More than a Silver Lining

Date Posted: 
Friday, May 1, 2015

Volunteers cut and split wood from the fallen trees. It was later donated as firewood to help families heat their homes.

Tornado damage at Camp Manitoqua leads to unexpected blessing

On November 17, 2013, a tornado touched down near Camp Manitoqua in Frankfort, Illinois—setting off a chain of events that would result in about 50 families being able to stay warm during the 2014-15 winter.

“It was great to see how God worked in it all!” says Laura Vroom, executive director of Camp Manitoqua, an RCA ministry partner since its founding in 1957 by the RCA Laymen’s League.

As camp staff surveyed the damage in the days following the storm, there was much to be thankful for: no major buildings lost, small repairs to just a few structures, and only two roofs needing to be replaced. Yet the work ahead of them was nonetheless daunting—the storm had felled approximately 45 trees on camp property, many of which were blocking roads or required heavy equipment and trucks to remove.

“We love our trees—they provide shade for our programs and educational opportunities in summer,” says Leah Meskis, operations director at Camp Manitoqua. “Losing so many trees in one year is not only sad, but a lot of work. We had no idea how we were going to clean up all of this mess. We had way more wood than the camp could ever use in campfires, and the wood would have to be hauled off the grounds before summer, which could have been a costly expense.”

Instead, she says, God clearly brought people together to solve the problem and connect two ministries.

The other ministry in question was the Hopkins Park ministry of Crossroads Community Church (CRC), of which Nick Leep is a member. For almost 20 years, Crossroads and its partner churches have served residents of the low-income village of Hopkins Park by offering home repairs, building mentoring relationships, and providing firewood as a primary or supplemental heat source. No natural gas is available in Hopkins Park, Leep explains, and many families can’t afford propane.

In the spring of 2014, as Camp Manitoqua staffers worried about how to clean up their grounds, Leep had concerns of his own. The Hopkins Park ministry had recently lost its previous source of firewood, and he worried about how to provide for these families the following winter. At a meeting of local RCA and CRC ministry leaders, Leep shared his need with Dale Huizenga, a member of Faith Reformed Church in Kankakee.

Huizenga, as it turns out, is the father of Leah Meskis.

Once the two ministries connected, it was a no-brainer for Camp Manitoqua to donate its fallen trees to the Hopkins Park ministry.

“Camp Manitoqua’s general purpose is to provide support to the church, organizations, and community,” says Meskis. “[Donating the wood] is a direct support to a local ministry that is working to share Christ with the Hopkins Park community—God ordained the pieces to fit together in this situation!”

As Hopkins Park ministry volunteers cut and split the wood at Camp Manitoqua, they were amazed by God’s providence.

“Just when we were wondering how we’d find more firewood, God provided us this new source of wood—and way more than we ever expected,” says Leep. “We were able to donate more wood than we ever had before. Often we’re not able to give families enough wood for the whole winter, but we had a lot more available this year.

“We give God the glory in all of this and just try to stay invisible.”

The staff at Camp Manitoqua joke that they don’t plan to have another tornado touch down anytime soon. But they’ve made it clear to Leep and his crew that any leftover wood the camp might have in the future is his for the taking.

“We listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit when a need arises,” says Vroom. “Yes, as a ministry we proactively make decisions to meet the needs of the community, but in this case, the need fell in our lap! We just had to say yes.”

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