Camp DeWolfe Blog
Last night we took advantage of our amazing location and headed down to the Sound to have chapel on the beach. We sat in a big circle around a bonfire (fortunately for us one of our LIT leaders, Andrew, is a former boy scout), brought guitars and drums, and spent time worshipping. The lights in Connecticut were just starting to emerge as night fell, reminding me of a summer I spent on the Sea of Galilee and the way Tarsus sparkled at night across the water’s short distance.
We began with a story about Jesus on that very Sea of Galilee, not unlike our quiet stretch of shore on Long Island, being commissioned to heal two different women. One had suffered from a hemorrhage for 12 years, and the other was a 12-year-old girl who Jesus raised back to life. Both women were in very different situations in life, yet both had tangible needs for Jesus’ healing. I reflected that we often carry things with us that God wants to heal, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual. For some of us we have carried pain for a long time, like the hemorrhaging woman bleeding internally and unable to find a cure. But we worship a resurrected Christ, and just like Jesus raised a young girl from the dead, God wants to bring life to every aspect of our beings.
I then instructed everyone to disperse along the beach, find a rock, and write something on it that needs healing. It could be someone’s name, an illness, a painful life event, or a feeling. Then I instructed everyone to take their rocks and throw them in the water, releasing our burdens to God’s care.
We scattered along the water’s edge, busy evaluating rocks of different shapes, textures, and sizes. I found several with smooth white surfaces and wrote the names of things I was carrying inside myself. I watched each stone sink under the weight of the ocean, enveloped into something larger and more mysterious.
As we gathered back around the fire we shared the things we had written. One camper named her sick grandmother, another his sibling going away to college, another a sense of guilt at her parent’s divorce. We listened quietly to one another’s burdens, the embers burning low and warm around cool shell-laden sand. Then one camper reflected that throwing his rock felt like a weight being lifted off his shoulders. Another said watching it go in the water gave her a sense that God was taking care of the things she had written. Another said it felt cleansing. And another said it provoked sadness, because she loved the people she had named and didn’t want to let go of them.
We thanked God for being present in all our cares and burdens, and entrusted God to safeguard and carry the things we had surrendered. Then we packed up our instruments and shuffled campers up the steep stairs leading back to camp. I trailed behind with a boys’ cabin, who was theatrically sharing the remnants of last night’s ghost story, complete with ominous whispers and screams. “We should do this every night,” William said coming alongside me, “To really enjoy where we are.” Then catching sight of the chapel’s broad window just above us, facing onto the still moonlit water, he added, “Well, the chapel’s really nice too. I guess we should just do both.” I smiled with a deep sense of gratitude and contentment, unburdened of the grievances I carried, made expansive for the abundance of life stirring around me.
-By Christina Miller, Christian Formation Leader
Several years ago a close friend of mine gathered people together to eat a Passover meal. He came from a Jewish-Italian family and wanted to share this tradition that played a significant part in communicating his religious history. He spent the day carefully selecting and cooking dishes and arranging them on the table in an act of labor and love. When it came time to eat, I remember loving how it involved so many fascists of learning: the strong flavors and aromas, textures, and history and prayers accompanied by tactile objects. It helped me engage in the story of the Israelites being led out of captivity in Egypt in a new way, and let me taste their hard earned freedom through remembering and celebrating alongside those I cared about.
When I came across a biblical story revolving around the Passover for one of my teachings this week, I decided it was the perfect opportunity for the campers to be invited to their very own Passover meal.
I began by telling about the time Jesus accompanied his parents to travel from their hometown in Nazareth to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. After eight days of ceremonies, good food, and reconnecting with family and friends, they set out to return home. But to his parents’ shock, after a full day of traveling, they realized they had forgotten twelve-year-old Jesus! Many hands shot up when I asked if anyone had ever gotten lost in the grocery store (it’s helpful to know even the holy family had the occasional parenting mishap). But upon returning to the temple, Mary and Joseph found Jesus busy going about his Father’s business: sitting among religious teachers, teaching adults who were amazed by his knowledge and understanding.
We often only think of Jesus as a grown-up traveling from town to town performing miracles and speaking to crowds, but Jesus was already actively engaging his call when he was only twelve-years-old. He came from a long line of young people God called and used, including kings, prophets, and pastors like Samuel, Jeremiah, David, and Timothy. In the same way, each of our campers have important things to say and ways God can use them even while they are young.
With this Passover story fresh in their minds, I invited them to break up into groups and have picnics on the chapel floor. We began by saying a prayer over our cups of grape juice to acknowledge God’s provision, “Blessed are you, our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” Then dipped celery sticks in bowls of salt water, something that is out of the ordinary and provokes questions. Then we broke our loaves of bread in half, reminding us of how hard the Israelites worked as slaves in Egypt. We ate horseradish and cilantro to taste the bitterness of slavery, which was accompanied by some bitter cries and laments in the group! Then combined it with the bread and (to everyone’s relief) chocolate, creating a consistency like the mortar used to make bricks. The unleavened bread represented how quickly the Israelites left Egypt, not having time to let their bread rise, and the chocolate symbolized the sweetness of their final escape.
This activity had the campers talking well into devotions that evening, some horrified that I had introduced them to such terrible tasting food as horseradish. I sat on the floor of the younger girl’s cabin delighted, looking at their sour moaning faces, realizing in a small way they had tasted the story of God delivering people out of insurmountable hardship into a new life, and knowing these would be the voices who will keep recounting the measures of God’s faithfulness.
-Written By Christina Miller, The Christian Formation Leader at Camp DeWolfe
A couple nights ago I was excited to introduce our campers to one of my favorite spiritual practices: prayer journaling. I told them that they could talk to God through writing about their days, feelings, things they needed, and concerns about loved ones. In fact, they could write about anything, knowing that it is a sacred and respectful place between themselves and God. They selected a colorful piece of paper, wrapped it around white pages, and stapled the sheets together. Then they decorated the outsides of their books with their names and designs, and spent a little time talking to God.
When we all gathered together after the activity, I asked the campers to share what they had written. Some wrote words of gratitude, others told God about what they had done that day at camp, one boy voiced a complaint, and some wrote about their new friendships. Then Simeon shot up his long gangly arm and asked, “How do we know what God says back?”
This posed a very valid question, when you talk to someone normally they have something to say in response! I reflected that it is important to also listen to God and asked some of the ways they heard God speak. They quickly answered that they heard God through nature, other people, having their requests answered, or feeling better after they prayed.
Simeon looked a little perplexed, as if all this talking was fine but distracting from the obvious solution. “So why don’t we listen right now?” he asked pragmatically. We agreed that this was a good idea, so we closed our eyes, quieted ourselves, and listened.
It was a particularly windy night in Wading River. We sat in stillness—a roomful of 7 to12 year olds, counselors, and staff—with the howling wind sweeping against the chapel and stirring up the trees outside. After a few minutes I asked what everyone had heard.
Zoe, one of our youngest and returning campers, said God thanked her for what she had written in her journal. Two boys said they asked God something personal and God answered them “no” through hearing the wind outside. Sophia said God told her God was capable of doing everything she had written in her book.
As each person shared I was reminded of a valuable truth. God is always with us and speaking to us whether it is in the ferocious hurricane winds, pages of our journal, or in a still small voice. Sometimes it just takes asking, “Why not listen right now?” to recognize God in the present moment.
As we approach the half way mark in our time at camp, may we find ways to listen—right now—and discover the many things God has to say. And may we be surprised, directed, and delighted by what we hear.
I started chocking up before camp even began. During check-ins I was assigned the nurse’s station, where I greeted families and called them in one-by-one to make sure they were healthy and ready for their summer activities. One camper, Noah, came up to me with a bright smile on his face. I asked him what he was excited about this year and he said enthusiastically, “Everything.” Then in a thoughtful voice he added, “I just feel so safe here.” I was completely caught off guard, a feeling I’ve had continually this week as our first round of kids amaze me with their hearts and awareness of God.
In chapel we have explored the different roles of Jesus. We talked about Jesus as God with us, Jesus as teacher, Jesus as friend, and Jesus as Savior. In our first session I asked the kids if God is always with us and was met with an emphatic chorus of “YES!” “Is there anytime God isn’t with us? What about when you’re sleeping?” I challenged them. “NO! He never leaves us!” they shouted back at me. Nalyssa raised her hand and said, “God is always with us because the Bible says he will never leave us or forsake us.” It was such a clear concept to our 7 to 11 year old campers, and a profound reminder of God’s nearness to me as I get older and am prone to forget.
Last night we talked about what it means to serve each other as friends. We talked about the ways Jesus served his friends, and how Jesus offers us things that no other friendship can. Some of the kids said Jesus gives them unconditional love, forgiveness, never leaves, and doesn’t judge us. Then we went to the back of the room to take turns washing each other’s feet. There was a loud cry of protest when this activity was presented! I wasn’t sure if some of the kids would even leave their seats! But when the activity began, I was amazed to see kids and counselors kneeling in front of each other and carefully scrubbing away the dirt accumulated from their day. Ava pushed back her messy blonde hair and asked me to sit down. She evaluated the bottoms of my sandy, grass stained feet, assessed my rough calluses, and then meticulously washed between each of my toes with a bar of soap. I have never enjoyed the feeling of clean feet so much. That night when I joined a girl’s cabin for devotions, Tyne closed us in prayer saying, “Thank you God for one of the funniest experiences I’ve had tonight in chapel.”
This week has been full of new friendships, risk-taking, valiant competition, learning new skills, a few tears and cases of homesickness, and lots of silly giggling. I have enjoyed seeing campers’ artwork, gaining confidence in swimming, working together in games and races, bonding with their counselors, and sharing thoughts and stories with each other. As our time together comes to a close tomorrow, I hope each of our campers will take all of their experiences home with them—the challenging, fun, profound, and funniest—knowing that God is going with them. But then again, maybe they should be telling me that.
What a great opening day at Camp DeWolfe where we welcomed our 2014 Explorer Camp Campers and their families! All the kids were filled with excitement as counselors greeted them to their cabins. It was off to the swimming pool when they said their goodbyes to their parents and a great meal made by the Dining Hall Team to warm their stomachs for a full night of fun and rest. Campfire marshmallow roasting and night time prayer and devotions all settled them in for a bright and fun day of greeting our Day Campers today! The whole Camp DeWolfe community wants to welcome all children and thank the families and communities that have brought them here! It’s going to be a great summer!
“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” (Isaiah 54:13)
The Adventure Begins……
I am always surprised by the places God takes me. This summer, I have been invited into the Camp DeWolfe community to co-direct Christian Formation. As a seminary graduate discerning my vocational path, I couldn’t believe this job existed. While the position should have been filled months ago, a week before camp began they had an unexpected opening, I interviewed, was hired, and my journey began.
Arriving at Camp DeWolfe is entering into an oasis. My taxi wound through the surrounding neighborhood, burrowed in trees that shade stately houses. As we approached the campground my eye caught sight of the familiar Episcopal signet on the sign, and we drove up the path lined with a large grass lawn to the left, dappled with crisp sunlight, and little red chapel to my right. My heart got a thrill thinking of all the services I would lead in that space, and wondering what God had in store.
Bensen House is my home for the summer, nestled against the Sound and facing Connecticut. From the water I can see its red wood planks peaking out on the hillside through trees. My co-leader and I will share this space with the visiting Priests from the Diocese, giving us ample opportunity for hospitality and getting to hear their unique stories.
The past two weeks have been focused on staff training, bringing together our group of eclectic counselors and unit leaders to become a strong unified community. We have engaged in team building games, certifications and trainings, outdoor sports, eating meals together, making goals and a community covenant, and for some even eating their first s’mores around a bonfire. As a native Californian I was particularly pleased to be part of introducing this camp tradition!
As we conclude our training at the end of this week and await the campers, I can’t believe how far we have already come. Geographically, we have crossed oceans, continents, and coasts to be here. As a group, we have been shaped into a community built on trust, vulnerability, taking risks, and serving.
One of our first evenings together we had the chance to hear from a local Franciscan Friar, Brother Mark, on “listening to the heartbeat of God.” It is my hope that as we continue through the summer we would hear God’s heart beating in this community, transforming staff alongside campers, equipping us each for our great life adventures.
Look for more of Christina’s Weekly Blog’s on our site!
It was a great day in Wading River! Our 2014 Summer Camp Staff have arrived from worldwide and local destinations and were ready for training. Their training has involved lots of team building and building their knowledge of Camp DeWolfe while enjoying it’s amazing environment and having lots of fun as counselors in training. They are getting ready and looking forward to the campers coming soon! To see their journey to Summer Camp 2014 stay tuned for more exclusive photos.
Our Staff has been very busy training in all areas such as life guarding, project adventure ropes course training, safeguarding gods children, fire drills, Megan’s law training and diversity trainings. Not to mention having fun with games and activities like camp fire building and boating instruction for the community building!
What’s your name? Christina Miller
How old are you? I am 30 years old.
Where are you from? I am from San Diego, California where I am the fifth generation in my family.
What college are you attending? I graduated from Pepperdine University (BA in English literature and Religion) and Fuller Theological Seminary (Master’s of Divinity).
What’s your favorite food? Anything Italian, especially tiramisu!
What’s your favorite camp activity? I love all aspects of Christian Formation, from organizing services to having one-on-one conversations with campers to finding moments to pray and ending our day with devotions. Camp is such a rich time to encounter God in meaningful ways, and I love being a part of that.
What are you looking forward to about camp? I am looking forward to creating new relationships, growing in community, and spending time in God’s presence.
What’s your favorite camp core value? Christian Formation is my favorite camp core value, and I’m not just saying that because I’m one of the formation leaders! I love seeing how Christian Formation informs how we interact in community, develop as leaders, and engage in nature. It is where we do a lot of the learning and molding, and then we act out those values in our activities and relationships.
What do you love most about Camp DeWolfe? This will be my first summer with Camp DeWolfe, but I already love that it is a small enough camp to really get to know the campers and other staff.
What’s your dream job/vocation? I would love to do Christian Formation in a church or university setting, focusing on teaching, mentoring, and writing.
What’s your name? My name is Shamila Dixon.
How old are you? I am 22 years old.
Where are you from? I am from Cambria Heights.
What college are you attending? I attend Xavier University of Louisiana.
What’s your favorite food? My favorite food is pizza.
What’s your favorite camp activity? My favorite camp activity is arts and crafts because I like to create things using my hands.
What are you looking forward to about camp? I am mostly looking forward to meeting new people to work with and being someone the campers look up to.
What’s your favorite camp core value? My favorite camp core value is Purposeful Community. This one is my favorite because it can help me along with others learn how to make friends, learn better communication skills and learn how to work with co-workers in the present time and keep the skills for the future.
What do you love most about Camp DeWolfe? What I love most about Camp DeWolfe is that everyone is treated like family.
What’s your dream job/vocation? My dream job in life is to become an OBGYN and open my own practice.
As we remember the 70th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy, check out how Benson House at Camp DeWolfe played an important role on Channel 4:
Wading River retreat house was FBI disinformation operation in World War II
Originally published: May 31, 2014 7:16 PM
Updated: May 31, 2014 8:53 PM
By ROBERT E. KESSLER email@example.com
FBI agent Richard Millen, who set up the Benson House radio site in Wading River. The Benson House in Wading River was an isolated FBI radio transmission location, where agents pretended to be Nazi spies during World War II. (Credit: Suffolk County Historical Society)
These days, Benson House, located on a scenic, waterfront bluff 150 feet above Long Island Sound in Wading River, is a retreat house and office on the grounds of the Episcopal diocese’s Camp DeWolfe.
But during World War II, the three-story house was a highly secret — and still now mostly unheralded — FBI radio transmission location. From there, between 1942 and 1945, FBI agents pretending to be Nazi spies in the United States transmitted false information to German Army intelligence headquartered in Hamburg. The agents also learned what the German high command was thinking and planning, based on questions the “spies” were tasked to answer.
In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI is planning to unveil a plaque at the house on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. to finally widely publicize the building’s historic wartime roles, which included helping to deceive the Nazis about where the Allied invasion of Western Europe was to take place.
While the Normandy landing occurred June 6, 1944, officials said the ceremony will take place the following day, a Saturday, because it is the most convenient for the several hundred former agents and World War II veterans from Long Island and nationwide who are expected to attend.
During the war, the FBI “spies” at Benson House reported back a stream of information that created two phantom Allied armies, one in Scotland that was supposedly planning to invade Norway, and one in southeastern England aiming to land at the Pas de Calais, northeast of Normandy, according to a new book written by Raymond J. Batvinis. The FBI agents transmitted false information from real Nazi spies who, unbeknownst to Germany, had turned themselves in and were cooperating with the FBI, Batvinis says.
Batvinis grew up in East Islip, and his parents worked at the state psychiatric hospital in adjacent Central Islip. He is a former senior FBI counterintelligence agent who retired from the bureau in 1997, then went on to earn a doctorate in history and is now a professor at George Washington University.
Surprisingly very little has ever been written about Benson House, but its operation is featured in Batvinis’ newly published book about the FBI’s longtime leader and the bureau’s fight against Nazi agents in the United States, “Hoover’s Secret War Against Axis Spies.”
In addition to its role in the Normandy deception, the FBI’s “Nazi spies” also helped persuade the United States to go ahead with the development of the atomic bomb because the Germans were working on the same project, according to Batvinis’ more than six years of research that included FBI records from the time. Batvinis says the agents also helped divert Japanese resources and attention from the U.S. plans in the Pacific both to invade the Marshall and Gilbert Islands and Okinawa. The false information from Benson House indicated that the United States planned instead to invade the Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan, and Formosa, which was passed from Germany to Japan.
German intelligence was continuously asking the agents to obtain information about “experiments performed in the United States relative to the shattering of atoms” and told them the German army was anxious to develop high explosives from atoms, Batvinis says.
Benson House was not the only source of information that both helped persuade the United States to go ahead with the bomb’s development and deceive Germany and Japan. But it played a large, if until now, unsung role, Batvinis says. The isolation of Benson House — named later after Mary Benson, who donated money to the diocese to buy the property after the war — was one of the reasons it was selected for the secret transmission station.
To further conceal its operation, the FBI moved into the ground floor of the house a “tubercular” looking agent, Donworth Johnson, his wife, Betty Ann, and their then 2-year-old daughter, Vicki Jean. The idea was that Johnson, who was actually healthy, could say to any curious neighbors in the sparsely populated area that he was too sickly to be in the military, according to Batvinis and Vicki Jean Johnson, in a recent interview. The radio operators lived and worked on the second and third floors, and came and went at night. The basement had an electric generator to provide power to the overseas radio transmitters, in order to avoid running up high electric utility bills, and a large muffler concealed the sound of the generator, Batvinis said.
Security was also provided by an FBI guard dog named Clifford, who became a very special agent one day, the now 73-year-old Johnson recalled her late mother telling her. Wearing only a diaper, 2-year-old Johnson had wandered the few feet from the back of the house to the edge of the high bluff and was about to fall over.
But Clifford grabbed her by the diaper and carried her back to the house, Johnson said.