God Guides Our Steps on the Path


June, 2017


Written by Bruce Boyer, retired YMCA director

A YMCA resident camp director spends countless hours getting their camp ready for the important summer camping season. It is emotionally draining for a natural catastrophe to threaten the success of the summer camp season.

Val Elliott, Executive Director of YMCA Camp Hanes—YMCA of Northwest North Carolina—faced one of those natural disasters just 18 days before the first camper was to arrive. A tornado cut a half-mile wide path through the heart of YMCA Camp Hanes in the late afternoon of May 24, 2017. Its 125 mile per hour winds damaged every building and structure in camp. The storm downed an estimated 5,000 trees, blocking every path and making the area look like a war zone. The challenge to get the camp ready for campers was unbelievable, that is, unless you and God are working together.

Under Val Elliott and Jen DeRidder’s leadership, YMCA Camp Hanes has always had a strong Christian presence. Throughout its history, this camp has always been a model of a Christian YMCA. Daily chapels, devotions in the cabin, Christian songs and the YMCA Rags & Leathers programs are just a few of the tangible Christ-oriented activities that help define Camp Hanes as a faith-based camp. The camp is host to an annual Christian Leadership Conference to prepare and motivate Y staff in being a faith-based organization.

YMCA Camp Hanes sets the tone by adopting a theme for each summer. This year’s theme is Follow the Path. This theme was chosen well before the tornado touched down and became prophetic. It is based on a verse from Proverbs that says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” —Proverbs 16:9. In his explanation of this verse, Val Elliott says, “Man makes his plans but the Lord directs his steps.” No one knew that those steps would be a life-changing challenge. The tornado provided an opportunity to put that theme to the test and they passed with flying colors. After the storm had passed through, God clearly directed their steps and turned disaster into an impressive demonstration of God’s power and people working together.

The severe devastation at the camp initially attracted television news media because of the enormity of the damage. After all, Camp Hanes had been a fixture in the region since 1927. As an outside observer, what brought the television station back time and time again was the positive attitude Val Elliott had about God guiding their steps to restore the camp. Every TV and newspaper interview had a strong acknowledgement from Val that God would guide their steps and he was confident everything would be all right. In one TV interview Val said, “The tornado happened and we’re going to rise above this. There are things that come up in life, but if you have a great attitude as you move forward and be resilient, you can do this.” Elliott even inspired a news anchor to pitch in and bring his family to help in the cleanup effort. What appeared to be a total disaster became such a positive story because the YMCA trusted God to bring them through the situation. The positive image of the camp became even stronger as a result of how the Y approached this disaster.

Due to the positive attention, contractors dropped the jobs they were working on to focus on restoring the camp facilities in time for the summer. Several public workdays were scheduled, attracting hundreds of volunteers—former and current campers, their parents and YMCA staff from the other branches. In a demonstration of support, 17 staff members from another YMCA resident camp took a day off from their staff training to help in the cleanup. The new CEO of the association, just a couple of days on the job, was at or in touch with the camp nearly every day. The outpouring of support for this mission oriented camp was off the charts. God has blessed YMCA Camp Hanes bountifully.

If anyone doubts how God comes in after a tragedy and makes things better again, they need to look no further than YMCA Camp Hanes. The camp had planned their path for a great summer of 2017. Enrollment was strong well before the tornado. It will be a great summer, but only because the Lord is guiding the steps of a staff that trusted God to carry them through the storms of their life. Storms will come for all of us, but just follow the path and let the Lord guide your steps.