Scenic view of trees at camp

Echoes of Grace

by Sarah Jane Souther


Kelsey was unsure of what to expect as she prepared to meet her Amplify campers in the summer of 2015. Two weeks with a cabin full of thirteen to fourteen year old girls was going to be a high-energy adventure. But she never could have anticipated the work of grace that God would do through one camper in particular: Ellie.

Ellie also remembers feeling anxious about camp that summer. She had loved her past experiences at Pine Cove, but two weeks seemed like a long time—too long maybe. What if she got homesick? What if the girls in the cabin didn’t like her?

Ellie grew up in a Christian home. She was in the praise band at her church and had even been baptized, but she didn’t feel a connection to God. She questioned what church really meant. And was it okay to have been baptized, to go through this profoundly spiritual act, even though she didn’t feel anything? “Am I a fake Christian,” she wondered? 

Unbeknownst to Kelsey, these and many other questions were swirling through Ellie’s fourteen-year-old mind as she entered her cabin that summer: “Is God real? I can’t see Him or feel Him. Am I saved? Will I go to heaven when I die?” 


At camp, Ellie was immediately part of an environment heavy with scripture and solid Christian teaching. It seemed like everyone around her was able to feel God, to sense His presence, hear from Him even, but in her own heart, it was like radio silence. She was concerned that if she expressed her doubts, others might think she no longer believed in God. But stronger than her fear was a desire to be vulnerable with someone who might be able to help. Ellie finally opened up to Kelsey, and instead of condemnation or judgment, Kelsey responded with kindness and encouraged Ellie with scripture. 

Kelsey recognized the fear that Ellie was dealing with as she grappled with these big questions. She felt burdened to help, wanting to “make” Ellie believe. But at camper share, as the whole camp gathered together to worship, Kelsey had a “lightbulb moment.” 

“Okay Lord, I’m done trying and striving. The results are in Your hands,” she prayed. “If Ellie leaves and doesn’t believe, I trust You. She is Your child way before she is my camper, and You care about her and her salvation and her confidence in You infinitely more than I ever could.”


Later that night, Ellie came up to Kelsey. “I believe,” she said, “I know God is real.” Kelsey was in awe. God had filled Ellie’s young heart with faith, and had shown Kelsey His power and kindness in answering her prayers as she surrendered the situation entirely to Him.

Over the next six years, Ellie and Kelsey kept in touch through text messages, giving quick life updates and sharing prayer requests. Ellie continued to look to Kelsey as both a friend and a mentor, someone a little bit older and wiser who she could count on for prayer and encouragement through the rough seasons of life.

In 2021, Ellie applied to be a summer camp counselor at Pine Cove. “That summer [with Kelsey] was what solidified me wanting to be a counselor,” Ellie says. She longed to play a positive role in the lives of young campers, giving hope and encouragement as she had been given years before. Meanwhile, Kelsey had taken on the role of Women’s Director at the Timbers. So when Ellie walked into camp as a counselor in May of 2021, she and Kelsey were overjoyed to be finally working together. “It was a full circle thing,” Ellie says. She was thrilled to tell the other staffers, “I was her camper!” pointing to Kelsey. 


As Ellie met with her campers in their hangtimes that summer, she asked each of them about their confidence in their personal salvation. One of her campers, Amanda, answered hesitantly. Ellie probed a little deeper, and as Amanda opened up about her doubts, Ellie was shocked at how similar they were to her own questions just a few years before. Amanda shared, “I’m just not sure God is real, I can’t see Him or feel Him. I want to know what it feels like to feel God or know God, but I can’t.” Ellie was able to relate to Amanda, telling her that she’d been in the same position exactly six years before.

Not knowing exactly what to do, Ellie went to Kelsey: “I have this camper, and… she’s ME,” Ellie said. Ellie asked Kelsey to pray. They both spent the rest of camp asking God to work in Amanda’s heart the way He had for Ellie years before.


At camper share a few days later, Amanda stood up. “I know who God is,” she said. “And I know I’m going to heaven when I die.” Ellie was amazed. She had been fighting on her knees in prayer for Amanda, all the while coming to the same realization that Kelsey had a few years before: if anything was going to change in Amanda’s heart, it would be God’s doing, and not her own. And He had done it. 

In addition to being a counselor, Ellie also served as a leader in the worship band that summer. Kelsey remembers standing with tears in her eyes as she watched the camper she had mentored years before leading the whole camp in the lyrics: “There’s no wall You won’t kick down / Lie You won’t tear down / Coming after me.” She reminisced about the questioning fourteen-year-old from six summers before, and she almost couldn’t believe the transformation. God had answered her prayers for Ellie. And even more than that, He had led Ellie through an almost parallel situation and had brought yet another camper to faith in Him.

“It just made me believe in the ministry of camp so much,” Kelsey says. “If Ellie was one camper out of the thousands … of campers who come through Pine Cove, who believed in the Lord at camp and grew up to be a disciple maker who is impacting other people for the Kingdom…” she ponders, “I can’t imagine how many thousands of others of this story exist.”


At the end of Ellie’s summer as a counselor, she and Kelsey shared a precious moment: together, they baptized two of Ellie’s campers. As they stood in the water, Ellie was overwhelmed with the wonder of getting to watch two of “her girls” obey the Lord as she stood next to the woman who had had such an impact on her faith since 2015.

The lives of Kelsey, Ellie, and Amanda, were forever transformed by their experiences at Pine Cove. God had been faithful. He had been kind. And He had shown the power of His ever-multiplying grace to three young women who had set their hearts to seek Him. 

“For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:5

Posted Aug 24, 2022

Sarah Jane Souther

Guest Author

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