Back in 1951, 34 Lutheran congregations got together and purchased about 60 acres of land near the Boulder River.
The churches paid $40,000, not much by today’s standards, but a huge amount in those days. That’s how Christikon Bible Camp, which sits not quite 50 miles south of Big Timber, came into being.
Sixty-three years later, a summer season still draws an average of 650 to 700 kids and adults.
“The ministry is as strong as it’s ever been,” said the Rev. Mark Donald, interim executive director of the camp.
A fundraiser Sunday at the Billings Depot, complete with live and silent auctions, will help raise funds for the nonprofit ministry. Food will be provided by Top Notch Catering, and beer and wine will be available for purchase.
Doors open at 4 p.m., with the live auction starting at 5:30. Tickets are $15 and are available at the door.
Donald came on board with Christikon on Nov. 1. Bob Quam, executive director for 39 years, retired in December.
Donald served on staff under Quam’s leadership in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“Part of the reason I’m doing what I do was his influence and mentorship,” Donald said, sitting in his off-season office at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Billings.
An ordained minister, Donald worked for almost five years at a Minnesota church as youth pastor. While there, he brought groups of youth to Christikon.
More recently, for nearly eight years he served as pastor of First English Lutheran Church in Billings. Donald, who also was on the Christikon board, sees Christikon as a partnership between the camp and the churches.
“We consider ourselves an arm of the congregations we serve,” he said. “There is a unique outdoor opportunity the ministry can offer, but we don’t want to be divorced from the congregations.”
The camping season begins May 30 with staff training, and then campers begin arriving June 15. Camp sessions continue until Aug. 6, and then family camps and congregational retreats go on for some weeks after that.
The Bible camp usually hosts about 100 youth at a time, depending on the week. It concurrently runs a backpacking program, where five or six groups can be on the trail at once.
Each summer, one week is also set aside for Sojourners Camp in which 24 disadvantaged kids attend free. Since it costs about $1,000 per child for the week in expenses, the fundraiser goes a long way to making that camp possible, Donald said.
The fundraiser also helps pay some of the expenses of regular campers.
“I can charge a little over half of what it costs for kids there, or it would price the camp out of the market,” he said.
In his role as executive director, Donald runs the camp, hiring staff and taking care of all the logistics. When camp isn’t in session, he travels to meet with congregations in Montana, the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, to recruit new campers and to raise funds for the ministry.
Some of what he does taps into his skills as a pastor. Other tasks have required him to learn as he goes, such as handling Forest Service permitting and Sysco food orders and working with the Department of Environmental Quality on the camp’s water system.
Donald will serve as interim director for two years. In that time, he and the board will also assess what’s going well and what changes might be made.
“We’ve inherited such a strong foundation from Bob (Quam) after 39 years, we don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater,” Donald said. “Things are different, so we need to decide how do we as leaders take those things into account.”