The whole world took note in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first to set foot on the moon.
That same summer, however, something of even greater significance took root in the farm fields of northern Minnesota, just south of Fosston — Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of ministry at the camp, which since its start has served the area congregations of the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies.
In the camp’s early days, facilities and amenities were scarce. It began as a simple vision of several from Bethel Assembly in Fosston. The new pastor, Jake Toews, along with about a dozen men from the church soon arranged to purchase a farm on the east shore of Sand Hill Lake. Eventually more than a dozen churches invested in the vision and formed a board to oversee finances and decision-making.
Glen Forsberg, currently “Fellowship Pastor” to Canadian FCA pastors was the speaker at this year’s anniversary celebration. He recalled his first visit to the newly purchased farm just after he became pastor of Full Gospel Chapel in Steinbach, Manitoba.
Many from his Canadian congregation partnered with Minnesotans to clean up the grounds. Volunteers moved in an old church (purchased for $1) to hold services, setting it on a basement that became the dining hall. Kitchen utensils were donated from the air base in Duluth, Minnesota. A canteen was added. The farm’s granary became a girl’s dorm; the barn became the boy’s dorm. Later a large tent was pitched to hold bigger crowds until eventually the current chapel was erected.
Early campers overcame many challenges. They had no showers. (“Use the lake,” they were told.) For toilets they had rustic outhouses. They fought “duck lice” in the lake. They walked dirt paths instead of concrete. For years volunteers donated time and equipment to harvest crops on the property to defray camp expenses.
Over the years dozens of camp managers, cabin counselors, and pastors contributed their time and energy for ministry and to maintain and improve the grounds. Others joined in to pour concrete, erect buildings, shingle roofs, paint walls, and clean.
With God’s help, they gradually transformed the land. Hay, corn, and wheat gave way to a spiritual harvest. Those visionaries believed they would reap what they sowed — and they did.
50 Years and Counting
Year by year the impact of SHLBC has grown. “My greatest recollection,” says Forsberg, “is youth and adults discovering their personal relationship with Jesus — [along with] the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.” He remembers the camp as a healthy social time and, even more, “the place where you went to meet God!”
Stories of miracles live on. When Pastor Warren Heckman’s son, Garth, took an awkward dive into the lake and broke his neck, some tried to determine how serious his injuries were and asked if he could move his head — precisely the opposite of what should have been done. God spared Garth from further damage, however, and the doctors soon had him in a protective brace.
Another time, more than 200 campers survived a deadly, night-time tornado. After it ended, campers and leaders searched by flashlight through the debris, looking for the injured. Despite many broken and splintered ironwood trees, the searchers found no casualties. “Everyone was whole and alive!” says Forsberg. “There was not a broken bone among us.”
One tree had smashed a small camper — just moments after Pastor Virgil and Ruth Rasmussen from Cloquet, Minnesota, had exited it. In the tent next to the camper was their young son, Steve, now pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship in St. Paul.
On the Move
Today Steve Rasmussen remembers the powerful influence various camp speakers had on him as he grew up. Through them his heart was stirred toward ministry — and he wasn’t alone in that. Others also trace their own encounters with God’s Spirit to SHLBC, where they sought God and answered his call.
Other memories linger from those early days, of course. laughter and fun, great friendships (some for a lifetime), and even meeting a future spouse.
The list of accomplishments at the camp over the years is long and impressive. But physical improvements pale in comparison to the spiritual changes. Many, now serving as ministers, missionaries, or church leaders, look back to SHLBC as a significant, formative time in their walk with the Lord.
In 50 years, Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp has truly impacted the world. And that’s worth celebrating!
Pastor Glen Forsberg who attended camp in the early years and who has ministered occasionally through the years since returned to challenge and inspire this year's Family Camp.
Fifty years ago an old rural church building was trucked to Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp to serve as the first site for powerful preaching and altar ministry.