Ask most campers or staff to describe Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp, and you're likely to hear mountain stories: hiking forest trails to stunning vistas overlooking snowcapped peaks; watching hummingbirds hover around feeders on the deck of Christ Lodge; living in rustic cabins; and worshiping around campfires.
Campers in Sky Ranch's Four Winds program, however, discover a different kind of "mountaintop" experience: serving with urban communities in Salt Lake City and Denver; working at a farm alongside men in recovery for addiction; or building relationships with African immigrants.
An extension of the mountain
For 50 years, Sky Ranch, an ELCA outdoor ministry, has taken full advantage of its 117-acre setting in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado, featuring hiking, backpacking, and the opportunity to live and worship in a setting removed from civilization and cellphone service. Or, as its mission statement puts it: "to facilitate an encounter with Christ on the mountaintops."
Four Winds began in 1990 when Sky Ranch staff decided something was missing: opportunities for high school campers to encounter Christ through serving their neighbors. "It's a Native American term: to go in the four directions," said Paul Schairer, who designed the ministry when he was program director. "The whole concept was 'coming down the mountain' [to take part in] service-learning events, hands-on experiences.
"The whole idea of Four Winds was that it wasn't a separate thing. It was integrated, fully incorporated into the ministry of the camp as a whole. It was an extension of the mountain."
Today many Four Winds campers enjoy elements of the traditional camp experience at Sky Ranch as well as community-based service projects.
Emilee Mai, a high school senior and member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Fort Collins, Colo., spent time at Harvest Farms, a faith-based rehabilitation center in Wellington, Colo., for men overcoming addiction or poverty. Mai and her fellow campers and counselors joined in farm chores, which she enjoyed, but the highlight was getting to know the men in the program and hearing their stories. "I admired their focus and dedication," Mai said. "A lot of [the men] had just gotten there, and they were learning along with us. I remember how willing and excited they were to teach us."
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers