WENTWORTH, Quebec—The relaxing sounds of a small river cascading over rocks at Camp Peniel in the Laurentians north of Montreal create a perfect setting for Nathan Giroux to feel inner peace.
“I can sit on the rocks for hours and listen to the river—time passes really fast here,” said Giroux, 14.
The scenic surroundings of this year-round retreat centre supported by Mennonite churches in Quebec help him understand the meaning of the word Peniel—a Hebrew word meaning "face" or "presence" of God.
“In our world you can rarely see God face to face but in nature you can do that,” he said. “I forget my troubles when I’m here—I can simply see God.”
Every summer Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Quebec partners with Camp Peniel and the Association of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Quebec to organize week-long camps for children age’s seven to 11 and youth ages 11 to 15.
The camp, now called Amicamp, brings together children and youth from Mennonite church congregations in Quebec to develop friendships, grow spiritually and learn more about the Anabaptist faith and what it means to work for peace.
“Our churches are very small and there aren’t too many programs for kids,” said camp director Carla Martens. “This is an easy way for kids to get together—it’s organized and it’s fun.”
Campers, she said, develop a sense of belonging at camp and when they are too old to be campers they come back as counsellors and camp staff. “They want to be around this atmosphere of friendship and acceptance,” she said.
The theme of Amicamp for youth ages 11 to 15 in July 2009 was about friendships and relationships.
Through examining the Bible story of four friends who dug a hole through a roof so that their paralyzed friend could experience the healing touch of Jesus, camp speaker Patrick Rochon helped campers understand the influence of friends.
Rochon and four camp counsellors, Louis-Pier Charbonneau, Catherine Després, Julia Mikhail and Spencer Taylor-Wingender, supported the camp through their participation in the Summerbridge program, a Canada-wide summer service program supported by MCC Canada, provincial MCCs and Mennonite church congregations of diverse cultural background.
In 2009, 18 people participated in this program that offers opportunities for participants to develop and strengthen programs in their home congregations. Ten of the 18 participants were sponsored by Mennonite congregations in Quebec.
Rochon said the Summerbridge program helps participants follow the example set by Jesus through responding to local needs in their home congregations and home communities.
“What I like best about Jesus’ life is that he was living like others around him,” said Rochon. “His mission field was people from his own culture.”
This is the fourth year that Vincent Rodrique, 15, has been at Amicamp. Interaction with Summerbridge participants, other staff and campers, he said, is helping him grow spiritually.
Among the many things that he has learned at Amicamp is the importance of memorizing Bible verses.
His favourite verses are about faith, hope and love in I Corinthians 13—verses that he recited at his brother’s funeral last year. He said he could recite these verses at the funeral because he could sense God’s love through the compassion and support he received from friends he had met at Amicamp.
“I can talk about love because I see God’s love everywhere—even when someone dies, God’s love is there,” he said.
Martens, a high school teacher in Saint Colomban, has served as a director of the summer camps since 2001 and over the years has seen campers develop strong friendships and grow spiritually.
“It is like a boost to their spiritual life,” she said. “It gives them the energy to say, ‘I will live a life honouring to God.’”
Martens said she returns to the camp every summer as a director because she knows that lives are being changed.
“I love these kids,” she said. “There is such a huge influence to make bad choices. They need support and encouragement in their spiritual walk. I want to help them have a strong, solid faith.”