‘Piece of heaven’

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Daily Reporter staff writer

FORTVILLE — Karen Young has been serving ice cream to church camp children and families for more than 20 years.

When it’s time to close the ice cream stand, she doesn’t have a long commute — just a few blocks beyond Calvary Road.

In the early 1990s, Young and her husband bought a cabin at the Indiana Conference and Training Center for the Indiana District of the United Pentecostal Church International. The campground is a summertime gathering place for members of the 155 churches in the Indiana district, who can send their children to youth camps, attend a week of Family Camp, or simply relax at their cabin when camp’s not in session, or even in season.

Many who have bought cabins at the campground drive golf carts as they navigate the streets of this seasonal neighborhood. (The cabins are not fashioned for inhabiting during the coldest part of Indiana winters.) The streets have names such as Charity, Temperance and Hope.

Leaders of the camp are hoping to build on more than 50 years of camping legacy at the site, where the first cabins built in 1963 have grown to the more than 220 there today.

In recent years, camper dorms have been remodeled. Wooden frames show where new sidewalks will be poured. The group of churches pooled individual donations to pay $125,000 for 25 acres to the east and south, which hold promise for future cabin sites. An added girls’ dorm, as well as a new shower house near the motor home and tent camping area south of the cabins, are also on the horizon.

Near the heart of the campgrounds, the shell of a new gymnasium awaits its indoor finishing touches from members of participating churches with expertise in drywall, HVAC and electrical work, offering their labor as contributions. The facility has room for two basketball/volleyball courts and bleachers. During youth camps, the girls’ dorms compete against each other in a volleyball tournament. The boys play basketball.

The facility also holds promise in expanding rentals to outside groups who pay the church to have their own camps and events there. While the church occupies it in June, July and early August, this facility could help make the campgrounds usable from March to October.

The Rev. Terry Long, camp controller, said the new gymnasium will help the camp come closer to breaking even.

“It costs a lot of money to run this,” he said, “but we feel like it’s beneficial to our families and our churches, so we’re willing to make the contribution.”

The place means a lot to Long, senior pastor of Lawrence Apostolic Church. He remembers meeting his wife, Vicki, in the campground’s cafeteria in 1980. The couple has four grown children, and four of their six grandsons have been to camp this year and often stay at the Longs’ cabin.

The place means a lot to Young, too. Her family bought a cabin after her son went to a youth camp. Her husband was there supervising one of the boys’ dorms and noticed the mothers there helping throughout the week. He suggested that to her, and she became a regular at the camp ice cream stand on the west side of the large cafeteria building.

With the family so involved in what was going on at the campground, having a cabin there made sense, but she said the decision was bigger than the cabin. It was about what it could mean for her son and daughter.

“It was really an investment in the spiritual lives of our children,” she said, eyes glistening, “to pass on a spiritual heritage.”

Spending six or seven weeks living at camp, however, has been a blessing for her, too. To be in church services off and on each day has been “a piece of Heaven.”

Services begin at 7:30 p.m. each night of camp in the main auditorium. Anyone can attend; Long said there are guests every night and often standing room only on Thursday and Friday evenings, the last two nights of each week of camp. The services are also streamed live on the church’s website, inupci.org.

Worshipers often leave their pews and gather around the altar during extended times of singing. Some kneel on the steps lining the stage. Others stand with arms raised, perhaps swaying or jumping as they sing or pray. You’re not likely to find self-consciousness or inhibition here.

Some of the arms reaching up are those of worshipers hoping for a special touch from God, hoping to “get the Holy Ghost.” When they do, they may speak in tongues or appear weak in the knees. Until that happens, fellow believers often gather to lay a hand on that person’s shoulder and help pray for the moment to come.

Grantland Gallion, 12, says he’s prayed with a lot of other youth in that moment. He’s gone to camp for four years; he really enjoys basketball, the human foosball court and other games the campground offers. But those moments at the altar are his favorite.

“Last night, a kid in my dorm got the Holy Ghost. It was awesome,” he said while attending the July 13-17 Teen Camp. “I’m really hoping more kids will get the Holy Ghost.”

Aaron Sizemore, student pastor and music minister at The Sanctuary in Columbus, worked at that week of camp and said youths find encouragement in coming together. He said some of the campers making the drive from as far away as Portage, Merrillville or Evansville to the site east of Fortville might be the only youth at their churches, or they might be part of a group of just two or five or 10 young people.

That’s rough in a generation trying to gather likes on Facebook or retweets on Twitter, “always looking for affirmation from their peers and from others,” Sizemore said. If a week at camp with like-minded youth can give them hope, can show them others share their beliefs and “they don’t have to be like the world, … that’s the greatest thing that we could do here.”

Sizemore grew up in Ohio and remembers how influential his experiences were at a church camp there. He’s secretary-elect of the Indiana campground. He’s hoping Gallion’s generation will also find powerful lessons and lifelong friends during their time at camp.

“Relationships are made. People’s lives are changed. People get the Holy Ghost,” he said.

“Pinnacle, landmark points in people’s lives happen at this campground.”