Tag Archives: Experiences

The Journey to the Summit: Photos from 40 years of Mountain T.O.P.

40th Logo - 5

People usually have a lot to say about turning 40.  It’s a big milestone in the life of a person and people handle it a number of ways.  Here are a few of the more popular reactions:

  • Forty isn’t old, if you’re a tree.
  • I’m not 40, I’m eighteen with 22 years experience.
  • Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed. – Charles M. Schultz
  • Life begins at 40 – but so do fallen arches, rheumatism, faulty eyesight, and the tendency to tell a story to the same person, three or four times. – Helen Rowland

Here on the Mountain as we look back over these 40 years there a lot of things we could say about turning 40. The life of MTOP has had its ups and downs. The programs have grown in number and in size. The needs of the community have changed through the years and we have done our best to adjust.  We have taken turns I don’t think anyone could have ever expected and have gotten where we are today because of those turns in the road.

I think the only thing to say is how grateful and humbled by where this ministry is today. At the George Bass Brick and Mortar Dinner at the end of February we had speakers from every decade of Mountain T.O.P’s history speak about the changes and growth in that time. Every single speaker shared about how incredible it has been to be a part of what God has done in this ministry and how no one could have imagined where we are today.

As a way to celebrate all the good work that has been done, all that God has provided, all the lives changed in and out of camp, we wanted to show a glimpse of the past 40 years in a slideshow. Not only can you see some incredible pictures of families, worships, staffs, and camps, but also some incredible ’80s hairstyles.

 

Keep sending in your pictures to olivia@mountain-top.org of your time on the mountain. Be sure to include what year it is from and what program it was.  We’ll be sharing more pictures and slideshows throughout the year!

“I loved every minute of my job” -Reflections from Ben Nichols, YSM Field Manager

10517460_10152361219728462_2619754332891817638_nI had my first exposure to Mountain TOP in the summer of 2009. I was an eager 15 year old who was excited to spend a week away from home, make some new friends at camp, and get to use power tools. I had no idea how powerfully Mountain TOP would impact me and I didn’t realize the impact Mountain TOP makes on the people they work with.

This past summer I was on staff for the second time, now as a Field Manager (aka the toolshed guy). I was incredibly blessed to have this position where everyday I could go out and see the difference that Mountain TOP was making. Whether you were a camper 20 years ago, were a camper this summer, or support Mountain TOP financially or in prayer I want to remind you: this ministry is changing lives.

My job this past summer was to oversee the projects going on outside of Camp Baker Mountain during weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7. I would go out and check up on groups during and after their projects making sure projects were done the right way and also making sure the homeowners were happy. I scheduled all the projects for my camp weeks. I got lumber from sawmills and delivered it to worksites with the help of some Ministry Coordinators. I listened to every story about how projects went that day and answered all construction questions while encouraging groups that they could get it done.

IMG_3097I loved every minute of my job.

I pulled up to a home where a YRG had recently finished building a porch to find an elderly man sitting on his new porch. He was talking with his neighbor about how proud he was of his new porch. I saw the heart of a man newly filled with love of the Lord’s servants.

I stopped by the home of a woman who had a wheelchair ramp built by us. She knew the names of every single person in her YRG. She told me about the 14 and 15 year olds in the group who got along like brother and sister. She told me of the 18 year old who was as strong as an ox. She told me about the 16 year old who was the best worker in the group. She told me about the driver who “Knew exactly what he was doing”. This woman needed a wheelchair ramp, but the interaction with this YRG meant as much to her as anything. I heard the words of a woman who had been filled with the love of the Lord’s servants.

I couldn’t be more proud of my staff and the community we had my final week of the summer. We completed 4 wheelchair ramps for people who needed them. One woman was in a wheelchair and the only entrance to her trailer was a porch. Because of a stroke, she couldn’t even remember the last time she had left her home. One man had fallen and broken his hip going down the stairs from his porch so we built him a wheelchair ramp. There were 2 families in which the mother was going through chemo. Both were scheduled to get home on Friday. We had YRGs at both of their homes for 3 full days of work.  They skipped their YRG celebration to keep working. Both women were able to get into their homes when they returned from the hospital because of the wheelchair ramps we built for them. I saw that the Lord provides.

Mountain TOP provides relief, love, hope, and countless other things to the community of the Cumberland Plateau through the service projects done in the summer. I got to see all of it. I got to see the impact that this ministry makes and I hope that all of you who are involved with Mountain TOP one way or another know that you have changed the lives of the people you work with during your visit to the Mountain. I hope that next summer you come to the Mountain of Lord ready to work hard. I hope that next summer you come to the Mountain of the Lord ready to fill somebody with the love of the Lord.

 

Ben Nichols

Field Manager

 

Eric and 2006 Mountain T.O.P. Staff.  Weeping was a big thing that year.

Why I’m a Member of the Builders Club

Hi. My name’s Eric and I’m a member of the Builders Club. Here’s why:

Eric on Mountain T.O.P. Staff 2003
Eric on Mountain T.O.P. Staff 2003

I’ve been a 4-time YSM camper, an adult camper, a 3-time Summer Staffer, an AIM volunteer, a Spring Intern, a Board Member, and the Mountain T.O.P. Board Chair. Clearly, I have had a hard time saying no to the ministry that I love.

In all of this time, I realize I’ve been changed. And I bet I’m not the only one.

My time on Mountain T.O.P. summer staff gave me a new appreciation for a lot of things. Stress, organization, leadership – I coped with each of these things with varying degrees of success but each of them forced me to grow and mature, all with a reliance on God and in that God-focusing place called camp. The daytime hours pushed me to my limits and beyond, and the evening programs and worship brought me back to my center.

Eric and 2006 Mountain T.O.P. Staff.  Weeping was a big thing that year.
Eric and 2006 Mountain T.O.P. Staff. Weeping was a big thing that year.

In this way, I’ve taken these skills with me throughout my life. I label, folder, code and pile things with great care, I’m honest because I know my feedback will be appreciated, and I run a meeting better than many of my bosses. While I worked at Mountain T.O.P., I soaked everything in for the experience of doing it. Looking back on it, I see that it made me who I am today.

Eric on Summer Staff 2005
Eric on Summer Staff 2005

I’m a member of the Builders Club because Mountain T.O.P. taught me how to be a professional, and a Christian, at the same time.

Can anyone out there relate?

I have learned, every day, that the Lord is good: by Rachael Osborn

1383701_10203908623779651_4650063001838215128_n6 summers as a camper.
2 years on staff.
1 Fall AIM Weekend.

This isn’t much of a Mountain T.O.P. résumé, especially compared to those who have been coming to the Mountain more years than I have been alive, but it is something. It is something special to the development of my faith. I remember 2009, when the theme was “Amazing Grace,” because that was the year that I truly understood the concept of being saved because of God’s mercy and not my own works. I think back to last summer and getting to spend 10 weeks diving into the partnership of faith + works and how great it is that we can genuinely rejoice in suffering. Then I think about this summer… what have I learned?

I have learned, every day, that the Lord is good.

I have learned that though the AIM numbers are small, the Lord is good. We have seen some of the smallest AIM communities which has hindered us from serving as many families as we would like or accepting as many Kaleidoscope/Summer Plus/Quest kids as we would like. We still have a long list of families with expressed needs and teenagers that want to come to camp… and some days, this fact can be quite disheartening. When all we want to do is serve more families, all we have is a small handful of volunteers available to do so. We start to feel like we are not making a significant difference; we start feeling like we are not making any difference. We fear people are losing an interest in the AIM program, we fear people aren’t going to come back, we fear we are failing.

But then I remember, the Lord is good.

The Lord has reminded us though our communities are small, they are still mighty. It’s an awful cliché to use, but it describes every community we have had this summer. The Lord has reminded us that small communities mean closer communities, where everyone has a chance to get to know everyone. The Lord has reminded us that each community was created according to his sovereignty.

I have learned that though the odds may be against you, the Lord is good. Leading a group of people who are the same age as your parents and grandparents is no easy task. We have struggled to find common ground, to figure out how to teach old lessons in new ways, to keep programming fresh and relevant, to meet the needs of Christians who are more spiritually mature than we are.

But then I remember, the Lord is good.

The Lord has reminded us of 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, in your faith, and your purity.” The Lord has reminded us that we have different perspectives to offer, unconventional methods to try, new ideas to share, and the command to live as an example to all believers — no matter the age. The Lord has reminded us that he is our source of boldness, wisdom, and strength.

I have learned that detail-oriented planning is important, yet, preparing your heart for the work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely vital. I have learned that the greatest treasures of my summer have come during mid-afternoon talks on the office porch, the quiet moments of setting up worship, and when a staff member has more happies than crappies. I have learned nothing is more encouraging than hearing a first-time camper excited about taking lessons from the Mountain back to the Valley.

All because the Lord is good.

The Lord has strengthened, empowered, and encouraged small groups of people to make an enormous difference in the lives of 2 very special ladies of Tracy City and 67 day camp kids. The Lord has guided our path as we walked the balance beam of risk-taking and experimentation. The Lord has provided countless circumstances only described by saying, “that was a God moment.” The Lord has fulfilled his promise of doing immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine.

I have learned, every day, that the Lord is good.

The Truth about Summer Staff

Back in January I contacted one of our staffers to see if we could talk to her parents about their journey with her from her first time applying to now, when she is entering her third year on Summer Staff.

We know many parents have a difficult time fully digesting what a summer will look like for their son or daughter if they are on staff.  So I contacted Stacy to see if her parents would talk about what their initial thoughts had been about Stacy being on staff.

They were quick to respond and wonderfully honest about what their experience has been with Mountain T.O.P. that I think are extremely helpful to those looking to apply in the coming years.

Here is what they had to say.

Hi Olivia,

I smiled when I read your email to Stacy.  I certainly do remember how I felt when Stacy told us she first wanted to serve on staff two years ago (seems like a lot longer than two years!).  I was very apprehensive.  Very frankly, I was a little put off by the emails that came to prospective staffers: they seemed very slanted to all the things that Mt TOP required of candidates.  You must do a pile of paperwork all due at very specific dates, you must commit to an uninterrupted eight week service (Stacy’s grandfather was quite ill at the time), you must earn half of your salary, you must arrive with a car, and (oddly) you will need to make your own accommodations and pay your own way for the alternate week breaks.  I was pretty hesitant.  We weren’t at all sure we could promise her a car (we had four teen drivers sharing two cars at the time).  And to top it off, Stacy goes to college in Massachusetts and even if she convinced her professors to let her take a couple final exams early, and if her dad flew one-way to get up there to help her drive home, and if she only spent one night at home in Cincinnati at the end of spring term, she would still be arriving two days late for training.  And also, why would I want my 18 year old daughter to go to rural TN and drive throughout the counties knocking on strangers’ doors and  going into their homes by herself?  At the time I had no idea how respected Mt TOP is in the area.  Stacy told me she would always wear her staff shirt and name tag when she was out in the counties, and I didn’t have any idea how influential that could be.  I remember thinking that she was very very naive… a shirt and name tag didn’t really seem to provide much protection for a young person out on her own. Even though our church had gone for many years to Baker, and all four of our kids had enjoyed four years as campers, in February of that first year, it still seemed like there were many more concerns than it was worth.  Surely Stacy could find something else meaningful to do with her summer.
Stacy's 2014 Staff
Stacy’s 2014 Staff
But Stacy begged us.  And then the adult leaders from our church who knew Mt TOP called me.  And then I got up my nerve and called and talked with Ed’s wife, Glynn.  And later I had a second call with Ed.  Everyone offered reassurance.  It was explained that there are repeat host families that offer housing to the staff on the off periods.  Staffers stay in pairs or groups and not entirely on their own in others’ homes for these breaks.  They assured me that Stacy would be welcome even if she arrived a couple days into the start of training.  The homes that Stacy would be entering had been pre-evaluated by full-time staffers and they told me that the staff is well-trained about not going into homes that don’t appear safe.  They were patient with my concerns and there was a kindness and welcoming attitude in their voices that I hadn’t sensed in the group emails to applicants.  Slowly I began to let go and get more comfortable.
Stacy on staff in 2013
Stacy on staff in 2013
Stacy has gained so much from her two years on staff.  She has become very self-reliant.  She has learned to multitask and prioritize her day.  She prepares for what needs to be done but she doesn’t get rattled when the day doesn’t go entirely according to her plan – adjustments are made and the day is not a loss.   She can speak almost effortlessly (it seems) in front of our church and other groups.  She has also learned simpler more practical life skills like writing fundraising letters, office skills, driving through unfamiliar areas, meeting new people, working in groups, and introducing herself with a sense of ease and humility. She has learned to deal with people of very diverse backgrounds, she has engaged in more than a few conflict-resolution situations, and she has become much more mature and at ease with herself and others.  Some of this is likely from just being two years older and two years farther into college life, but I really believe that the lion’s share of the changes in Stacy is due to her two summers on staff at Baker.  She has grown into a much more confident and (as her mother, dare I say) accomplished individual, and for that we give thanks to those who have guided her and led her at Mt TOP.  And, maybe the icing on the cake is that she has loved her time on staff in Tennessee, made lifelong friends of other staffers, and deepened her personal faith immeasurably.  That is a treasure she will always appreciate.
Stacy's first year on staff
Stacy’s first year on staff
So, in conclusion, I had a lot of misconceptions.  I had a lot to learn about how Mt TOP works.  And I’m eternally grateful that it has played such a significant role in Stacy’s last few years.  Stacy is spending this January interning each day with a church-run coalition that assists homeless Cincinnati families (Interfaith Housing Network).  She leaves for 15 weeks in Bolivia on January 28th but she has already begun a packing pile for TN in her room.  As I write this she is in her room writing partnership letters and thank you notes that her Dad and I will mail out in March when Mt. TOP announces the summer staff choices.  And later this week she will get her health physical and prepare to submit some of Mt TOP’s forms and paperwork.  When she returns to Cincinnati in May she will have just two full days with us here at home before she heads to TN for training.  There’s not enough time for all these tasks, and as her mother it’s sometimes tough to see her working so hard. Preparing to take this summer’s position will be demanding, but this time, instead of me being filled with concern and doubts, I am thrilled that she  has the opportunity and grateful that she will have the chance to grow her skills even further while continuing to serve the families of the Cumberland Plateau.
Holly Purcell

Share Your Story

Storybook Banner

Mountain T.O.P. has been serving on the Cumberland Plateau for 39 years.  In the 2015 we want to celebrate our 40th year of ministry through sharing the impact this ministry has had through your stories and photos. Was it your first mission?  Was it your first time leading a group on a mission?  Who did you meet?  What made the most impact on your life?  How did you connect with God?  Did you hear your call to ministry here?

Share your experiences by emailing them to info@mountain-top.org.  We can’t wait to hear how God moved through you while you were here, and how you carried your experiences to the valley below.

 

Preparing for Summer Staff by Shelle Merryman

shellee blogIt’s April and I’m preparing for my third summer on staff. My third summer, I don’t know when that happened. I never even thought I would be on staff for one summer, let alone three. In 2007 I answered God’s call to join my church on this crazy new adventure (new to my church and me). I came to Mountain T.O.P. for the first of five times that summer, and have been involved in the ministry some way every year since.  In the fall of 2011, I continued to hear God calling me to spend the next summer doing His work on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. I was a freshman at the University of Tennessee, eight hours away from where I grew up in South Lyon, Michigan. So I was used to being in new situations. Used to not being ‘comfortable’ and going beyond my comfort zone. As I heard his call, I questioned if it was right (because we all like to think He can be wrong). I wasn’t questioning Him because I didn’t want to do something new, but because I never felt like I could do a good enough job. I ended up applying and eventually being accepted to be a Ministry Coordinator. I spent my first spring semester as a college student preparing for what I thought was going to be an amazing summer filled of love, God, and campers (and this didn’t disappoint!)! But I also thought I was going to change so many people’s lives but boy was I wrong: instead, every county person, camper, and fellow staff member I encountered changed mine.

shellee blog1The unbelievable experience I had as a Ministry Coordinator (MC) was completely due to my staff, my campers, and the county people. The job of a MC is nothing like what I expected. I knew it was going to be hard work, but I didn’t know that would include the amount of paper work, driving, and late nights that were experienced, but I wouldn’t change one minute of that entire summer. Even if I was running around pretending like I knew what I was doing when I had no clue and solving issues that I didn’t even know existed, I wouldn’t have wanted to be doing anything different. Of course there were times I questioned what I was doing; why I was okay with the minimal amount of sleep, okay with being so far from civilization, okay with the crazy requirements of my job, but then you experience all of those rewarding moments. Giving a message to your favorite camp community, having an amazing YRG build a porch for one of your favorite county people, laughing with your staff at anything and everything that is said, those are the moments when you know the reason you’re there. Where else in the world is it socially acceptable to act like an airplane driving down a windy road? It’s not easy to ALWAYS be 100% yourself, but it is on the Mountain. Where else can you be crying one moment and the next be laughing so hard you’re crying for a completely different reason? Praying the way my staff prayed instantly puts a smile on my face just to think about. All of these experiences showed me what it’s like to truly be immersed in faith and servant-hood, but it doesn’t end there.

shellee blog2God knew all of these amazing experiences meant more to me than I could say, so he convinced me to return last summer as a field manager. I knew it was going to be hard work, I knew that I wouldn’t have the same experience I had as an MC, but I also knew that my love for the county people could not be compared to a love I had for anyone or anything else. Simply put, I would do ANYTHING for these people. I love them like my family, so I knew I had to come back as a field manager, to serve them again. The hard work that came with this job was more than I imagined. The limited amount of sleep and amount of work I had didn’t compare to another job on the mountain, but once again, I wouldn’t wish for one of the moments all summer to be changed. My staff helped shape who I am, and the work in the field put a smile on my face all of the time. Even with a different role as the summer before, I knew that I belonged on my specific staff doing my job and look back and see why I was placed there by God, doing His work.

shellee blog3As I said at the beginning, I’m now preparing for my third summer on staff. I have the amazing opportunity to return to the mountain as a YSM Director. I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity! Once again I’ll have a role that is not even close to one I’ve had in the past, but I get to do God’s work in a different role. Being a director requires me to lead my staff, to have a successful staff and camp weeks and I couldn’t be happier to have this responsibility placed on my shoulders. With God guiding me along the way, I know that He will help my staff and me be successful and lead us to do His work. Even if we’re not anywhere close to civilization, even if I have the hardest job I’ve ever had, even if I don’t get nearly enough sleep every night, I know that I’m doing His work and fulfilling him. I’m fulfilling Him, so he is fulfilling me in return. I get to do His work and there is no place I would rather be. I love having the opportunity to live on a mountain top and I wouldn’t ask for anything else.

God is good, all the time and all the time, God is good. He called me to the mountain in 2007 with a servant heart, and has fulfilled that heart experience after experience.