After 33 years as the executive director of Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp, Campbell Nisbet is grateful for all the growth he has witnessed. Whether it is the trees he planted on the camp property or the spiritual maturing of young adult leaders he mentored, Nisbet sees it all as signs of God’s blessing. And he is deeply grateful.
As he reflects back on the time he and his wife Chris and their four children spent at Hidden Acres, he marvels at how it all unfolded. In what he describes as “a series of events that we could not have scripted,” Nisbet and his family transitioned from Newfoundland-Labrador, where they were finishing 12 years of service in five different assignments with Mennonite Central Committee, to Hidden Acres, a week before their fourth child was born.
For them, that move in 1986 was God, “lighting the path.” The family was ready to settle some place more permanently, but “we had no idea what our next steps would be,” he says. It turns out, Hidden Acres was looking for a new executive director, and Nisbet was offered the job.
So the family grew right along with the programming at the camp, which operates year-round as a retreat centre and a summer camp.
For Nisbet, the heart of the camp’s ministry is its beautiful, natural setting. He describes it as “life-giving sacred space . . . set apart . . . with an expectation that God is present and can be encountered in many different ways.” He feels good about a more-recent focus on environmental stewardship to preserve that natural beauty for the next generation.
Keeping the three pillars of the camp—program, staff and facilities—balanced and growing at the same rate was part of his role. He credits the founders, supportive boards and many volunteers with creating a sustainable financial vision, enabling Hidden Acres to subsidize valued services like a camp for single moms and their children.
Of his 33 years at the camp, Nisbet says that “people have always been the greatest strength of this ministry.” It was a blessing to be in “a place where children from urban areas could go and learn about God’s love.” And seeing young leaders grow personally and spiritually was “very fulfilling,” he adds.
Nisbet likes the creative and dynamic nature of what happens at camp. He says there is a “challenge to stay true to the essence of our faith,” and yet allow that expression of faith to be creative in today’s society.
He describes diversity as a strength in the camp’s development over the years, having hosted rental groups from a wide range of cultural and faith backgrounds, and recruited university co-op students who brought a variety of skills and interests to the staff.
He wants parents and churches to recognize the value of a camping experience by encouraging their youth and young adults to work there, and to offer financial support to make it possible. He emphasizes that the high level of leadership, responsibility and maturity expected of these young people is hard to match in any other summer job. He sees churches and camps as partners. Both are “involved in the work of the kingdom, but we are doing it from a different locus,” he says.
Nisbet acknowledges that the intense nature of camp life can become all-consuming at times, making it hard to balance the priorities of guests, campers and his family. But looking back, he says he is humbled and gratified, “having been part of the growth” for 33 years. And he is excited about the strong team of leaders in place to lead growth at Hidden Acres into the future.
For more on the Nisbet family’s farewell, read "A blessing from God."