Camping ministry a common thread for AMBS students

February 24, 2016 | Focus on camping | Volume 20 Issue 5
Annette Brill Bergstresser | Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary
Elkhart, Ind.

What do 10 of the 33 first-year students at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) have in common? A background as staff members at Mennonite camps and retreat centres.

Scott Litwiller of Hopedale (Ill.) Mennonite Church is one of the 10. Litwiller has a bachelor of arts degree in biblical and theological studies from Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, and is a master of divinity student in pastoral ministry at AMBS.

In reflecting on how his camp experiences played a role in bringing him to AMBS, Litwiller shared that serving as program director at Menno Haven Camp and Retreat Center in Tiskilwa, Ill., gave him opportunities to try out his gifts and notice what gave him energy.

“Being in charge of the summer staff members really helped cultivate my leadership abilities and helped me understand how passionate I am about working with people,” he said.

In particular, he named an experience of helping two staff members talk through a conflict together: “Being part of that process was a very life-giving experience that made me think maybe being a pastor could work out.” He also pointed to “everyday” experiences such as the morning gathering time with campers.

Lee Hiebert, who is halfway through his work toward a master of divinity degree in Christian faith formation, is another AMBS student with camp staff experience. Hiebert, who grew up going to First Mennonite Church in Kelowna, B.C., served as associate pastor at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church in Winnipeg while studying at CMU.

Hiebert counselled for five years at Camp Valaqua in Water Valley, Alta., and for two years at two of the Camps with Meaning facilities in Manitoba. He said camp was where he first began to understand the importance of Christian community.

“It was where—with the guidance of those ministering around me—I first experienced my gifts being discerned,” he said. “My time at camp was when I realized how important the community that surrounded me really was, and that if I wanted to pursue ministry I needed to seek out a place that would help to shape me for this purpose. AMBS is one of those places.”

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