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Heaven on Earth--FCA Camp

Published on September 05, 2019

Danielle Ripley-Burgess

Down dusty gravel roads in the heart of Iowa, not too far from the heart of America, sits a little town called Pella. “A taste of Holland” the welcome signs say to student-athletes and volunteers traveling in for FCA Camp. The windmills and Dutch accents add an extra special “hello” to those coming from Iowa cities like Prophet’s Town and Pleasantville, Decanter and Waterloo - as well as several other neighboring states. For Stephanie Hasken, a high school health and PE teacher and basketball coach from Cedar Rapids area, it’s “Heaven on earth.”

“The reason FCA Camp is so great is because it takes what you do best, basketball, and intertwines it with your faith in God,” she tells the student-athletes who’ve traveled in for basketball camp. As a group of nearly 100 male and female players sit cross-legged on the basketball court, Coach Steph wastes no time as she dives into a lesson about God and shooting. 

“In shooting, it’s all about B-E-E-F, balance, elbows, eyes and follow-through. While this makes you a better shooter, you need these things spiritually, too. For starters, balance - you have a lot of priorities you’re balancing like your job, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your friends. But you must also balance and include the Word of God -- make God your priority or everything in your life will be off.”

As Coach Hasken explains how the other three fundamentals of shooting relate to a walk with God, 41 other coaches leading 364 student-athletes offer similar words of wisdom. From the tennis and volleyball courts to football and soccer fields, campers attending the all-sports FCA Camp hosted by Central Iowa FCA are encouraged to “Let’s Go!” and get closer to God. They’re reminded at every turn about the only reason the Camp exists:  Jesus. But it’s also the reason many of them keep coming back.

"I officially accepted Christ at Pella’s FCA Camp.” -Camper Riley Filler

“I officially accepted Christ at Pella’s FCA Camp,” junior Riley Filler from Orion, Illinois said. Filler had noticed that an older girl at her school attended the Camp and was inspired by her example. She signed up to go too, and after a week at Camp, she returned home transformed. Her testimony quickly impacted others.

“Growing up, my grandmas went to church but my family didn’t go as much. But in the past few years since I’ve come to Camp, my family has now started to go back to church too.”

Filler’s faith is also impacting her campus. She plans to serve as a student Huddle leader this fall. She is one story of hundreds that propel volunteers like Jim Cowey to serve.

“I love the kids and I love sharing God and seeing people get saved,” said Cowey, a semi-retired PE teacher who traveled to Pella from Wisconsin. With a desire to grow his local area’s interest in FCA Camp, especially the wrestling program, he brought a group of kids and hopes to see student interest grow. “I want kids to come to Camp and then go home and tell their friends so they’ll come too.”

Cowey knows this is how many athletes make their way to FCA Camp, and why many keep coming back.

“I love meeting so many new people,” said both Huddle Leader Liz Walters and student-athlete Ray Talbert. Words like “It’s awesome!,” “It’s fun!” and “It’s amazing” flow freely from athletes describing the camp.

“It’s an awesome sports camp and an awesome church camp in one,” said Des Moines FCA Area Rep Dave Applegate. “There’s great coaches, many who are college athletes, who are training the students. The only reason we do this Camp is to point them to Jesus Christ.”

As student-athletes are pointed to Christ, their lives are transformed.

“I credit the beginning of my walk with Jesus to this Camp,” said Huddle Leader Jackson Ames who first attended FCA Camp in Pella during eighth grade. “I don’t see a summer without Camp - it’s the highlight of my year and it fills me up spiritually. I’m literally addicted. As soon as I get a job, I want to ask about vacation time so I can come to Camp. This is a priority for me.”

The adults who volunteer their time as coaches and leaders echo the same thing. 

A64A1839“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” said Coach James Herring, a once-FCA staffer and now a teacher and coach in West Des Moines who continues to serve at Camp each summer.

“When I’m coaching here, it’s an amazing feeling. I have a coaching gift that I can freely give and not expect anything in return -- the athletes aren’t competing to go to state or anything like that. I can come here and be for them who I needed when I was 17 and 18 years old.”

Coach Hasken concurs, which is why she’s served at Camp for nine years and continues to return.

“The athletes want to be here and get better. There are older coaches pouring into us younger coaches. I need that encouragement. It’s just awesome. Honestly, coaching here is like Heaven on earth. ”