Guest commentary by Dick Young
God is at work in our lives and in the world. Such a statement is broad enough for most people of faith to agree with. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll be hard pressed to find unanimity. How does God work in the world? Where is God at work? How am I to know it’s God and not chance or coincidence? And who are the people through whom God chooses to work, and do they even know it?
I believe God is at work in our lives and in the world. Beyond that, I think it is mostly poetry. We cannot know with certainty how God works, or where God is at work, or through whom God is working. It is usually not until I get on the backside of a situation that I can detect the unseen hand of God and know with some certainty it was the Almighty working for good. It seems to me the role of faith is to find the courage to forge ahead in difficult circumstances, enabling us to trust that God is somewhere in the mix.
I joined the staff of Zephyr Point Conference Center in August of last year. This 95-year-old institution on the shores of Lake Tahoe has been celebrated for its unique location and incomparable views within the Tahoe basin by generations of Presbyterians. I met a woman this fall who shared with joy the fact that she has spent time on these hallowed grounds for every one of her 74 years. Zephyr Point is Mary’s spiritual home. She is witness to the truth that faith often takes root in a particular place.
It was the fertile ground of a Presbyterian camp in Central Pennsylvania where my faith started to grow. For how many of us is this true? Camp and conference centers are the gardens of the soul, and their value is beyond measure. I say this because many of our beloved camp and conference centers are under threat. The impact of COVID-19 and the financial implications of a prolonged shutdown have the leaders and boards of directors of these institutions wondering about their futures. From where will our help come? We all know the answer: “Our help will come from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” But what form will that help take? What or who will appear to help us? It will be different for every camp and every conference center, but my guess is that most often it will take the form of women and men of faith who understand the transforming power of places set apart.
We had to close the doors at Zephyr Point on March 20 of this year, right when our conference business was picking up. We were not in a good position going into the new year and we were counting on that business to carry us into the summer. Absent that spring income, we found ourselves in a cash crunch. When the federal coronavirus relief bill started making its way through Congress, we saw a ray of hope through the Paycheck Protection Program loans that could be converted into grants. Like so many other small businesses and nonprofits, we were doing our homework so that we would be ready when the time came. Despite our repeated inquiries to the major banks, we received very little help and were feeling frozen out of the process. That was when one of our staff suggested we contact a regional bank that had been providing help to another local nonprofit that was applying for the same loan. I was able to get an actual human being on the phone, a branch manager, who explained that we needed to be a customer to apply for the loan through their bank. I told her that Zephyr Point needed to be their newest customer. I shared a little about our ministry and she then shared her experience running a week-long summer camp program for disadvantaged children for the last 20 years. Before the day was out, an incredibly helpful staff facilitated our opening an account and by the next day we had submitted our application through their portal. The following day I called to inquire about our application. I was told Zephyr Point was in the queue. At 4:45 p.m. that day I received an email confirming that our application had been processed and approved. By the time I got home at 5 p.m. the news was reporting the PPP program, all $359 billion that was allocated, had been committed and the fund was out of money. An act of Congress would be required for those that weren’t successful in the first round.
God is at work in our lives and in the world. How and through whom? The federal government? The wife of a Zephyr Point employee? A local banker in Minden, Nevada? In our case it took all three, and no doubt many more who were working even further behind the scenes.
Presbyterian camps and conference centers are vital connection points for people of all ages. If you are reading this and have been touched by the ministry of one of our PC(USA) camps, I encourage you to go online and donate, or send them a check, or reach out to their leadership and see how you might be of some help. Each of us has the opportunity to be an instrument of God, we just need to make ourselves available.
RICHARD (DICK) YOUNG joined Zephyr Point in Zephyr Cove, Nevada, as development director in 2019 after a 30-year career as a parish pastor in the PC(USA), and now serves as executive director.