We had a great fall at Camp Barakel and in our family, and it’s time to get you all updated!  After the steady crescendo of our year leading up to some big family changes this fall, it was relieving to finally walk through the long-planned events and out the other side of them smoothly. As you may know from our three most recent emails/blog posts, camp life and work were punctuated with some big family things this year.

As summer ended, we got Mary Emma moved to New York City where she is attending Joffrey Ballet School. This has been a large change for her from living in Fairview the last couple of years! She has enjoyed her adjustment to life in the big city and we have enjoyed seeing her rise to the challenge and show a whole new level of responsibility. The Lord has gone before her and seems to be active and working in her as she navigates the city, the school, and the arts world. As parents we pray continually for her protection not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. All of these things can come under attack in the secular arts world, so we are trusting her to the Lord’s care. Having her there just reveals our need to entrust our children’s futures to the Lord no matter where they are. We thank the Lord as we see her seek to walk wisely there. A particular praise is her persistence in finding a church to attend that she feels is a good fit. She finished up her first semester in mid-December and we headed there to see her school’s performance of The Nutcracker. She has been in a Nutcracker performance every year since she was 8 (except 2020), so it was pretty exciting to go see her in the big city! We traveled home with her for Christmas break and enjoyed a month with her home. She returned to school for second semester which goes until May. We appreciate your prayers for her as she continues to navigate life in the city.

We got connected with a photographer in the city who works with Cru, specifically with artists in the city. Mary Emma met up with her for some free dance photos – fun for Mary Emma, good practice for the photographer!

After the performances were finished in December the girls did some city ice skating. Things we learned: 1. ice skates are allowed through airport security in a carry-on suitcase, 2. skating at Bryant Park Winter Village is free and less crowded than at Rockefeller, 3. plastic snowmen that kids push around the ice for stability can in fact beat you up (ask Lydia sometime!)

She danced 5 shows for the Nutcracker. For some of the shows she was in Waltz of the Flowers.

For some of the shows she was in the Russian dance

After moving Mary Emma, then getting back to camp to run Labor Day Family Camp, we headed off to Maryland for Grace and Soren’s wedding. We have had a lot of the question, “Why Maryland?” Soren’s family lives there and has some lovely farmland, so Grace and Soren decided to get married there. It ended up being an absolutely beautiful location for a wedding. Rolling farmland, fields of sunflowers, and a large riding barn for the reception. And better than all of that were the efforts and hospitality of the Moody family. My goodness. What a week it was! Just a ton of work to pull together a home venue like that, but we were blessed beyond measure by how the two families worked together so naturally and by an impressively large network of their friends and family who were helping every day. I can’t think of another time I saw so many people come together to run one event like that except, well, here at Barakel! But here we have a facility designed for it and a staff and a whole established structure for the volunteers who make it possible. Imagine that kind of thing, but at a home, on private property, with a big open barn, and a bunch of family and friends trying to make it all happen. It was exhausting and stretching, but so so beautiful and precious. It all went smoothly, felt like a massive blur once it got in motion, and then we all were left processing for what felt like weeks! But Mr. and Mrs. Soren Moody went on their way and are now settled in Columbia, SC, both teaching at a classical Christian school. We appreciate your prayers for them as they continue to get settled and adjust to the early months of marriage.

We had a small but mighty group of Barakel friends make the trip down for the wedding. Fun to have some of Grace’s close friends from summer staff be there!

After all of that travel and change, we headed home to our house of three, just Jim, Lydia, and me. We were ready to settle into a fall routine which included school at home, driver’s ed, and fall retreats.

That finally brings us to…fall retreat season at Barakel! That’s the real reason for these updates after all, right? Our work at Barakel! Through September and October we ran 6 weekend retreats followed by one co-labor work weekend. We hosted couples, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, and multiple weekends of separate ladies’ and men’s events. I personally enjoy the fall retreat season. I like the rhythm of the weeks, and the retreats set amidst the more gentle weather as compared to the winter season. This year the predictability of the fall schedule even felt like a bit of a breather compared to the summer and big family stuff.

The packed out chapel during a double-sided ladies retreat. 
Jim’s spot greeting during a men’s retreat. Men are welcomed with hot dogs as they arrive!

After fall retreats we get a bit of a maintenance season around camp. This is time for some projects to be done that might not fit in at other times. For Jim this year these weeks kept him going pretty steadily. He was able to get all the West Side buildings connected with Camp’s fiber optic network.  With all the buildings connected to the network, he was able to build a system to notify camp staff if a building is having trouble with its fire alarm.  Additionally, he was able to get a new system configured for organizing volunteer applications.  December is also his time for planning camp’s budget and updating policies for the 2023 year.

November and December also include time for some staff training. We did a refresher on our CPR/First Aid training; and Jim led a staff training on Microsoft Excel. As camp has implemented more and more technology tools, there is a need for staff to know how to use those tools!

After two and a half years on staff, we can see a little more of the big picture of how Jim fits here at this place in Barakel’s history. If you wonder how he fits here or what exactly his role is at camp, I recently described it this way: it’s like he has to take his background in technology for businesses, discern what applies to the ministry at Barakel, implement it, and help people know how to use it. I would lean into the word “discern” in that sentence. Businesses have a lot of technology and tools. Not all of them apply to running a ministry, but some do. A ministry has some unique needs and different ways of running compared to a business.  But there is a common ground of things that help both to run better and to have responsible procedures and practices. That common ground is the space where Jim works. I recently heard it said that living at camp is a calling and a lifestyle. It can be a challenging place to live, set in the culture of “up north Michigan,” which we are learning is really a thing of its own. To be honest, during this busy year we have struggled with the distance and the confines of the calendar. We can be tempted to covet the freedom and ease and comforts of life lived more traditionally. But when we look at Jim’s role specifically, and how he fits into the work here, we find assurance that this is still where the Lord is calling us to be.

I recently finished the book Forgotten God by Francis Chan. In one chapter it discussed the idea of being led to live and work in a particular place, and how often perhaps we prefer to think we are led to be somewhere because it is comfortable or we like it there or it is convenient. I was both challenged and encouraged by that chapter (and the book as a whole!) This following section particularly encouraged me as I applied it to our life and work here at Barakel, and I pray it will encourage you as well as you consider where you are settled and what work God has for you there:

“It is true that God may have called you to be exactly where you are. But it’s absolutely vital to grasp that He didn’t call you there so you could settle in and live out your life in comfort and superficial peace. His purposes are not random or arbitrary. If you are still alive on this planet, it’s because He has something for you to do. He placed us on this earth for purposes that He orchestrated long before we were born (Eph. 2:8-10). Do you believe you exist not for your own pleasure but to help people know the love of Jesus and to come fully alive in Him? If so, then that will shape how you live your life in the place where you are.”

We continue to trust in the Lord to equip us for the work He has for us here.
Rachel, for the Bennetts