first last

Evangel Men's Retreat 2006 at Camp Jonah

Jonah Ministries
Camp Jonah is located in Trout Lake, Washington.

Traditionally the men of my church invariably go to Camp Tadmor near Lebanon, Oregon for their annual retreat. There we bask in the beauty of Oregon's celebrated forests and other natural wonders. This year we experimented with a new location, and creation was just as much or more invasive in its allure. Partially due to a change in policy at our normal camp we found our way to Camp Jonah, located in Trout Lake, Washington.

Jonah Ministries was founded 10 years ago by a tender-hearted woman and her family. The former Trout Lake School has been converted into a charming facility that serves as base for a great number of theme camps, retreats, and other fun and faith-building events. Witnesses to the experiences of Camp Jonah are always coming to the same conclusion: It's about the people. The willing servanthood of the staff is peerless. Our group was made to feel extremely welcome. The entire campus and all its resources were opened to us without reserve. Grandma Duke and her helpers prepared delicious and plentiful meals for us. Normally all the men sign up for a list of chores, including preparing meals and cleaning up afterwards. Things are different at Camp Jonah. The hospitality is exemplary. There was no chore signup sheet this year!

I chose to work a half day on Friday and left Portland around 1:45 with Pastor and another elder friend. The drive there and back resulted in some of the relational highlights of the weekend. I always enjoy the on-the-road discussions. I've always been a big fan of road trips. Our path led us east through Hood River and northward to rural Trout Lake. We were greeted by the unexpected surprise of a great store of snow.

This was my favorite shot to capture from the trip
I recognized these conditions to be rare for an extraordinarily beautiful photo.

As Friday evening progressed, the flakes came down in alternating flurries and enormous heaps. The next morning revealed 8 or 9 inches of freshly fallen flakes: Fantastic! Fortunately all the fellows found their Friday flights free from fright and misfortune, favored by our fostering Father.

Saturday we were forded with three afternoon activities: snowmobiling, caving and [gun] shooting. The cave exploration sounded most interesting to me, so I opted to go that route with a group of 7 or 8. A good ole bus faithfully transported us to a backwoods junction where we met 3 snowmobiles ready for drivers and passengers. The entrance to the cave was about a half mile down a snowy path, so all the hopeful subterraneans were taken there by snowmobile. Some rode in tandem, while the "lucky" ones like me were stringed behind in inner tubes. The rope tugging me was excessively long, and so while the snowmobile and its riders hugged the corners, I didn't! It was a blast going over enormous banks and ramps, getting creamed by piles of snow, and dodging perilous trees.

Entering the Cheese Cave
The path to the cave floor was covered in ice.

The cave entrance was covered by a wood structure and surrounded by piles of snow. To start the descent, one has to carefully traverse a slope with aid of a rope attached to the structure. Near the start, there is a 15-foot sheer drop-off that must be negotiated with a supervised ladder (bring your own). After this is a steep downward climb interrupted by ice and rock. The cave floor was coarse and rigid, but not difficult to engage, especially if your middle name is Steady McClure McGee and such.

Down the rabbit's hole
The more I think about this image, the more imaginative my daydreams become: Batcave, secret wardrobe to another world, Wind in the Willows, etc. Too bad the lamp wasn't on, casting luminous shadows. What an astonishingly rare and fantastic image that would be!

The cave is an enormous lava tube, much like those found in central Oregon. I would estimate it to have about a 30-foot diameter, circular in shape. The walk to the end is about 1/2 mile. About midway down there is a well-constructed staircase leading to the cave's ceiling. We were told that an old house resides above this cave entrance, and a locked door greets those who ascend the stairs. Interestingly enough, the cave's temperature varies by a mere 2 to 4 degrees year-round. It is one of a handful of such known caves in the world and ideal for its former use of storing and cultivating cheese some decades past. The broken remains of wooden shelving can be found near the stilted staircase.

This year's edition of Evangel Men's Retreat was a unique experience not to be forgotten. On the spiritual side of things, Pastor's goal was to help the men become aware of their need for each other and to develop friendships that go beyond the "How's the weather" archetype. While such a goal may have been too lofty to attain in one weekend, I think the recognition of the shameful lack of such relationships in our culture and an attempt to begin a comeback was highly beneficial.

I was privileged to ride home with Pastor and discuss the various implications of such relationship building and the aftermath of the retreat. I find such privy moments to be precious and valuable to my growth - and sometimes recovery to a more solid walk with Jesus. At the moment I am struggling to connect with an invisible God and develop a vital communion with the One risen and glorious, full of power and compassion. I long to see Him face to face and to experience the moment when all sorrows will be left behind. I am absolutely certain that the path closest to His side on this earth is the only one that can fulfill the desires of man. Though I stumble, doubt and sleep, He always takes my hand to restore me.

See my favorite photos from the trip.

first last