Big Lake: A Summer of Fun
with a Lasting Spiritual Message
Since opening in the early 1960's, Big Lake has represented an opportunity to escape the confines of the routine, have fun with friends, and reach a point of spiritual reflection that can have a life changing impact for years to come. "It's not too unusual to run into someone who shares that they were a camper at Big Lake and it literally changed their lives," remarks Monte Torkelsen, Director of Big Lake and the Youth Ministries Department for the Oregon Conference.
Last summer, Big Lake received 1,750 kids over seven weeks, and approximately 400 family campers for a total of 2,150 campers. As such, Big Lake retains its title as the most widely attended Seventh-day Adventist youth camp in the nation. According to Torkelsen, Big Lake's weekly capacity is limited only by the capacity of the waste water system, and they are very careful about not exceeding the limits set by the Forest Service.
This summer, camper registrations appear to be running a little lower, about 200 camper registrations fewer compared to same date last year, but Torkelsen expects to hit capacity again. Torkelsen explains that the economy is certainly having an impact on many families, however, he underscores that Big Lake remains an amazing value.
According to Big Lake's web site, a one week regular camp runs for $355, and a discount of $85 is applied for Seventh-day Adventists, making the weekly fee $270, or about $40 per day. Lodging, meals, activities, and a positive spiritual emphasis for $40 a day means that Big Lake remains a bargain compared to other camps. For one week in competing camps, the prices climb rapidly, ranging from $700 to $1200 per week.
Big Lake's popularity with youth continues to soar, largely because of its top rated equipment, addition of extreme ‘radical' camps such as kiteboarding, and hiring of genuinely caring staff and counselors. That said, it is the spiritual emphasis and impact that Big Lake makes on campers that may be its most recognizable trademark. Former Oregon Conference President, Don Livesay, was quoted as referring to Big Lake as the Conference's largest, longest running annual evangelistic campaign.
Torkelsen has been leading Big Lake for the last seven summers. After receiving his education at WWC and Andrews University, ministry opportunities took him to Milton-Freewater, Oregon and then Perth, Australia, where he served as Youth Director. In 1993, he answered the call as associate youth director for the Oregon Conference, largely coordinating mission and service projects.
Torkelsen proudly reports, "Decisions made for Christ, including both first time decisions and recommitments run at about 70% of the campers each week. Naturally, Big Lake is not the only facet that makes an impact on the spiritual decision of that person, but for many it is a focused time of ministry that they really connect with. So many I've talked with trace the beginning of their walk with Christ back to a summer at Big Lake."
Watching a baptism on a Sabbath afternoon, with the entire camp singing praise songs on the lake's shoreline, leaves an indelible mark on all who are fortunate to be in attendance. According to Torkelsen, Big Lake typically sees 2 baptisms each week with about two dozen over the course of a summer.
Over the last seven years, Big Lake has been in dialogue with the Forest Service with regards to expanding and improving Big Lake's facilities. This fall, the federal agency will coordinate a comment period to receive public opinion on whether the camp should be permitted to expand. If there is public support for the camp's improvement projects, Big Lake will be granted a fifteen year window to pursue a building campaign. Torkelsen adds, "A lot of what we'll be doing won't change the camp a whole lot, and we are very mindful of being responsible stewards of the land. We do want to improve the experience for everyone who comes to Big Lake, and there are some clear needs that are long overdue for fixing. A new horse riding arena, stables, dining hall and additional cabins are among the projects likely to be on the table."
Torkelsen requests that readers remember Big Lake in prayer during that very crucial public comment period in September, as well as the development stage that would follow if capital improvements are to be made.
Check back to the Oregon Conference web site for future updates on Big Lake's progress with its ministry and expansion plans.