Camp Sunrise: 'Catch the vision'
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DIAMOND LAKE, WASH.
On a very rainy day in October 2010, Jim Fox, general chairman of the 2012 Aaronic Priesthood Encampment, went to visit the 900-acre Cowles Scout Reservation on the shores of Diamond Lake, Wash. Having been called to lead the planning and execution of a multi-stake encampment, he was working to find the right location.
As he toured the developed portion of the reservation, he felt it was not right. "I was in tears for hours as I walked that place. I was so concerned because we had committed to go to the BSA camp, but I knew that was not what I needed." And then, through the rain, and the tears, the Lord showed the way. Brother Fox told of being in the heavily wooded, undeveloped portion of the reservation called Camp Sunrise and, suddenly, he could see it all.
When Brother Fox shared his vision, the Inland Northwest BSA Council Executive Director Tim McCandless said of Camp Sunrise, "There's nothing there."
"You're exactly right," replied Brother Fox, "but there will be."
About two years later, Brother Fox welcomed more than 3,465 Scouts and leaders in the opening ceremonies of the Aaronic Priesthood Encampment, with the theme "Catch the Vision." He shared with them how a vision from the Lord led him to develop the physical location and the amazing experience that was about to become reality in the six days ahead.
"The vision, sent to me by a loving Heavenly Father, was what I see completed today," Brother Fox testified. "You couldn't even walk through it, and yet I could see the trees removed, the roads put in, the campsites built. I testify that I saw in my mind's eye what is happening here tonight as if I had been transported to this moment in time two and a half years in the future."
Just more than a year earlier, on May 14, 2011, about 2,200 young men and adults assembled to begin the process. They approached the thick forest with tools and determination. Within minutes of an opening prayer, the acres of open ground began to appear as Boy Scouts swarmed like fire ants around each gigantic obstacle. Stumps disappeared, rocks were moved and the ground was leveled.
Shortly behind the massive land-clearing effort came the digging of a well and the installation of water and electricity distribution systems. More than 20,000 volunteer hours went into the preparation of the Camp Sunrise site.
Brian Pitcher, Spokane Washington Valley Stake president and chair of the local BSA LDS relationships committee explained, "The encampment was based on a tremendous win-win partnership of the LDS stakes and the BSA council. This will be a tremendous asset to the BSA for decades to come, and an opportunity for future development projects and partnerships."
And just as they came to create the camp, on July 30, 2012, they came to bring it to life. From 18 stakes in Idaho, Montana and Washington, came thousands of young men and leaders. More than 2,000 Boy Scouts participated and each stake staffed its own camp with Scout leaders, security, medical professionals and cooks.
According to President Pitcher, the vision for the encampment included "a wonderful balance of spiritual experiences to accompany the fun and competition, Scouting advancement, fellowship, good food" and other elements.
The amazing range of activities and merit badge opportunities were made available by the creative and inspirational leadership of the steering committee, along with the willing preparation of all 18 stakes. Each stake took responsibility for the planning and execution of three activities. The week-long event offered 35 different merit badges and 57 unique activities such as shooting ranges, obstacle courses, water activities, climbing, mechanical bull riding and a triathlon. A total of 3,324 merit badges were awarded.
Along with all the activity, came a few bumps and scratches, amounting to more than 74 stitches during the week. Dr. Jade Bringhurst, who served one day as part of the volunteer medical staff, indicated that midway through the week they had used up all but one set of sutures, and were driving into town for various supplies.
Among the opportunities for Scouts to test their physical abilities, came great opportunities to "catch the vision" of the Lord's plan for each of them. The priesthood leaders involved in the planning process hoped that each young man would internalize President Thomas S. Monson's four-part admonition as set forth in the Duty to God program: prepare to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood; live worthy to receive the covenants and ordinances of the temple; live worthy to serve a full-time mission; become a righteous father and husband.
One of the three stake-planned activities was to teach a spiritual message. Ryan Rehkow, a 13-year-old Life Scout who attended, participated in a "faith factor" activity. Ryan recalled that his team gained an advantage in the challenges by answering questions about the scriptures. He noted that his favorite part of all the activities was "just being around all the members of the quorum, having fun with them and getting to know them a little better."
President Eaf Parke, first counselor in the Missoula Montana Stake, affirmed the value of having quorum members together for an entire week with bishops and other ward and stake priesthood leaders. Youth in his stake who attended, "were able to better understand the great strength they have both individually and collectively as Aaronic Priesthood holders. It was an inspiring experience for our young men to be a part of such a large gathering of youth who share the same standards and commitment to live the gospel."
While most were Latter-day Saints, a few were not. One was Baptiste Lanoy from Grenoble, France, who was visiting as an exchange student and had a chance to attend and participate at the encampment.
As part of the "Order of the Liahona," Scouts in some wards accepted the challenge to memorize scriptures on a daily basis. The young men were also invited to sign their names to a banner that contained a list of commitments they were willing to live. President Park told of a young man in his stake who is not LDS. "He took this commitment very seriously and called home the next morning to get permission from his father to add his signature to our banner."
In addition to the daily activities with a spiritual theme and challenges, each evening included an opportunity for the young men to meet with and learn from priesthood leaders. The opening and closing ceremonies sported a 10-by-20-foot video screen brought in from South Dakota and elevated about two stories high. A professional sound team, known for its successful amplification of outdoor concerts, ensured that every single camper could hear.
"We were committed to making sure the boys could see and hear and catch the vision of what the Lord expects of us and what we can accomplish," Brother Fox explained.
In his opening remarks, he asked the young men to stand. He pointed out that in number they were the same as those stripling warriors who "came to the rescue of a nation torn with civil war 2,075 years ago." Brother Fox continued the analogy, helping the young men to see that they are "engaged in a great war today, not with guns, but with temptations and ideologies." He encouraged the young men to be "Heavenly Father's young stripling warriors."
Elder Brad K. Risenmay, an Area Seventy, further admonished the young men to understand that "Scouting is an inspired program that helps young men recognize their first duty in the Scout Oath is to God." He explained that "Scouting is a tool of the Aaronic Priesthood. The Aaronic Priesthood is a gift from our Heavenly Father and is the paramount program of the Church for young men."
Throughout the week, ward and stake leaders hosted spiritual discussions in "mountaintop" meetings with their young men.
President Gregory D. Mott of the Spokane Washington East Stake expressed his gratitude for time that was dedicated to stake leaders and young men feeling the Spirit together. "The young men of our stake were richly blessed, and it was a particular delight and privilege to meet with them in our mountain top sessions."
President Scott O. Gage, a counselor in the Great Falls Montana Stake, shared a moving experience that occurred in one of their sessions. In his stake a father and son, not Latter-day Saints, were attending. The stake leaders chose for their mountain-top theme, "Warriors of Righteousness, Defenders of Virtue."
"It was a very spiritual devotional inviting the young Aaronic Priesthood holders to arise and become these warriors and to never leave a man behind," President Gage explained. "The father came up to me after the devotional and said that was one of the most inspirational speeches that he has ever heard. Seeds were planted."
In addition, President Gage pointed out, "We were able to instill in our Aaronic Priesthood young men the importance of having their own personal mountain top experience and finding out for themselves who they are and catching the vision of what Heavenly Father wants them to become and the work that He has for them."
At the closing ceremony, there were 4,000 in attendance to hear the remarks of David L. Beck, Young Men general president, who reinforced the themes of the week, inviting the young men to do their duty in living as worthy priesthood holders, inviting others to participate and serve a mission.
Gavin Ostheimer, a 12-year-old Scout, told of how watching the closing ceremonies cemented his commitment to serve a mission. "I just thought it was very important to serve a mission because I realized it has a very wide effect on many different people."
And that could be said of the encampment itself. The wide effect of prayerful, careful planning produced an event that strengthened convictions and individual resolve for thousands who will go forth to do their duty to God.
President Matthew D. McCombie of the Spokane Washington West Stake told of just such a change in one young man's life. As the young man rode quietly home from the encampment, he suddenly blurted out, "Why have I been missing Church?" followed by a renewed commitment to prepare earnestly to become a full-time missionary. Hearts were changed; testimonies born; courage strengthened; resolve to serve the Lord fortified," said President McCombie.
Looking back on the week, Brother Fox remarked, "This was one case where realization was even greater than expectation. You don't get that very often."