Photo Caption (Above): While volunteering as the camp pastor for LIT camp, Cody and friends preform a passionate rendition of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen.
by Cody Natland (Tonka), Lazy F camper, staffer, volunteer, and current pastor of Central UMC & Bay View UMC
For those of you who know me as “Tonka” at camp — for those who have heard me sing ridiculous songs, make bad puns, and share messages around the campfire — this may come as a surprise.
When I went to Lazy F the first time, in early High School, I was incredibly shy. Painfully shy. Social interaction with new people was an incredibly challenging and anxiety-inducing task. And yet, through some prodding and encouragement from my brother and folks at my local church, I ended up going, still fairly reluctantly, to winter camp at Lazy F.
I can still remember being introduced to the deans for the week — Carrie Lingow and Carrie Bland — and being a bit overwhelmed by their energy and enthusiasm… But also intrigued by the spirit, passion, and authenticity of those incredible women. I knew right away that camp was a unique place. I think I knew right away that my life was never going to be the same.
I know it sounds like hyperbole to say that camp changed my life, but I don’t know how else I would describe what camp has meant to me. Camp has shaped what it means to me to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and camp has shown me what it means to seek to transform the world. Because who, after going to camp, wouldn’t want to see the rest of the world be just a little more like camp?! Jesus had a word for that — the kingdom of God. I truly believe that a week at camp offers a glimpse into God’s kingdom.
At camp, I found a community that supported me and encouraged me. At camp, I found people who valued me in a way that I’d never experienced before, and gained the confidence I needed to overcome my shyness.
At camp, I discovered my voice.
I also developed a deep love for God’s creation. As a camper, a staff member, and a camp pastor, I’ve spent more nights in a teepee than I care to count, listening to the sound of the creek and the rustling of tree branches. I’ve hiked to the cross so many times, I know the layout of the camp against the forest that surrounds it like the back of my hand. I’ve learned the value of clean water for drinking and for playing — and I’ve felt the pain of dehydration when that water isn’t at hand on a hot day. I’ve encountered creatures I had no idea existed in Eastern Washington (just look at the wall of the shower house at night, underneath the light — it’s a whole world of beautiful creatures!), and felt the joy of knowing that the God who created such wonderful creatures has also created me.
That love for creation has led me to advocate for God’s creation in my community. Whether it is coal trains and oil trains that threaten the Skagit River with pollution, and the loss of clean drinking water for the communities downstream… Or the threat of environmental pollutants threatening the creatures that call Padilla Bay home… Or the loss of wetlands to deforestation and development… I’ve learned to use my voice to advocate for environmental justice, for the plants, the creatures, and the earth itself that have no voice to speak on their own. Creation care has become an integral piece of my ministry, and I am passionate about making sure that future generations are able to go out enjoy creation — whether at one of our beautiful camps, or walking along the mudflats on Padilla Bay, or whatever piece of creation is in their own backyard.
And I hope that, when they do, they’ll catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom.
We’d love to hear from you too. Tell us about YOUR camp story in the comments below.