Zion’s Camp at Cumorah was held in July at Camp Dittmer of the Iroquois Trails Council near Palmyra, New York. This annual event is hosted under the direction of the Buffalo, New York Stake. President Nathan Pace and Brother Mark Collette—the local LDS-BSA Relationships chair—do a wonderful job of planning and organizing the camp. This summer my Scout son and I had the privilege of attending together.
While boys participated in week long Scouting and merit badge activities, adult leaders received training in implementing Young Men priesthood and activity programs. On-site instruction then allowed these leaders to immediately practice principles with their youth in a camp setting.
Each morning at flag ceremony a different scriptural character would appear: Nephi, Captain Moroni, Helaman, King Benjamin and others. These iconic figures encouraged the boys to prepare for their missions and a life of priesthood service and fatherhood.
One evening the entire group traveled to the Hill Cumorah to view the pageant. Another day we toured the Sacred Grove, the Smith Home, the Grandin Printing Press and other sites in Palmyra.
During the week I was impressed with the classes taught, the camaraderie throughout the camp, and the overall spirit of the event. However, this year my greatest personal lesson came from observing the experiences of own Scout son.
When we arrived at camp we checked in at the dining hall. This main camp building had obviously been in existence for decades. Placards around the log walls showed that hundreds of thousands of Scouts had sat at the rustic plywood tables. Although the building was old, it was sufficient to host meetings and meals and caused me to think of the faithful Scouts who had used the lodge for generations.
My son and I walked to his troop campsite and discovered that it, too, boasted old facilities. The water/washing area for the boys was a single sink set on an old wooden frame. The sink was worn by weather damage and the antique faucet sprayed water from all sides. Again, it wasn’t a modern or even a beautiful convenience, but it was sufficient.I helped my son move his things into his assigned tent and get settled with the “comforts” of the outdoors.
That night when it was time for bed, my son and the boys in his troop were reluctant to sleep in their tents because of an abundance of spiders. Dozens of Daddy-Long-Leg creatures were hanging in webs throughout their tents. The boys were afraid of the spiders and the dangly webs. The cheerful Scoutmaster pulled out a long bristled brush and patiently helped the boys clean out the corners of their tents. Soon, they felt comfortable enough to crawl into their sleeping bags.
That evening as I lay in my own tent, memories of my mission flooded my mind. I served in the Philippines and I vividly remember that—similar to this camp—our kitchen and bathroom sinks were simply utility faucets. Bugs, spiders, and cockroaches were rampant in our apartments, just like they were in my son’s tent. I realized again that brushing your teeth in an old sink and dealing with a myriad of spiders at Scout camp was great mission preparation for these young men, many of whom would someday be serving the Lord in basic conditions.
As a BSA professional for 20 years—and as a volunteer and camp staff member for an additional 10—I have spent much of my Scouting life staying at Scout camps, dealing with worn-out buildings, and frankly, feeling critical of old BSA properties. I often long for modern facilities where every space is clean and functions properly. I have too many memories of late nights on camp staff, watching water wells, fighting fires, battling rodents and insects, and making old appliances last one more season. But this summer my perspective changed.
We don’t need fancy facilities for boys to feel the spirit and connect to heaven. It isn’t mandatory to offer young men a clean bed in a perfect cabin with every convenience imaginable. Boys don’t need a modern bathroom where everything is pristine and works perfectly. Or a dining hall that is spotless.
Instead, it’s good for boys to be in the dirt, dealing with less and ultimately learning more. It’s healthy to eat simple food in a lodge where hundreds of young men have been before. In our world where abundance and apathy often go hand in hand, it is beneficial for young men to be outdoors—brushing their teeth by a leaky faucet, sleeping in spider-infested tents, and spending time around the campfire. Convenience isn’t thekey to connection. Instead, inconvenience often breeds humility and gratitude. It leads to softened hearts and a willingness and desire to be comforted by the Spirit and feel the Lord’s love.
This experience was a game changer for me. Camp Dittmer was no different than any other camp I have visited or worked at. In fact, it was a beautiful camp with sufficient and clean facilities. But, watching my own son endure spiders, cold showers, food on rustic tables, and the swimming merit badge in a green-coated lake gave me an immense sense of what he was becoming in the process. I watched him learn gratitude, service, courage, sacrifice, and kindness. He connected with heaven.
I’m grateful for the opportunities that Scouting provides our young men to live simply, need less, and feel more. My son came home stronger, better, braver, and even happier.
~Mark R. Francis has served as the LDS-BSA Relationships Director since 2013