March 29, 2022

Wisconsin summer camp: Camp Wakonda

Just eleven years ago, I was called by Pastor Greg Taylor to work at Camp Wakonda as its Boys’ Director. I had already worked at Timber Ridge Camp as a counselor for several summers and was looking for the opportunity to fill more of a leadership role at a camp.

Initially, my fiancée and I were going to work there together. However, we broke up and that left me, sadly, going to a new camp alone. It had me wondering what God’s plan was in all of this. Little did I know, God was laying the groundwork for a long career of ministry in Wisconsin. The next summer, I ran a day camp for a church down in Tennessee and, after that, was hired as a full-time youth pastor by the Wisconsin Conference.

Over the next several years, I spoke for summer camp weeks at Camp Wakonda several times, led the Youth Division tent at Wisconsin Conference’s Camp Meeting (held at the camp), and helped with various youth events that took place at the camp. I learned so much during these years and had so many experiences that developed me as a person. Even during my time as a local pastor of a district of churches, I kept finding myself back at the camp for youth ministry purposes.

Last April, I got the call to be the Youth Director for the Wisconsin Conference, which includes being the Camp Director at Camp Wakonda. So now I live here . . . and that feels pretty cool: like, all the way back when I came to work here as a camp staff and was all sad because my personal plans didn’t go the way I’d planned. . . . God had plans much bigger for me than I realized at the time.

The point of this article isn’t to tout my résumé, but to encourage any young person reading this: even if you don’t know it, God has a plan for your life. The word “wakonda” is a Lakota-Sioux term that means “set apart.” We want kids who come to our camp to know that, before they were even born, God set them apart for a special purpose.

This summer, our programming is going to be focusing on the Bible characters of Esther and Peter: two young people who may not have considered themselves anything special but, nevertheless, God was able to use them for great things. It’s impossible for anyone to know the future or predict what God’s plans for your life will look like—but I promise those plans exist. Stick with God, be open to His leading, pray for His guidance daily, and one day you, too, will look back and see a beautiful pattern that shows you how God has been working with you all the way.

Summer Camp evangelism has a special way of helping connect young people to the life-story God is writing for them. If you ever wondered, “Why send a child to attend or work at camp?”—that’s your answer.


Zack Payne, Pastor and Wisconsin Conference Youth director