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 firstname.lastname@example.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 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.
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.
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.
When Olivia asked me to write something about Neighbors Helping Neighbors I was really excited. This week meant more to my staff and me than I could ever explain. Then I realized I had to somewhat put my experience into words. I am almost at a loss of words from this camp week. It was… Perfect. Emotional. Emotionally Draining. Spiritually Fulfilling. Loving. Beautiful. Passion Filled. Perfect.
I’m sure many of you have never heard of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, so here’s a little backstory. In 2013 there was an awesome idea to have people from the Cumberland Pines service area come to Baker Mountain to participate in a YSM Service Project week. The idea formed, churches were contacted, and the week happened all within about three weeks of eachother. This camp week, with 1 adult, 9 youth, and 8 staff members made such a big difference in everyone’s life that was involved that it became known as Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) and was continued this year.
NHN this year tripled in size from last year. We had 3 churches bring a total of 30 youth and adults to form our wonderful community of 38 people. The only criteria to come to NHN is that the Sunday attendance of your church must be 100 or less. Besides having smaller churches that come to NHN, this week is unique for many different reasons. The churches that have come so far (in the 2 year history) are Tracy City First UMC from Tracy City, Morton Memorial UMC from Monteagle, and St. Luke’s UMC from Chattanooga. Both Tracy and Morton are located in Pines service area, literally serving their own neighbors. And St. Luke’s is right down the road in Chattanooga (2 of their youth were from Signal Mountain, part of Baker service area).
NHN is one of the best things that could happen to this ministry, to the people of Grundy County, to these youth, and to the staffs involved. Mountain TOP’s Day Camp program has continued to grow throughout the recent years and if you’re wondering why I went from talking about NHN to talking about Day Camp, bear with me. Just like what the Day Camp Manager, Monica said, “The Day camp programs are where we are shaping the future of this community, and making a permanent change” (and if you haven’t read her post I recommend you do). Of all of the youth we had attend NHN from Tracy City, the majority of them participated in at least one Day Camp program, if not multiple programs throughout the years. And these Day Camp programs do help shape the future of this community. But so does NHN. The youth coming to do a Service Project when many of their families have been on the receiving end of these various projects…that is something that helps make a permanent change. The youth realize what they are doing. They realize that they are more capable than they ever thought.
This camp week showed the youth that came to our camp that they DO have a chance. That they CAN and WILL make a difference. That they CAN have a future. That they ARE people. That people DO care about them. That they are not nothing. These amazing youth that walked around our camp can now go home and help more neighbors. Help people by using what they learned last week at NHN in their own communities. We are helping these youth (and adults for that matter) build resilience. We are shaping the future of this community and making a permanent change just like Day Camp. We’re just doing it a different way. We are giving all of them something this mountain desperately needs, a sense of hope.
These awesome campers came to Baker and did the same thing that a normal Service Project week would. They worked 4 days out in the county, doing yardwork, construction, and painting. And they had worship, games and sharing every night. It was awesome having them in camp. I don’t think you could every find a community that was all so dedicated and invested in the week like those 30 campers (I know I haven’t in my 3 years on staff and 5 as a camper). The happiness and willingness, desire to be part of that community, passion to learn about the Lord, hard work in the county, that doesn’t happen every camp week.
It was awesome for so many different reasons but it was great in camp because we were able to do more intricate worships in small spaces that aren’t usually used. On Monday we played a game at the ‘Y’ (the piece of grass between the boys and girls cabins), we had sharing at the Prayer Dock, and had worship on the Side Porch, where we couldn’t fit many more people. The response involved everyone pouring rocks and rice into little bags for them to take. More people would have made that not possible. On Tuesday we had stations worship at the Prayer Dock, it’s normally in the ‘field’ and the intricate space was awesome. On Wednesday we had worship the front gate, a place that can work with big communities but was more fitting for the small group! The messages were so personal because we knew so much about all of the campers that we could connect it to their life.
All of the campers got so much out of spending their week at Baker Mountain. They saw my staff and me as role models. They realized they could be like us, college students and doing something we love and enjoy. But in return, my whole staff was filled immensely with love and passion. I have never seen a staff be so close to every single member of the camp community and known so much about every camper like they’ve felt like they’ve known each other for years. It was awesome getting to see the smiles on the faces of all my staff all week. Whether the smiles stemmed from seeing the campers enjoy themselves, interacting with the campers, knowing they had a place to sleep and food to eat, or anything else. Their smiles put a bigger smile of my face every single second.
This week gave my staff an awesome opportunity to more clearly see the difference we are making every step of the way. But for some of these campers, it meant they had the same bed to sleep in all week. It meant they had 3 meals a day the entire time they were here. It meant they had people looking over them, caring for them. That is part of the reason my staff cares so much about these people who were our campers. We know some of them don’t have the best lives at home. We know some of them have never been told how great they are. We know that some of them have never left Grundy County, but the important thing is they have now experienced this great week at Baker Mountain. They now know what they are capable of.
A lot of emotion came with this week, but one thing is for certain; my staff knows why we were all called to be on the mountain this summer. Why we were called to be here this week. My staff knows why the 8 of us make up Baker Evens. It doesn’t have to do with the weeks on the calendar, or the individual place we come from, but because together we form a cohesive team that was able to reach the lives of all 30 campers. The personal experiences we had been through made it possible for us to connect with campers in ways many people wouldn’t be able to.
Perfect doesn’t begin to describe the week that happened. It was the most emotional week anyone on my staff will ever experience. The importance of this week cannot be put into words. Nor can the experiences. One thing my entire staff will agree on is that this week was the best thing that ever happened not only for the youth and adults involved, but for every single one of us.
Psalm 56:3-4 sums up a lot that we learned from our campers this week, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose world I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal men do to me?”
Peace, love, joy,
-Neighbors Helping Neighbors Director
Two years ago, if you told me this was where I would be, I would have laughed. A lot. The thought of working with kids was not even an option or consideration for me. I had never been interested in teaching or anything relevant to the Day Camp program at all. I liked to build things, and help people with their physical needs, so I thought being a Service Project Ministry Coordinator was the job for me. But as we have been talking about in camp, there is a difference between a calling and a desire.
After my final year as a service project camper, I knew I was going to be on staff. I knew I was being called to be on the mountain, helping the amazing people in the county, and reaching out to our campers as a staff member. I decided to answer the call, and apply to be a Service Project Ministry Coordinator.
I got the call from Kim a couple weeks after my interview, offering me a position as a Day Camp Ministry Coordinator. It took me a good 24 hours to even realize what was going on. I had never heard of the day camp program, and I had no idea what it meant to the ministry. I did know that I loved this ministry and everything it stood for, so I accepted the offer.
The first few weeks were tough, because I had no idea what to expect at all; but soon enough the rewards started pouring in. Seeing how appreciative these kids were for such little things is life changing. This is probably the hardest job I will ever have, but it is also the easiest, because of how rewarding it is. I have never had a problem with motivation because every day, I can see the work I do paying off. It is amazing.
I now believe that Day Camp is the heart of this ministry (and yes I am a little biased). Don’t get me wrong, I do think that it is extremely important that we help the people of this area with the current physical needs they have. It is more than necessary to build some steps on a trailer so they can meet codes and keep custody of their kids, or a wheelchair ramp so that an elderly person can exit their trailer, but the Day Camp programs are where we are shaping the future of this community, and that is making a permanent change.
This program focuses on building resilience in the youth of the community, so they know how to face all of the issues that they will no doubt encounter. Not only that, but it helps to inform the kids of this community that they have options in their future. They don’t have to stay in Grundy County and live in the same house they have always lived in. They can go to college, they can become a pilot, or a doctor, or whatever they want to do. And I can tell you first hand, its working. I have heard kids after our visit to The University of the South raving about how much they want to go to college. I have been told after our visit to the airport that kids didn’t know how cool it would be to be a pilot. We are instilling motivation into them, that they will hopefully carry for the rest of their lives.
Coming into my second summer with this program, now as the Manager of the Day Camp program, I see exactly how God is working through me and why I have been called here. I’m here for the kids in this county, but I’m also here to keep growing our program. This program does not get nearly enough credit, and it is because of the mindset that I used to have as a camper. The mindset that it is more rewarding to build a porch than it is to “babysit” kids (I can assure you, it is far from babysitting). My goal is to start changing that. The program can’t grow unless we get more participants coming to camp, and only limited kids in the county can come if we don’t have enough vans to transport them. I am extremely excited that I have the opportunity to embrace these goals. I think that there is huge potential in this program, and I can see it growing already from what has been happening this summer.
Already, the first week, we had 64 kids signed up. This coming week, we have 56, and almost 70 seatbelts to fill for the last week. Last year we had to tell kids they couldn’t come because we didn’t have enough seatbelts, and this year I am having to hunt down forms to make sure kids get signed up in time. The program is growing, and I cannot wait to be a hand in continuing that.
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.
Kristin Griswold – DeKalb, IL
Shellee Merryman – South Lyon, MI
Stacy Purcell – Terrace Park, OH
Melissa Weidel – Port Matilda, PA
Blake Austin – Smyrna, TN
Jacob Frensley – Gallatin, TN
Ben Nichols – Saline, MI
Charlie Smith – Thibodaux, LA
Robyn Alderson – Schaumburg, IL
Emma Couch – Dayton, OH
Tyler Pearson – Mt. Zion, IL
Mylie Winger – Winchester, IN
DAY CAMP MANAGER
Monica Welcker – Dublin, OH
DAY CAMP MINISTRY COORDINATORS
Amanda Hyssong – Franklin, TN
Erika Roberts – Dublin, OH
SERVICE PROJECT MINISTRY COORDINATORS
Daniel August – Lewisburg, TN
Samuel Batson – Lilburn, GA
Kimberly Bowman – Plain City, OH
Norma Calicott – Wilmore, KY
Hank Cohen – Lawrenceville, GA
Tim Cook – Whippany, NJ
Andrea Decker – Dublin, OH
Mallory Dorton – Livonia, MI
Dan Eby – Saline, MI
Chris Guerrant – Dunwoody, GA
Abby Jenks – Ann Arbor, MI
Cody Jorstad – Snellville, GA
Alex Lister – Loganville, GA
Chad Pasinger – Whites Creek, TN
Austin Salinas – Snellville, GA
Jon Saxton – Terrace Park, OH
Caitlin Stephenson – Atwater, OH
Lauren Taylor – Snellville, GA
Allison Waters-Kutsch – Dubuque, IA
2014 ADULTS IN MINISTRY SUMMER STAFF
Brooke Freeman – Snellville, GA
MHR FIELD MANAGER
Ben Aastuen – Northfield, MN
Rachael Osborn – Winchester, IN
SUMMER PLUS, KALEIDOSCOPE, QUEST MANAGER
Alli Heisner – Cedar Park, TX
SUMMER PLUS, KALEIDOSCOPE, QUEST ASSISTANT MANAGER
Andy Wegg – Winchester, IN
It’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.
The 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.
God 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.
As 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.
I’ve been participating in Mountain T.O.P.’s ministry in some capacity since the summer of 2009. Last year, I felt strongly that God was calling me to spend my summer doing His work as a summer staffer. As I was finishing up my sophomore year at Ohio State, and preparing for a summer spent in Tennessee, I had a lot of ideas about what my experience was going to be like. A summer spent in paradise, where I was the hero, changing people’s lives and making some awesome new friends. What I found was that I was completely wrong; once my summer was complete, I found that my life was instead the one that had been changed, by the people I encountered, and the unbelievable, all-encompassing love I experienced.
Those of you who have been on summer staff will understand me when I say that our job is HARD. While I had expected a happy-go-lucky, super relaxing job, half the time I was a Ministry Coordinator, I felt like I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to fix this problem or solve that issue. Sometimes I became frustrated, sometimes I wondered why on earth I would have chosen to spend my summer in a place whose closest Wal-Mart was 40 minutes away, and sometimes I thought that maybe I should just go home. But then came the quiet moments, whether it be during a staff worship during precamp, or a daybreak on a worksite, or quiet moment with a family at a project. In those moments, I realized that Mountain T.O.P. was an unbelievably important place, and that I was lucky enough to get to experience that crazy thing we call staff life, seeing God in everything I encountered.
This summer, I get the opportunity to return for my second year on staff, as a YSM Program Manager. I’ll be taking on a much different role than I did last summer, and I have a lot of nerves about my abilities, the experience itself, and what the summer is going to look like. I had my doubts about applying for my second year, as I’m getting ready to go into my senior year of college, but after a lot of prayer, and some gentle nudging from God, I realized that my heart wouldn’t be satisfied until I returned to the mountain to continue His work. I already know that my job will be hard, and sometimes I’ll be sad there’s no Wal-Mart, but if I learned anything from my staff experience last summer, I know that every moment of stress will be worth it, because there is absolutely nothing better than being able to live (and work) on a mountain top.