I have such fond memories of going to camp. Most of mine were of the Girl Scout variety, but since I also went to a lot of weekend retreats for church and school, I have a storehouse of songs, skits, and campfire stories in my brain.
This past week, our family attended our first Family Camp. It was offered at Ingham Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp (IOLBC) and turned out to be a wonderful week.
I say “turn out to be” because we had no idea what we’d gotten ourselves into going in. None of our kids had ever been to an overnight camp before and Michael and I had certainly never been to camp as parents before.
As a collective family, we were Family Camp “rookies.”
Thanks to the helpful IOLBC staff and the experienced families around us, we made our way through the week gaining a week’s worth of experiences, years’ worth of friendships, and a lifetime of memories.
Here are some highlights of our week!
(PS: We highly recommend this experience for your family. We made it our summer vacation and don’t have a single regret.)
Michael’s first questions when I proposed Family Camp as an option for our summer vacation were:
- Where do we sleep? (i.e. on the ground?, in a cabin?, with mosquitoes?, is there air conditioning?)
- What do we eat? (i.e. is it gross? do I have to cook it myself? will I be starving?)
Turns out the camp offers both lodge and cabin accommodations and all except one cabin boasts air conditioning. We opted for the hotel-like lodge thinking it would be the most comfortable (i.e. it would feel the least like “roughing it”).
Our lodge room slept 6-8, plenty for our family of five, and contained both twin and queen bunk bed options. We had our own bathroom, shower and sink making the room much like a hotel room….only with bunk beds!
We settled our things in the room and set off for a tour of the grounds with our counselor Reese. Each family is assigned one of the summer counselors for the week and ours was awesome. The kids took to him immediately and Reese made our week fun and meaningful.
The week started off with dinner on Sunday night complete with singing prayers for the meal, an unforgettable birthday song for one lucky camper, and the assigning of the Happy Scraper, the person responsible for clearing the dishes for that meal.
The food was great. Very kid-friendly and lots of it. Between meals and snacks, it seemed they were always feeding us. I tried to stick close to the salad bar, but a few of the adults joked that we needed to form a support group back home for those who’d spent a week at family camp and needed to get on back on track with their nutrition!
We moved on to Chapel time filled with songs, skits, and introductions of each family. Within the first 10 minutes of Chapel (and two hours of our arrival at camp), our youngest Jack was already asking if we could come back next summer.
The Family Camp schedule is full. Since our kids like trying new things and staying busy, this worked great for us. But, the camp staff is quick to assure you that the schedule and staff are here to serve you and your family.
Like to be on-the-go? There are lots of activities to keep you busy.
Prefer a slower pace? No problem - just opt out of scheduled events or come up with your own.
The staff also encouraged parents to utilize their assigned counselor. The kids want to play, but you’d prefer a nap? Send the kids along with the counselor and enjoy some much-deserved downtime.
Since this was our first year at Family Camp, we aimed to try it all. And we did!
Water follies, Bonkers (a crazy, scavenger hunt which sent the kids all over the camp’s grounds performing challenges to earn signatures), tie dyeing, paint ball, fishing, swimming, tubing, paddle boating, volleyball, campfires and talent show.
If it was fun, we did it!
The daily highlight was Two Hours of Power when kids and adults spent time growing in their faith. The kids were grouped by age and enjoyed bible study, songs, crafts and a snack together led by the counselors. The six-to-10 year olds even visited a nursing home one day to sing for the residents.
During the Two Hours of Power, the adults were taught by the week’s speaker. Our speaker was Pastor Scott Rains, the campus pastor of Lutheran Church of Hope Ankeny. Scott is an old college friend, so it was especially fun learning from him. Scott’s teaching for the week centered around the book The New Rules of Marriage and its biblical application to our marriages. Michael and I found the topic relevant, challenging, and conversation-producing. We’re still processing the great things we learned.
After lunch, families were encouraged to do family devotionals together. This 30-minute block along with Thursday night’s family worship and communion time were highlights for me. It filled my heart with joy to share these faith-building moments with my kids, seeing their hearts grown in love for Jesus.
Most nights concluded with a camp fire. IOLBC has a beautiful complex complete with an amphitheater-style campfire area down by the lake. Counselors strummed guitars, leading us in worship, and a designated counselor would connect the daily theme to their own faith story.
Tuesday night did not have a campfire as families experienced a mime presentation by the counselors depicting the story of Jesus. This was a powerful event followed by worship. How moving to see the love Jesus has for all of us portrayed through movement, expression, and song alone.
Wednesday afternoon and evening was open on the schedule. Families were free to spend it however they’d like. We, like most, took this as an opportunity to explore the Okoboji area. We started with amusement park rides and browsing the shops at Arnold’s Park. This historic area invites you to jump back in time to simpler days filled with small wooden coasters, salt water taffy, and nutty bars.
We met several families from our church for dinner. The lakeside restaurant was the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing meal together. The kids took over two tables while the adults gathered at one providing for great conversation and fun. We took our counselor Reese along for our free day giving him a much-appreciated day off the camp’s grounds, some amusement park fun, dinner and ice cream.
As a bonus highlight of the week, we got to meet up with some dear friends who live in the Okoboji area for ice cream, catching up on life, work, kids, and old memories. I love how time passes, but our hearts remain knit together through love and faith.
We had a fantastic week. We took a risk and it paid off.
After five days on the shores of Lake Okoboji, growing in our faith, making friends and a boatload of memories, we can see why families return to IOLBC year after year. We’re so grateful we gave it a whirl.
Our faith and our love for each other deepened. We met new friends and grew in our existing friendships, making our church community feel even more like home when we returned.
There’s something special about family vacation and there’s something special about camp. But, when you combine the two together you’ve taken both to another level.
A week in time you’ll never forget.
PS: if our kids have any say, we’ll be returning next year. Who wants to come with us??