by Anna Birch
Camaraderie. As we stand shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other staff, dressed in the same opening day shirt and khaki shorts, ready and willing to spend and be spent for the souls of campers, we realize we’ve found what it looks like to have true camaraderie. Where does this type of community come from? For Pine Cove alumni, it comes from the blood, sweat, and tears shed together over a summer serving for God’s glory alone. Jumping three phone books high in 90 degree weather. Praying fervently for the soul of a camper who is still lost. Not hitting snooze on your alarm when it goes off for morning flag. Yes, the hard stuff. But also the sweet stuff. Laughing until tears come at theme night antics and skits. Hearing campers share about life-changing lessons they learned. Celebrating souls changed for eternity. And for Bedford “Chaps” Holmes, he doesn’t call it just camaraderie or community, but family.
His rich history with Pine Cove began back in the summer of 1975, when he started as a college student on summer staff. He ended up serving three summers total, and after finishing college he returned to join the full-time staff. Bedford served for three years on the maintenance team before becoming the Ranch camp director in 1983. Then after seven years as director, he took up the role of Associate Director of Camping Ministry. He then left camping ministry to work in education for a few years, but through a series of God-ordained events, was asked to come back to Pine Cove in 1999 to establish the Institute of Wilderness Studies, Pine Cove’s outdoor education program which ran from 1999-2020. What kept him coming back to camp? The relationships. “For my wife, Sarah (‘Banunu’), and I, Pine Cove is our spiritual home,” Bedford says.
Despite growing up in a broken home, Bedford finally got to see unity, fatherhood, and brotherhood—a family unit—modeled for him while on staff. And it made a huge impact on his daily life. “I learned how to be a dad here. And it also was a great picture of Christian community and what it looks like to be a healthy family. All of those things were very important to me in my own personal development.” Bedford now gets to live that out with his three adult daughters, their spouses, and his seven grandchildren. “Christianity is better caught than taught.” It’s a saying he picked up in his early years on staff on Pine Cove—and one that he’s never forgotten.
“It’s the whole idea of the power of role modeling. We’d all agree we’d rather see a sermon lived out than just explained to us. And of course that’s what camp does—many of these summer staff end up being these great mentors and guides,” Bedford says. It’s obvious that it has truly taken root in his own life, and he knows he’s not unique in his experience. Summer staffers who come from all different family backgrounds get to experience the richness of unified Christian community during their five or ten weeks on staff.
“The powerful thing about Pine Cove,” Bedford explains, “it’s not just what it does for the families and the children and youth that come to the program, but it’s the impact it has on the young adults that work here every summer and the picture it gives young adults about what it really means to walk with Jesus and hear God’s call.”As Bedford knows well, it’s not the place that connects them—it’s the transformation that God made through their time here. It’s the family experience. Forever connected.“It’s the body of Christ as a family unit that’s been so powerful for me.” He says that’s the reason he can call up staff from back in the 70’s and it still feels like he’s talking to a family member. Social media has helped Bedford stay in touch with former staffers and co-workers. He laughs recounting how his former staffers, some now with their own college-age children, will “hunt him down” on Facebook. They too seem to sense the family connection through the alumni network, eager to reconnect. The impact doesn’t stop there.
Bedford has a great desire to help advance Pine Cove, stemming from a heart to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ through camping ministry. He volunteers at camp from time to time, helping out with service projects needed around the facilities. He’s been known to bring along a few of his former staffers and co-workers from his days at camp, inviting them to serve alongside him. As they weed eat and power wash around the property, it’s clear they care deeply about the place that significantly changed their lives.
What drives alumni, decades after serving on staff, to want to come together and support Pine Cove? Bedford compares alumni coming back to camp to a family reunion, calling those other staffers a “surrogate family for a summer.”It’s been said that the connection to our spiritual family runs deeper than blood because it’s the Holy Spirit that links us. The bond of brotherhood and sisterhood through Christ Jesus.
Bedford’s desire is for other alumni to join him again, shoulder to shoulder, serving God through ministries like Pine Cove, just as they served years ago, “especially given the winds of our culture.” Bedford’s story invites us to do more than just reminisce about our experiences at summer camp. It invites us to reinvest what we have learned into the lives of the next generation.
Posted Jan 20, 2022