Column: Mop bucket surprise


It’s summer and that means Bible camp.

You maybe thought I’d say “mosquitos.” Or “sunscreen.” Or lazy evenings out on the deck. Well, we’ve got plenty of mosquitos, and rest assured; the sunscreen was packed into camp suitcases with serious admonitions about its use. And as for the deck, which has recently completed its restoration regimen ably executed by my talented husband, yes, we’ve been enjoying it as much as the mosquitos and heat allow.

But right now, sitting out on the deck on this cool morning, listening to the lapping waves of the lake and the occasional truck roaring past, all I can think about is camp.

Our kids are in and out of camp all summer. As campers. As volunteers. I didn’t grow up attending Bible camp, though my husband did. I did go to a weekend retreat once in the fourth grade. I hated it. So it came as a surprise when I found myself, in the summer of 1994, heading off to spend two months as the Program Director of Covenant Park Bible Camp, in Mahtowa, Minn.

I had graduated from college two years previously and gone on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, but then my plans changed. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I finally settled on attending seminary, but I needed a summer job. Enter Covenant Park.

I drove the hour to camp with butterflies dancing — no, not in the air, in my stomach. I had met two staff people and the mothers of two others, one of whom said something about camp being a great place to find a husband, which made me want to puke. To top off my stress, my grandmother had died the night before and I wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral in Colorado.

Tears threatened to fall as I drove into the parking lot. I took a deep breath. I opened my car door and a girl came running up.

“Hello! You must be Gretchen! I’m so glad you’re here. My mom told me all about you.”

Well, wasn’t that nice? The butterflies settled a little.

We spent the afternoon cleaning the dining hall. I know, not a job you might think would be very fun. And I guess the job itself wasn’t, but that didn’t matter, because what it did was provide plenty of time to talk, to learn about each other, to listen to memories of camp days gone by, to grasp a little of what camp life was about. Who knew that a rag and a mop bucket could provide such opportunities?

As the afternoon wore on, I almost forgot my tears and my worry that I’d never fit in. And then, in the middle of my dusting, I found something, which clinched my belonging. I was wiping off old Cabin Clean Up Awards from the 1950s, and I found a name engraved on a plaque. A name I knew. My uncle. I had forgotten that he’d grown up attending Covenant Park. Somehow that known name made me suddenly believe that I belonged. Maybe God wasn’t so crazy sending me there, after all.

As the summer progressed, I fell more and more in love with Covenant Park. I loved everything about it. The orange cabins, the games, the food, the lake, the camaraderie, the campers. I loved singing and praying with the kids, performing skits and morning flag raising and cabin clean-up checks. I didn’t even mind the exhaustion that came at the end of every session because it meant another week of seeing God at work in the lives of children and teens and adults.

I worked at CPBC for three summers in a row. And yes, some of you may recall that I met my husband there. We even got married there at the end of that third summer. Twenty-two years ago this week.

So yes, summer makes me think of Bible camp. And it makes me think of that rag and broom and mop as we cleaned up the dining hall. Sometimes God takes the simplest of things and uses them in amazing ways.

“God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1 Corinthians 1:28,29 NIV

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is