It would be easy to drive past the dirt road leading to Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center. The humble entrance to this camp just outside of Oregon, Ill. — one of approximately 145 programs in the ELCA — appears to be just another farmhouse driveway on Illinois Route 2.
But to those familiar with the camp, that dirt road is a gateway to a sanctuary tucked a few hundred yards into the woods. For many campers, counselors and staff, Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center is a place to retreat from the busy clutter of modern life and re-center oneself around Christ and the beauty of creation.
Not just a summer job
For Kwame Pitts, the sanctuary provided by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center allowed her to hear God’s call to ministry.
Due to cutbacks from the recession, in the summer of 2009 Kwame was searching for a new job.
“One of my friends told me about a position at the camp as a program director. Even though I didn’t have enough camping credentials, I applied for the job anyway and was asked to interview for a counselor position instead,” Kwame explains.
The summer of solitude away from Chicago was an important time of reflection at a point in her life when she needed direction from God. “Sometimes you need a place to be able to come to and say ‘this is really my path.’”
During that summer, a friend wisely told Kwame, “The reason God has lead you to the camp is not just to work — it’s not about a job. It’s about the fact that you’re struggling with your call. God needs to be able to talk to you and say, ‘Yes, this is what I want you to do.’”
At 3 a.m., on the last night of August 2009, Kwame stood among the prairie grasses waiting for a meteor shower that was supposed to take place. “I stood there and I talked to God and said, “Is this really where I’m supposed to go? Do you really want me to stand up in the pulpit and preach and teach?” she recounts.
“The sky had been silent,” Kwame recalls with a glow, “but the minute I asked that question, it lit up. And there was my answer.”
Affirmation of her call
Now a seminarian at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Kwame admits that there have been stumbling blocks along her path — moments when she has doubted herself, her faith, her calling. “But there have also been moments of affirmation,” she says. “Yes, I am supposed to be here. Yes, I am supposed to struggle.”
But the memory of camp — a reminder that God has called her to do God’s work — is what gives her the strength to continue through those trials.
“When I walk into the living room in my seminary housing apartment, I look out into the sunroom and see all these beautiful trees and it reminds me of camp. That’s my reminder that camp is not too far away.”
For Kwame, the beauty of creation is a daily reminder of God’s call. “I carry that with me every day when I wake up,” she says, thinking of the 640 acres of God’s verdant beauty at the camp.