 5 Star. A few of the faithful volunteers from the early years – including Jill Swett and Susan Strunk – are with 5 Star now in spirit. There have been many different fund-raisers over the years: Praise and Pancakes, a garage sale, serving food at auctions, various bake sales and food sales, and more. The camp has also received many donations from the churches involved, including Sponsor a Child donations. The camp has also received memorials over the years from families who wanted to make sure the camp continued. Brenda Beachler, who has served in various positions, said the program is her favorite thing. She remembers the year she was overall director. “I looked out over that sea of people and I just lost it. I felt the presence of God,” Beachler said.
Campfire is another tradition that participants and volunteers alike look forward to each year. Beachler said it is a joy to see young people so open to sharing their faith and showing that their faith is strong. “It really touches me,” Beacher said. The first spiritual director was Greg Koehn of Grace University. A few years later when he wasn’t available, Tammy Husa suggested Keith Kaster, a youth leader who was married to former Fairbury resident Peggy (Jackson) Kaster. Kaster has been the spiritual director at 5 Star for 18 of its 20 years and loves the camp. He said his two boys have grown up at 5 Star Bible Camp. "I have enjoyed being part of something bigger than myself, the kingdom of God in action. The chance watch the kids grow up and then bring their kids to Camp later is really exciting,” Kaster said. “I think the most special thing about 5 Star is it's never really been about the camp it self. It's been about all of us coming together year after year, campers, volunteers and leaders, and putting aside our own expectations and our own preconceived notions and just focusing on being part of the family of God. It's amazing to watch an entire community come together across denominational lines, to give up vacations, to serve even when they don’t have the time; to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s really something to behold. … I thank the Lord that He has given me an opportunity to play a small part at this camp.” The camp has grown over the years. From its first years of having all ages participate during the same dates, it grew large enough that camp was split into two partial weeks, with the Kindergarten through third grade day camp held at the same time as the 4th through 6th grade overnight camp, and the 7th through 12th grade overnight camp held the days right before or after. The largest number of total participants to date has been 300. Dux pointed out, that is 1/3 of the Fairbury Public Schools. A project that has been added to camp over the years is adding mission projects. Older youth go to Fairbury and solicit food for the food pantry. Younger kids have done a wide variety of mission projects – from making blankets to putting together hygiene kits. This year all youth and volunteers are challenged to memorize the theme Bible verse from Ephesians 6:10-18, the scripture which tells of the armor of God. This year’s camp theme is Bible Boot Camp: Putting on the Full Armor of God. Each year’s camp has a theme around which lessons, crafts, Bible verses, songs, t-shirts and activities are based. This year’s theme is the same as the theme the first year of camp. Camp Jefferson has been a wonderful location to allow young people to grow in their faith, Zimmerman said. “Camp Jefferson was just a match for us. And it’s gotten even better,” he said. Since the camp first started, many facilities have been improved – including most recently the mess hall, which is now air conditioned and includes a storm room.
.At the end of camp each year, volunteers have ideas of how to make camp even better. While they admit that sometimes in the midst of camp they may be hot and tired, by the end of camp it is “such a good exhaustion,” Beachler said. Dux explains it like this: “The way to find true happiness in life is to serve others. When you work the hardest you are the happiest.” And when that work is sharing faith in God, teaching about Jesus Christ, “it’s like a good addiction,” Beachler said. The youth who attend camp may be from participating churches, other churches in the area, or may not have a church affiliation at all. No child is turned away, and no child pays to attend. Participating churches provide meals, snacks and volunteers; do fund-raisers; help to plan; and make monetary donations. This year’s camp schedule is as follows: ELEMENTARY CAMP: (Overnight) Open to children who have completed 4th to 6th grades Registration 7:00 pm Sunday, July 16th ending after the program - July 19th 6:00pm DAY CAMP: Open to children 5 years old (by July 16th, 2016) - 3rd grade. (4 year old children welcome with an attending parent/guardian) July 17th - July 19th 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM Registration - Monday 12:30PM (No meal provided - Snack only) YOUTH CAMP: (Overnight) Open to youth who have completed 7th-12th grades. Registration 9 AM Thursday, July 20th - 12:00 pm July 22nd All Registrations due by June 30th. Churches participating in this year’s planning committee include: Zion Countryside Church at Gladstone; St. Paul United Church of Christ at Jansen; Alexandria Presbyterian Church; Fairbury Presbyterian Church; Steele City Presbyterian Church; First Baptist Church; and the Fairbury Disciples of Christ Church. Co-chairpersons this year are Melissa Lee and Darby Davidson. Registration forms are available by contacting the Fairbury Presbyterian Church at (402) 729-6129 or by going online, Helper Registration Camper Registration