ROSCOMMON – “Bambi Lake” conjures up great memories for me. Summer camp with a bunch of guys in Pinegrove, the late night hikes to the fire tower, and chalk drawing by Bro Leon Fuller. One year my family stayed in the campground for two weeks. The first week, I helped my dad install the hot water baseboard heat in the cafetorium; and the second week, my brother and I went on a weeklong canoe trip on the Ausable River.
More important to me was the spiritual impact the camp had on my life. It was at a campfire service that I dedicated my life to serve the Lord in any way He chose.
When you arrived at Bambi, you could sense the presence of the Lord. I remember singing “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in this place, and I know that it’s the presence of the Lord.” Camp is so important because you are away from the hub-bub of your life, and able to clearly focus on God and His Word.
Life took me away from Bambi for more than 40 years: college, marriage, children, teaching in Christian schools, and serving the Lord in my church. My youngest child was born with general disabilities, which meant many doctor visits, hospital stays, and special equipment. My wife and daughter began to attend Joni and Friends Disability Retreats where they met a group of people who understood the challenges we faced. I began to get involved with the group as a dad, then teaching Bible and music to the young adults with disabilities.
COVID brought many changes, with the cancellation of camp in 2019 and the closure of the Kettunen Center in Tustin, Michigan. We needed a new camp/Conference Center to use for our disability family retreats. The camps that were handicap accessible were booked out for years, and the camps that were available were not willing to make the adjustments we would need for our camp. It was at that moment that my brain finally worked and I remembered Bambi Lake.
I warned our team that it had been 40 years since I had seen the camp. What changes had they made? Would it be handicap accessible? How do we get wheelchairs through the Michigan sand? We scheduled a three day mini-retreat with the Bambi staff to evaluate the camp. As I expected Sara’s wheelchair became stuck in the sand shortly after getting her out of our vehicle. The camp had one sidewalk between the two main buildings.
As we talked with the staff and with our leadership team, we felt “the sweet, sweet spirit in this place.” Mick, Nancy, and the entire team at Bambi Lake began to work to make the camp handicap accessible. Sidewalks and ramps have been constructed, and entries to the building have been modified to accommodate wheelchairs.
Our families, volunteers, and the leadership team enjoy Bambi Lake: catching fish on the new handicap accessible fishing dock, riding on the wagon through the trails, and being fed physically and spiritually. At Bambi Lake, we have found our new home. By God’s grace, we will hold our third Through the Roof Disability Family Retreat at Bambi Lake, July 24-30, 2023.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Sutphin and his wife, Dawn, have been married for 42 years with five children and five grandchildren. David serves with Through the Roof Disability Ministries as the volunteer coordinator and Bible Teacher for the “youthful adults,” including his daughter, Sara, at the Disability Family Retreat. You can learn more about Through the Roof Disability Ministry at ttrdisability.org.