BLOG #39, SERIES #8
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
HOPE CAMPMEETING AND RAGING FIRES
September 27, 2017
With a 300% winter snowpack, fires were the last things we expected to see. As we crossed the border into British Columbia, under slightly cloudy skies, fires seemed far away. The closer we came to Hope, the more we became aware of the unique beauty of Hope’s setting: The hub of three major highways, towering snowcapped mountains on all sides, and lapped by British Columbia’s mightiest river, the Fraser, it’s no wonder that Hope is such a tourist mecca.
And British Columbia itself, a third larger than Texas, is bigger than many nations. It is a province characterized by superlatives.
The Adventist camp, where the campmeeting is set [many faiths use the camp], is busy all year long. During summer months, it is filled with 300+ kids each week, there to experience all that mountainous junior camps can offer. As for the annual campmeetings, I was told that while week-day attendance hovers between two to four thousand, on weekends it would swell to five to seven thousand. But would anyone show up at all this year with over 200 fires raging at once in British Columbia alone—many more in neighboring Alberta?
Campmeeting began on Friday, and people poured in. By Monday afternoon, smoke inundated us, and grew thicker as the week wore on. Finally, it became so thick we could no longer see the mouintains such a short distance away. Those campers who did come told tragic tales of friends and relatives who’d been evacuated, losing everything they owned. Many who planned to come, could not. Yet still three to four thousand did come.
What amazed me most was the choreography going on all around me. When I was young, campmeeting grounds were full of individual tents. Welcome to the 21st century! Now hundreds of Rvs and trailers filled the 125 acres. Here and there, tents, but they were greatly in the minority. Some—especially the handicapped and elderly—were permitted to stay in the main lodge. The main meetings were held in a large open-on-the-sides auditorium. Youth, tweens, and child-oriented meetings were held in large tents; seminars were held in the multitudinous small buildings that are permanent camp fixtures. Yet, there was no hubbub. Each vehicle driver checked in at the main entrance and was directed to a pre-arranged spot. Families tended to position their vehicles in the same vicinity, same for close friends. Volunteers were everywhere, each clearly happy to serve. It takes hundreds and hundreds to keep that massive human machine functioning smoothly, without a noticeable hitch. Walking through the camp was like finding one’s way through a small outdoor city. Here and there were paid employees, but they weren’t many. I had never seen the like.
Of course there were a few headliners, especially on weekends. They were well known all over the continent: TV personalities, ministers with large followings. Then there were the seminar leaders such as yours truly. I had two back-to-back seminars each afternoon, each one lasting an hour and a half. The first one was for all writers and wannabe authors; the second was for all who wanted to learn how to use Story effectively during their daily story hours at home, and in church services as well. We had a wonderful time. Many came to both seminars.
By the first night, I realized I had to rewrite almost everything I’d written over a six-week period for the writing seminar. Reason being, I had assumed most attendees would be most interested in what it took to be a professional writer. Instead, I was staggered to discover that almost all of them were there to learn how to write well. Fortunately, since I had taught writing for 34 years, I was able to switch gears and rewrite everything each evening. The attendees were wonderful to work with, and I learned much myself just listening to them.
It was humbling to discover how many already had many of our books in their homes. Especially all those who shyly tapped me on my shoulder, and said, “I have all your Christmas books [all 25 of them]. They call themselves “Completists,” and come from everywhere—some from Australia, New Zealand, and many from the U.S. when not in seminars, I’d generally gravitate to the book building, and there I’d sign books for customers.
My Favorite Life-Changing Stories sold out by Monday afternoon. Then there was a run on the collection of Angel, Miracle, and Prayer story anthologies; also for all ten of The Good Lord Made Them All animal story anthologies. So I wasn’t much company for my long-suffering wife, Connie.
Everyone was so good to us! So appreciative. In fact, I felt it was more than worth all the time and effort I’d put into the seminars. It also brought home the world-wide aspect of our story ministry—which is not sectarian, but is geared to people of all faiths who are searching for stories incorporating values worth internalizing.
And, I must not close this section of our B.C. series without observing that Campmeetings are even more important today than they were a century ago. Reason being: we are so battered by the secular media that, for our own sanity, and spiritual health, it’s imperative that we periodically escape to serene retreats where there is silence, where cell phones are turned off, so that we may there find ways to re-establish our lines of communication with God.