God's Special Place

By Jim Micheff -  August 31, 2023


God's Special Place

The couple from California were in their mid to late 60’s and always by themselves.

His biker-style headwrap made him seem a bit intimidating, and he was often sitting alone as if meditating on something important. There seemed to be a mysterious aloofness about the couple with a touch of tension, but I couldn’t tell if it was just unique personality, marital problems, or some life issue they were working through. They didn’t join in any of the activities and only came to meals and some of the worships.

Whenever I saw them, I tried to talk with them, intentionally attempting to maintain balance between making them feel included and protecting their desire for personal space. I started praying for them, not knowing what more I could do to help them enjoy Camp Au Sable.

As the week went by, I wondered how helpful we (and Camp in general) were for them. On Thursday after lunch was over, I noticed them sitting at one of the picnic tables off by themselves. I felt impressed to go over and talk with them. They were friendly and welcoming, and he especially seemed to want to talk to me. After a short time, his wife excused herself, leaving us to enjoy the sunshine and cool breeze together. It was then that he told me he was dying of cancer.

He had tried chemo and radiation, which was why he wore the bandana, but the doctors had told them there was nothing more they could do and he only had a few weeks to live. I was surprised! He didn’t have the appearance of someone with only weeks to live.

He went on to say that their lives had been absorbed in their professions and God had been in the background. After the prognosis, he and his wife began reminiscing about when and where they had sensed God’s presence in the past. His wife remembered Camp Au Sable. She had some distant connection with Camp Au Sable and had faint memories of sensing God’s presence there. She asked if he would be willing to go there if an opening was available, and when he agreed, she immediately called the camp. There had been a last-minute cancellation, making room for them at a Family Camp.

They decided to drive their motorhome to Michigan and experience one more road trip together. Then he told me, “You will never know what this time at Camp has meant to me. When we first came, I was wrestling through the reality of death, angry with God and everyone else, but God is in this place! As the days have gone by, I sense His presence as never before. I’ve seen and heard Him through the general camp setting of worships, music, and friendly staff, but especially through the beauty of nature all around us here. God has been gently hugging me close and communicating His love through the lake, trees, squirrels and other wildlife, the boardwalk, and nature center. He has replaced anxiety and fear of the future with peace I cannot explain. I’m now at peace with death and the grave because I know God is with me.”

We rejoiced together at the goodness of God, then he asked me if there was something the camp needed to strengthen the program. I told him I had just been looking at replacing all the mattresses in the boys’ and girls’ villages. He told me he had a Harley Davidson motorcycle that was his special delight, and since he would not be able to use it anymore, he wanted it to bless others. He had already talked to his wife, and she agreed to his idea of selling it and giving the proceeds to Camp Au Sable. He asked how much the mattresses would cost. I told him the quote was for about $20,000. He smiled and told me his Harley was worth that exact amount.

This experience happened when I was the Youth and Camp director. Over the years, stories like this have been repeated in so many ways. Families have been reunited and strengthened, new acquaintances have become lifelong friends, couples have met and joined their lives in holy matrimony. Perhaps you have your own special memory in connection with Camp.

In our conference, Camp Au Sable is a crucial ministry, where kids and adults of all ages commit or recommit their hearts and lives to Jesus. It has also become an important crossroads and training center for our conference. What began as a youth focused summer camp, with Bible camps and Pathfinder events during the school year, has grown into a conference wide training facility ministering to the needs of all our constituents. Family programs, such as marriage and individual men’s and women’s retreats, along with health, Sabbath School and Personal Ministry training workshops are only a few examples of the various activities taking place there. In addition, Michigan Conference churches regularly use the camp for campouts and retreats.

In the early 1950’s, the current dining room served as both dining hall and auditorium for programing. Over the years, the kitchen has been remodeled and adjusted to maximize the current space. An auditorium and additional housing have also been added to help accommodate conference needs, however several times each year we must rely on hotels in Grayling to help meet housing needs.

Our AUSMIN (Au Sable Administrative committee) and Long-Range Planning committees give oversight and help cast a vision for camp. They ensure each additional lodge can accommodate separate groups, maximizing the number of multiple parties using the grounds at any one time. For years we have been repairing and maintaining camp facilities, trying to get as much use out of our existing buildings as possible. Both committees recognize we have an aging kitchen, dining hall and auditorium that, in the future, will have issues requiring major repair costs. Estimated costs to upgrade these amenities, including the fire suppression system, to current code using professional services are projected to be over 5 million.

Last year, with the recommendation of AUSMIN, the MCEC (Michigan Conference Executive Committee) authorized a feasibility study to be conducted by Lew Seibold and Ariel Solis, both architects and former chairs of the Architectural program at Andrews University. They addressed several questions. Would it be more cost effective and efficient to build a separate kitchen/dining hall and auditorium or keep them together as they are now? Or would it be better to remodel or tear down and rebuild? After analyzing the study, both AUSMIN and Long-Range committees concluded that it was best to have them together and rebuild rather than remodel.

This year the MCEC authorized Seibold and Solis along with Daniel Bacchiocchi, an architect and building contractor, to prepare two proposals for our Constituency delegates to consider. The feasibility study along with their preliminary architectural work indicates that the cost, depending on the selected proposal, will be between 12 and 15 million dollars.

We solicit your prayers for our Constituency Session on September 24. This will be one of the important topics of discussion as we will determine if the time has come to replace the kitchen, dining hall and auditorium. Regardless of the outcome, we know God will continue to use Camp Au Sable as His special place.