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Forest Glen: Coming Home

Here is a place story that I wrote about one of my favorite places in the world: Forest Glen Christian Camp.  If you need a place for a retreat, a place to host a summer camp, want to send your child to day camp (and live in the Woodlands, Conroe or Huntsville area), or want a life-enriching place to work this summer, check it out!  www.forestglen.org.

 

And in the meantime, take some time to read…

 

Forest Glen: Coming Home

It all starts with a drive down bumpy camp roads, with copper dust clouds billowing in my wake.  It’s about 40 minutes either way from New Waverly or Huntsville, buried deep within the Sam Houston National Forest.  After a long drive with a number of veers and turns, I crawl over the crest of a hill.  I feel like the ancient Israelites, ascending the mountains of Zion towards Jerusalem.  Finally, I catch sight of the bright blue sign: Forest Glen.  I’m home.

I drive through the tall black gates and continue down a winding road, passing landmarks on my left and right.  Forest Glen fills its spreading 286 acres with the 23 acre Lake Grace, a ropes course, three ziplines, walking trails, four lodges, twenty cabins, as well as dining halls, meeting rooms, swimming pools, sports fields, ball courts, activity stations, and playgrounds for both sides of the lake, North Shore and Lakeside.   Through retreats, outdoor learning centers, and summer camps, they serve over 20,000 campers in a year.  Once I was one of those campers.

Forest Glen has been a part of me for over half of my life.  My cousin went as a camper, then my older sister.  Each visit planted within me the desire to go, and finally, at the age of eight, that desire was met.  An adventurous week of camp flew by, and so, eager for more, I returned the following summer— and have done so for thirteen years.  In fact, I am always returning to camp.  Occasionally in person, but more often in mind and heart, recalling fond memories and transforming moments of faith.  Though I have left camp time and time again, camp has never left my heart.  Though we have moved from country to country, camp has stood its ground.  Though I have grown from an eight year old boy to a college senior, camp has stayed faithful and grown with me all the same.  Forest Glen is where I have met God and walked away forever changed.

Such experiences are not unnatural around Forest Glen.  John Davidhizar, Forest Glen Executive Director, said that in the days before he decided to begin working at Forest Glen full time, it wouldn’t leave his mind.  Though not a crying man, he couldn’t stop the tears coming to his eyes any time he prayed for Forest Glen.

I sat down with John beside Lake Grace, as wind blew across the surface and ducks quacking and honking at each other.  John is dressed in jeans and a tucked in flannel shirt, typical casual camp wear.  As he narrated the history of Forest Glen, images and names rise to the surface like turtles floating in the lake.  The names came in pairs, Earl and Cathy, Larry and Kay, Lou and Jerri.  Camp has always been a family affair.  John’s family has lived across the road from camp for close to a decade, and other camp directors have both lived on property for a few years.  Their kids have grown up jumping in mud puddles and swimming at the lake and working in the kitchen.

In 1965, the organization Child Evangelism Fellowship looked at the possibility of doing a Christian camp for kids in the Houston area.  They paired up with the Houston Salesmanship Club to use the group’s property in Spring, and the camp, Camp Good News, started with a few sessions that year.   Soon, CEF needed its own property.  They found land out in the Huntsville area and garnered many donations, including a $90,000 loan from a local bank.  They bought the land in 1971 and spent the next few years developing the property, filling the lake, forming islands, and constructing facilities.  The location was to be called Forest Glen.

The colors there are blue and brown and green.  Blue signs and sapphire skies and robin’s egg rooftops.  Ground littered with brown leaves, sticks, and pine needles, thin trees all around, wooden structures scattered about.  Emerald fields and deep green canopy and a muddy teal lake, where all the colors intermingle and flow.  Dogwood and redbud and sweet gum trees stand out when their time comes, stunning purple flowers in spring or deep red leaves in fall. 

Over the past forty years, Forest Glen has grown steadily, like a tree slowly shooting from the ground.  Over the first fifteen years they developed North Shore, forming cabin circles and more permanent structures.  After another fifteen, they expanded and created the Lakeside facilities.  Just five years after that they bought another property in Rosebud, now called Forest Glen Springs.  Just recently they parted ways with CEF and the Camp Good News name in order to let the Forest Glen name grow in standing and welcome more campers.  Still, though the summer camp program is no longer called Camp Good News, the good news has not left the building, but is still on their minds, on their lips, and in their hearts.

All staff members can share their own experiences of the good news, the grace they have experienced at Forest Glen. These are times when, in the words of Marketing Director Kevin Edney, “God came near.”  The secretary Phyllis received a call from a woman seeking a place for her troubled son.  Immediately after hanging up, Phyllis received another call, this time from a home for boys.  The weekend of my visit, the staff had some campers from downtown Houston, and despite being stressed from various complications, the staff said they saw God show up at fireside and reveal himself in the tearful stories shared by that week’s group.

People from all walks of life have found their way to Forest Glen and experienced the grace they share.  Prisoners from Hunstville, ladies groups from Dallas, churches from the Woodlands, sororities from Waco, middle school students from Austin, and more.  Retreats Director Andy Stem told me that their primary focus is service, welcoming any and all to Forest Glen and providing them an excellent camping experience.  Hospitality is vital.

Day Camp Director Chris Gomez spoke about moving from Camp Balcones Springs in Marble Falls, to Forest Glen.  Though the transition was hard, Forest Glen has become a “safe haven” for him, a place where he can balance the physical and spiritual and where family comes first.  Not just family, but all relationships.  One camper has commented, “The best thing is the relationships you develop with your counselors and cabin mates.”   Another said, “It has helped me grow spiritually in my walk with God.  And after going there for 11 years of my life, it’s my second home.”

Hospitality.  Relationships.  Home.  The stories told of Forest Glen are like the tales told at family reunions—emotional, joyful, comical, and impactful.  It is the place where so many people have found their place in the world and friends for life.

As I drive out of camp, back onto the bumpy roads, I catch sight of a bright blue sign hanging above us like a word from God.  It is, but it is also a blessing, a benediction from Forest Glen to me and all who find themselves at camp.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

Amen.

 

 

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