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2020 Year in Review from HoneyRock

This is a short recap of the many things that happened at HoneyRock this year. If you read to the bottom, you'll get a sneak peek at what's ahead in 2021! If you missed a Northern Light this year, you can view them with the links below.

Winter | Spring | Summer | Fall

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Who's at HoneyRock Right Now?

vanguards on their wilderness trip


We have 24 Vanguards, high school graduates who take a gap year before college to discern their calling, living at HoneyRock.

fellows at honeyrock


Fellows are college graduates who spend a year discipling and mentoring Vanguards and leading work rotations. There are nine Fellows living at HoneyRock this year.

student in classroom at honeyrock

Graduate Students

We have graduate students, both residential and offsite, who are in training to become exceptional leaders for camp, church, and college ministries.

By the Numbers: Highlights from Summer Camp at HoneyRock

HoneyRock provides transformational summer camp experiences for youth and young adults. While not the only measure of success, we ask parents to share how they've seen their campers grow during their time at camp. This is how parents responded to our Camp Evaluation Survey:

93% grew in their ability to connect God's word with their lives

99% grew in engagement with daily activities and events

96% grew in their desire to serve others

100% grew in their willingness and ability to face challenges

100% believed summer camp at HoneyRock was a character-building experience

Our Favorite Stories from 2020 Northern Light Newsletters

By Erin Sharp, Equestrian Program Supervisor

At the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19, HoneyRock was deep into retreat programming. For the barn, this meant piling on layers on layers of warm clothes and leading trail rides through the woods. Each weekend the barn staff and myself were blessed to share all the wonders that surround horses in a winter wonderland with our retreat guests.

Before our guests are assigned a horse, one of our staff gives a short devotional. While this was originally designed for those about to mount their horses (many for the first time!) I think it has a special and new meaning now. I'm going to share one time in particular when I shared this devo.

I began by talking about how God equips us during times when we feel too small for a task. I said, “God doesn’t always call the equipped but is faithful to ALWAYS equip the called”.

We read James 1:2-4, aloud. I then pointed out how we are to consider challenges a joy because in those challenges we are being equipped and made “perfect so that we are lacking in nothing”. 

After reading, I asked if anyone had ridden a horse before and only a few raised their hand. One of the riders then shared that they were feeling nervous about getting on the back of a horse and others agreed. As a group, we landed on a chant. Any time someone was feeling a little nervous one would say, “where fear is present!” The others would respond, “God is near!”.

The mounting into the saddle process began. I could tell the fears that were making some hesitation to ride a horse were being felt. So I chanted, “WHERE FEAR IS PRESENT!” The voices of all responded, “GOD IS NEAR!”

We headed out into the beautiful wilderness surrounded by snow and each other. As the ride continued, I could tell everyone was beginning to relax and enjoy the ride. Worried glances melted into laughter and the beautiful image of a group of people facing a fear together to emerge better due to their faith in being equipped through a process was evident.

One of the many reasons I am drawn to the task of working with people and horses is I get to see God work in people's lives every single day in a powerfully unique way. Due to that group's willingness to lean into the unknown, I was reminded of the incredible power of God's promises.

Thank you to all who choose to come to the barn. You bless me more than words can say. I can see God in and through you!

Muhia Karianjahi, Graduate Program Manager

A Brief Look Back

Though cultures everywhere have always spent time in the outdoors, and many for spiritual purposes, formal Christian camping is recorded to have started in the US in the late 19th century. Missionary movements introduced the concept in many countries around the world for much of the 20th century. Over the last few decades, however, indigenous movements in Christian camping have emerged and grown in leaps and bounds in many countries.  Christian Camping International (CCI), of which Mark Heasman is the Chief Executive, works to network those who minister through Christian camping around the world for the purpose of fellowship, encouragement, and sharing of best practices to the glory of God’s Kingdom.

The CEO of CCI Visits HoneyRock

Mark Heasman, CCI Chief Executive recently visited HoneyRock to see our site and facilities, explore our programming, and meet our staff. He reported to the worldwide Christian camping movement that he found HoneyRock “A place where Christian Camping is demonstrated and lived out in a unique way that has been such an example and encouragement to so many. Its...a ‘beacon of excellence’”.

HoneyRock's Role in the Global Christian Camping Movement

Among CCI’s founding influencers were HoneyRock leaders such as Bud Williams and Jake Wetzel.  As the movement now blossoms in all continents, HoneyRock continues to play a leading role in training leaders, pioneering new movements, and spearheading thought leadership. Each summer, HoneyRock hosts international leaders as summer staff to share, learn, and grow relationships. Rajshaker Moorthy, a founder of CCI in India and Rev. Pala Ochieng who leads program training for CCI in Eastern Africa both cut their teeth as summer staff at HoneyRock. Evelyn Umaña, M.A. '19, who formally mentors CCI associations in ten Latin American countries, and Judith Lewis M.A. '12 who manages a camp in Jamaica are also graduates of the MA in Outdoor and Adventure Leadership. Muhia Karianjahi, working at HoneyRock and OAL faculty, is the Vice-Chair of CCI.  

By Ashley Kiley, Camp Programs Director

As I look back on summer 2020, one of the biggest words that jumps to my mind is grateful. Our summer staff team was incredible at adapting to the new policies and procedures—I’m thankful for their joy, heart, and perseverance. For our camper families—their honesty, trust, and partnership. For my fellow professional staff team—not one area of HoneyRock could continue with “business as usual” to make summer camp happen this year. 

If you didn’t have a camper at HoneyRock this summer, you should skim through our COVID-safe practices. While we had to add additional policies and procedures, we kept our focus on keeping the pieces of HoneyRock that campers (and their parents) love, intact. Campers were still pursuing their activity awards, studying the Scriptures together, going on adventures through the woods, serving their fellow campers, and learning core leadership skills all along the way.

While this summer was unlike any we’ve seen before at HoneyRock, by God’s grace and provision, we were able to stay true to who we are and how we minister to youth and young adults. While there were definitely gritty moments—passionate conversations, navigating shifting rules and regulations (or lack thereof), a shortened training period with more content than ever to get through—we came through stronger than ever, providing transformational outdoor experiences to 460 campers and 100 summer staff in a time they were, and still are, desperately needed.

While this could have been one of the most divided summers—both physically but also mentally—it was the most unified and Gospel-centered team I’ve seen in my (almost) 10 years with HoneyRock.

While our summer staff team could have pushed back on not being allowed offsite for 7 weeks, it was one of the richest experiences of Christian community most had ever lived in. 

While this could have been a summer of burnout—the anxiety of the unknown, managing all of the “new”, balancing conflicting views, and more—our staff leaned into really doing life alongside one another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, there were opportunities for healing, restoration, and transformation.

I had the privilege of walking alongside many summer staffers this year, but one, in particular, stands out as they received a clarity of calling into ministry. Seeing the Lord move this person from a place of doubt and questioning of whether they could even lead campers into a place of quiet confidence about their future—it was awesome to watch God work in this way. They found a place to live more fully into their strengths and giftings. In a summer where everything felt up in the air, God gave that person clarity, peace, and direction. His presence was deeply felt this summer. 

This summer was unlike any I’ve ever experienced before, yet at the same time, it felt very much like “HoneyRock”. We were outside more than ever. There was time spent in deep communion with the Lord. There were difficult moments, but in the end, we grew and it was good.

By Mike Odberg, Program Manager

A couple of years ago, HoneyRock began integrating the 6+1 Curriculum for wilderness leadership from the Wilderness Education Association (WEA) into our wilderness leadership programs.

This sparked a budding relationship with WEA, which led to February's conference. We were privileged to be selected as the host site for this exciting international conference! The theme was “Judgment and Decision Making the WEA Way". Over 50 attendees gathered for three days of clinics, hands-on training, and informative break-out sessions. It was an awesome opportunity for iron to sharpen iron as we traded notes, lessons, and syllabi.

From HoneyRock, Rob Ribbe, Rachael Botting, Mike Odberg and HoneyRock graduate students Jess Port and Emily Tumility presented on a variety of topics.

We were blessed with the opportunity to connect with so many different outdoor professionals and students from many colleges, universities, and other outdoor adventure programs, some of whom had spent time at HoneyRock in their youth and young adult years! 

On Saturday, the WEA awarded Jess Port, our 2:22 Coordinator and graduating OAL student, with the Student Leadership Award. Her contributions to SALT/2:22 and pioneering the integration of WEA's 6+1 curriculum was recognized above all other student achievements. 

The attendees heaped praise on our retreat team. Special thanks to Abe Duarte, Retreats Coordinator G.A.!  He spent countless hours before, during, and after the event to ensure its success. The WEA vows to come back!

By Charlie Goeke, School Year Program Director

Our fall is busier than ever with the arrival of 24 Vanguards (our largest cohort yet!), Fellows, and graduate students.

In late August we welcomed back graduate students, both first years and second years, after a well-deserved summer break. In early September Fellows joined the crew. And on September 12th, 24 Vanguards moved into their new home for the next eight months. 

Over the summer, as Ashley Kiley and her Summer Programs Team planned for and then ran an incredible three weeks of training and four weeks of camp, the school year team was hard at work adapting our "normal" fall orientation for both the biggest student community we've ever had on-site and the unknowns that COVID-19 would bring.

We're excited to provide a place set apart—especially now—for these young adults to grow in their relationship with God and others, discern their callings, and experience the deeply restorative and transformational impact of God's creation.

Northern Light Letters from the Director from 2020

While a lot of exciting things are happening in my world at HoneyRock, there's one opportunity I'm especially looking forward to later this spring: the tri-annual global gathering of Christian Camping International (CCI) in Sydney, Australia.*

This May, 200 delegates from the 28 national and regional associations of CCI will gather for five days to worship, learn, and plan together for the expansion of the Christian camping movement around the world. My wife, Jackie, and I will travel along with our Global Initiatives and Graduate Programs Manager and his wife, Muhia and Marcy Karianjahi to represent both Wheaton College Graduate School and HoneyRock. There, I will lead a multi-day executive leader training track for the conference as Jackie, Muhia, and Marcy will be able to deepen our global relationships. To learn more about our involvement and outcomes of our time in Australia, email me directly at rob.ribbe@wheaton.edu

I hope you enjoy reading what else is happening at HoneyRock, below!

*Shortly after the Winter 2020 newsletter was published, this gathering was canceled due to COVID-19. HoneyRock has still been able to provide professional development for executive camp leaders worldwide and will continue to do so until March 2021. Every month, Rob leads an executive leadership class for over 60 leaders from 28 countries while Muhia is facilitates three small groups, two in Canada and one in Mexico.

It's amazing to reflect on how the world has changed since our last edition of the Northern Light. My original plan had me writing this note to you from the beaches of Australia as I wrapped up my time at the Christian Camping International tri-annual gathering. Instead, I'm looking at 10 inches of fresh snow in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

I trust you and your family are healthy and well. As I'm sure it's been for all of you, this has been a wild ride for us. Despite the long slog of information gathering and decisions we've been making over the last 6+ weeks, the team at HoneyRock is healthy and well, too. 

This edition of Northern Light encompasses pre- and present-COVID-19 life. It has been important for us, at HoneyRock, to continue all that we can continue—site and facilities projects, our graduate program, and more. You’ll get a glimpse of how life has continued at HoneyRock despite the novel coronavirus.

Yet you’ll also see definite marks of the pandemic—our Vanguards leaving early, content for recent blog posts, and casual mention of moving everything online. 

If you would like a more in-depth read on summer camp 2020 reflections, click the plus below. In short, we have not yet cancelled camp, but are in a season of deep information gathering and discernment. We hope to have an update on/around April 30.

I have been so encouraged by the many emails and notes from campers and their parents saying, "please, please, please don't cancel camp!" You have a team of HoneyRockers who have been diligently and prayerfully working from September to make summer happen. Believe me, that's our hope as well. 

There are no quick or easy answers. We're taking time to step back and evaluate, well, everything--policies and procedures, staff training, contingency plans, and more. However, we're also intentionally pausing to, as a community, be still and seek the Lord. We're setting aside Monday mornings for extended "solo" times, small groups are gathering to share meals together (via Zoom!), and have continued our morning devo circle (digitally, now!). 

While stretching, this has been a rich time for our team. It's different, but it's good.

We're targeting April 30 to have an update on summer. Waiting is rarely fun, yet I know Jesus is speaking to us at this time. My attention has been caught by Mark 4, where Jesus is sleeping in a boat in the middle of the storm with His disciples. Some are weathered seamen, mind you--and they're panicked. Yet Jesus wakes and pronounces "peace, be still" and the storm calms. 

My sense is that Jesus is reminding the disciples that His presence in the storm is what they need. 

I have no idea where this storm is headed--the implications, decisions, or impact to us, our community, or the world. I am confident, however, that as a community HoneyRock is leaning into the presence of Jesus. 

We’re praying with you, now and always. If there are specific ways we can join you in prayer, let us know.

Grace & peace, Rob


I wanted to share a quick update with you as we head into the summer. In short, we're pumped!

Over the last two months or so, our program team was focused on planning and preparing a COVID-safe summer. Our site and facilities team have moved forward with several key projects: lower Chalet demo, completing several private cabin upgrades, and turning camp over from winter to summer. The leadership team has been focused on strategic initiatives to use this unique time to strengthen our commitment to HoneyRock's mission.

We welcomed summer staff to HoneyRock on June 21st. About three weeks from that date we will, Lord willing, welcome campers. Here's how you can partner with us over the summer.

Pray with Us

  • For a healthy and safe summer, not only protection from COVID-19 but all other illnesses 
  • For energy, patience, and grace; there are many new things about running camp in this time
  • For a strong response to Onward: COVID-19 Response Matching Fund; as we have lost about $750,000 in revenue due to COVID-19
  • For safe travel to and from Wheaton as we facilitate transportation for campers and staff
  • For our new cohort of Vanguards who are preparing to start their gap year at HoneyRock this September
  • For the profound and great joy of the Lord to be ever-present 
  • For wisdom and God's continued guidance as we continue to make strategic decisions related to the impact of COVID-19
  • For our 10 new graduate students, 6 Fellows, and 16 Vanguards as they're preparing to start their year at HoneyRock

Consider a Gift to the Onward Fund*

Despite running a modified summer camp schedule, we have lost about $750,000 in revenue this summer alone. With the help of several generous donors, we are able to match all gifts given to this unique fund. We invite you to learn more about Onward and prayerfully consider making a gift to help offset the losses.

Thank you for your support during this time. We are incredibly thankful for you!

*Update: We've completed raising funds for Onward. If you feel led to support HoneyRock's ministry, you can explore giving opportunities here.

2020 will go down as "The EPIC Year"...and it is not just because of COVID. I'm completing my 30th year at HoneyRock so what leads me to say this? 

This was the year of incredible innovation, deep authentic community, of "BREAKTHROUGH," and of deep communion with the Lord...a frequent occurrence here but to a whole new level this year. 

Incredible Innovation: We had to recreate an entire camp program from scratch in May and June when we decided to go for summer.

Deep Authentic Community: Ashley will describe this in her recap below but our summer staff and professional staff sacrificed much to make summer 2020 happen. It changed us and connected us in deep ways.

Breakthrough: This fall we welcomed 25 Vanguards, 20 Fellows, and 11 new Grad students. Charlie will talk about this below but we now have a school year community of 50 students. The 1996 vision of becoming a year-round campus of Wheaton College has become reality. Our dining hall has 80 people for lunch every day (split into student and staff cohorts as a part of our COVID-safe plan) from now until next May when summer starts. Last Saturday, Sept 19 the ski boat was running all afternoon as was the climbing tower and ceramics studio....and it was just our residential community. Classes are happening in our classrooms multiple days per week. HoneyRock is fully living into the title "Center for Leadership Development" as a year-round academic campus of Wheaton College.

Deep Communion with the Lord: During the months of March-April-May, when the world was panicking because of the pandemic and everything was being cancelled, the HoneyRock team went into a deep season of prayer. Rather than react, we waited. We took every Monday morning to pray and seek God's direction on our summer plans. What emerged was not only guidance on summer but also a deeper reliance and communion with the Lord as a team and as individuals. I personally will never be the same. 

It is virtually impossible to share with you with any sort of clarity the amazing things God is doing at HoneyRock. Almost every Friday in our staff devotional time (8:00-8:20 am) we do "God Sightings" as a community. People tell stories of how they've seen God at work personally or in our community. Some Fridays this fall we've had to cut off the conversation at 8:30 because there has been so much to share. 

Thanks to all you who entrust your children (young and older) to us. Thanks to all those who pray for us. Thanks to all of you who support us--especially to our COVID Onward donors who gave over $160,000 towards our COVID-19 debt. Your investment in HoneyRock is changing lives and preparing leaders to expand Christ's influence in the world. We are grateful to you.

For those who aren't currently a HoneyRock Partner, I ask you to consider becoming one and supporting HoneyRock by praying, promoting, and financially providing for HoneyRock. You can learn more about giving opportunities here.

Prayer Requests:

  • Continued discernment as we navigate this pandemic with our school year community and as we plan for summer 2021. 
  • Provision for all the staff we need in a year when recruitment (no college visits and minimal meetings on campus) is hindered.
  • Clarity for the future...how can HoneyRock respond to present and post-COVID Wheaton College and the world.
  • That HoneyRock would always be a place where people have an encounter with Jesus in an authentic Christian community. 
  • For the right person to find the Camper Registration Assistant role.

Thank you for being here and seeing what's happening at HoneyRock We're excited to share how God is working in and through this place. 

Rob Ribbe
Executive Director, HoneyRock

camper boys at honeyrock
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Looking Ahead to 2021 at HoneyRock

Our Founding Vision  

This past week I picked up and read the book “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory”. What a great title! Author, Tod Bolsinger, states that the world ahead of us is not like the world behind us and a new adaptive, transformational leadership is needed. In his words, this type of leader is developed through an experiential process that involves deep challenge, deep relationships, and a collaborative, problem-solving culture. The book oozes with descriptions that reminded me of HoneyRock and the place and process we use here.

Read the visionary words of our founding director, Coach Harve Chrouser in 1948: 

It was evident to me that the Christian camp was an unexcelled environment for teaching and discipling young lives. One could envision the educational potential of a camp environment as a place for a leadership internship for students and an opportunity to discover their gifts under the finest circumstances. While HoneyRock is called a camp, it is essentially an educational project designed to be a leadership laboratory providing an internship experience where the student undertakes total leadership responsibility of the cabin group in a camp-living situation. The HoneyRock idea was to create for the student a new kind of teaching-learning environment, unlike the school model.” 

I truly believe HoneyRock is leaning into this vision more than ever before and that mission, fostering the development of resilient, contributing, whole and effective people, is needed now more than ever. Here are some of the ways I see this happening in the year ahead in our programs, our place, and our people.

Building Our Programs 

  • Summer Camp.  While our typical program refinements happen each year, we are revamping Service Team, Venture, and Assistant Counselor programs that serve 11th-12th graders into a 2 year deeply formational program called “Catalyst”. This effort is seeking to more effectively equip today’s high school students to be grounded people of positive influence in their world. Yes, registration is open!
  • Vanguard Gap Year. This year Vanguard doubled to 24 students. Applications for next year are exponentially higher than any previous year. This 9-month school year program deeply prepares high school graduates for college and life.
  • Leadership Certificate. HoneyRock has offered a 20 credit hour certificate for the past 5 years. This year we re-formatted this undergraduate program and hope to launch our new version next fall with up to 16 incoming Wheaton students. This cohort (and a new one each year) will progress through their 4 years of college in a combination of experiences, coursework, and coaching with the HoneyRock staff.
  • Outdoor and Adventure Leadership Masters Degree. Our 2-year residential program is at capacity so we are working to build our remote program offerings and build partnerships with like-minded organizations.

Stewarding Our Place 

During this year of explosive growth—YES, praise God, HoneyRock programs are growing in the midst of COVID—we are making some strategic investments in our facilities and infrastructure.

Academic and Institutional Technology: While honoring our place set apart ethos, we must make a significant investment in our internal technology infrastructure. The plan is nearly complete and is quite extensive...it includes bringing in fiber from 2 miles away! A former HoneyRock camper, Tim Rowland, has been an instrumental volunteer in this effort. We welcome additional expertise if you have training in this area.

Ranch and Equestrian Program: Under the leadership of Erin Sharp, daughter of longtime Ranch Manager Mark Patterson, HoneyRock’s equestrian program has become a central place of transformation for our campers, Vanguards, and graduate students. Additionally, we are positioning this ministry to provide world-class preparation for those wanting to use horses for discipleship and transformation in camps and barns across the country. Several recent graduate students are now leading ranch programs at camps in the United States. Our current facility needs a significant upgrade for this year-round training program to reach its potential. For those who have had a transformational experience in the HoneyRock barn and are looking to share that with others—let’s connect!

Serving People 

HoneyRock isn’t easy, but it's good. It’s a simple statement but is a sentiment I’ve heard expressed one way or another time and time again as a person reflects with me about their HoneyRock experience.

In the words of Tod Bolsinger (quoting Bob Johansen), “the world has become volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous”.1 This world will require a new type of tempered resilient leader who is able to facilitate the development of missional, collaborative, problem-solving communities.2 HoneyRock, The Center for Leadership Development of Wheaton College, is contributing to fostering the development of these types of leaders. We look forward to the Lord’s leading and provision in the year ahead. The Spirit is here. The vision is forming. The people are coming. Join us!

1 Canoeing the Mountains. IVP. 2015.
2 Tempered Resilience. IVP. 2020.

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As an Applied Health Science major, I learn how to care for the physical body. My Leadership Certificate coursework on campus and at HoneyRock teaches me how to care for the soul. Applying the study of both disciplines to three diverse internships has empowered me to be a more effective leader. — Cassidy Griffith ’19 , Applied Health Science
While HoneyRock is called a camp, it is essentially an educational project designed to be a leadership laboratory providing an internship experience where the student undertakes total leadership responsibility of the cabin group in a camp-living situation. — Harvey Chrouser, Founding Director of HoneyRock