Canadian Baptist of Western Canada

Keats Camp reaches record numbers, grows its mission

“The biggest thing, why we do camp, is anchoring the next generation with the life changing power of Jesus. If we can get them to move a little bit farther along that journey of understanding that God is who he says he is and we’ll do what he says he will do,” says Keats Executive Director, Ryan Friesen.

“Even if it’s as simple as they for the first time come to camp and they hear Jesus’s name where it’s not a swear. We’re trying to shift things to where they start seeing Jesus as someone they should get to know. Even if it’s only a small movement, that can be enough to start a foundation.”

Somewhere between 40 and 60 per cent of Keats campers don’t come from church. The camp intentionally partners with the local school district to host fall and spring mini camps. A few hundred students come to the island for a few days, and a lot of them want to come back for a week in the summer.

“We have parents that will phone us and say, ‘So my kid likes Keats because they came out with their school, but I don’t understand this whole God thing. Does it mean they have to believe in Jesus? Like, are you gonna indoctrinate them?’” Ryan says.

“They’re almost worried that we’re going to do something to their kids while they’re here. It’s a wonderful conversation where we get to share with them that our goal is not to make anyone do anything. Our cabin leaders and all our staff love Jesus, we believe that he is absolutely amazing and we would love to introduce your kids to him. Do they have to believe when they come? No. Do they have to believe when they leave? No. But we’re still very honest that we love Jesus.”

“I’ve never had a parent get off the phone and be upset. Usually they say, ‘My kids don’t go to church and I don’t necessarily believe, but if they if they choose to do that it sounds good to me.’ They’re not afraid to let their kids go here, often because they know Jesus was a good man, right? They just don’t know he was the best man. So we get a chance to actually share who he is and what he does.”

Around ten years ago, the camp was at a low point. Camper numbers were down and most buildings were badly in need of upgrades, being up to 60 years old. The Board, churches and the BC Convention knew that financial investment and renewed energy were required. A decision was needed: is this what we want to do? As you can guess, their answer was yes. Old cabins were fixed up so all the bunks were available, new cabins were built, a new high-ropes course was installed and more camp activities were developed.

The investment is showing strong returns. This year, Keats has a record high of 1,841 camper, up from around 750 campers at the low point. Every camp is at capacity, except for one (a new camp just for young campers called Buccies in grades 3-5), and a new off-season rental program sees the facilities being used almost every weekend up until winter. There’s a staff of around 150 people all summer, a mixture of volunteer and paid positions, in addition to the six executive staff who work year round.

The Keats mission of anchoring the next generation in Christ decidedly extends to staff as well as campers. “We are having some real hard conversations with our staff. Some of them are learning to work for the first time, a lot of them are learning what it means to depend on Jesus. They’ve never they’ve never had to figure that out before,” Ryan says.

Caitlyn McKinnon has been coming to Keats to work for six years. The community she’s found here has changed her life.

“I didn’t really reconnect with that side of like my life until coming to [volunteer as a] deckhand. The community aspect of Keats really resonates for me, because this was my first Christian community,” she says. “I’ve discovered a lot by being poured into by senior staff and building relationships that are going to last my entire life. That community has made me who I am, it’s made me realize who I am down in my core. It’s unreal being part of a safe community where that growth is fostered and accepted and where people are willing to to walk through life with you.”

But it isn’t just about the great relationships. “Another thing I’ve learned working at Keats is the value of working as a team, and how to live in a tight knit community,” Caitlyn says. There’s conflict with any group of people—picture living with 150 people on a small acreage for a summer, with 1800+ campers circulating through. It’s exhilarating, exhausting, character building work. But with a common goal, the team has a motivation to work through the conflict.

“We all have this understanding that the kids come first, and despite miscommunications or frustrations within departments. We’re gonna still try our best despite feeling like we’re not doing our best,” she says. “Putting God above our needs, and putting his mission for this place above what we think needs to get done for this to work. That’s another reason why I keep coming back, it’s a constant reminder of God’s will is being done first and foremost above my own will. That’s a big thing in learning how to put God first in all things and how through God we can love each other well.”

This article was published in Volume 13, Issue 6 of Making Connections. Subscribe to the Making Connections monthly newsletter here