FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Christian Camping

with Mario Zandstra | January 22, 2010
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Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to camp we go! Join us today as Mario Zandstra, president and CEO of Pine Cove, a Christian camping ministry, talks about the fun and adventure that can be had at a Christian family camp.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to camp we go! Join us today as Mario Zandstra, president and CEO of Pine Cove, a Christian camping ministry, talks about the fun and adventure that can be had at a Christian family camp.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to camp we go!

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Christian Camping

With Mario Zandstra
January 22, 2010
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Bob:  Mario Zandstra operates a Christian Camp in Tyler, Texas, a camp called, Pine Cove.  Mario says what they are trying to do at Pine Cove is the same thing that other Christian Camps are trying to do.  They want kids to come to spend a week in the summer and have a great time.  But that is not their primary goal.


Mario:  We are creating an environment for God to do a great work in their lives.  Part of it is the adventure, part of it is sports, part of it is climbing walls and zip lines giving them the confidence they need to do the adventure, but all of it is geared towards developing a relationship with Christ.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 22nd.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I am Bob Lepine.  We will hear today about some of the unique ways God is using Christian camping to transform lives. 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today!  Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  I know we are three weeks now into the New Year and we have about a week left to go here in our January challenge to listeners as we have been encouraging folks to spend a little time in God’s word each day.  Even though we are not going to continue this into February, March, and April and May, we hope that couples will continue spending time in God’s word.


Dennis:  I am just kind of pounding the table going let’s get more families, more couples reading the Bible aloud to each other.


Bob:  We have been looking at the devotional book that you and your wife, Barbara, wrote called, Moments With You, because there is a passage or a verse that begins each of those daily devotionals.  On January 22nd what is the verse that is found there?


Dennis:  A very familiar passage, John 10:10.  Jesus is speaking here.  I want you to listen to this statement that He makes about Himself.  There is no other person on the planet who has ever lived in all of history who could make this statement, and it be true.  Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Now the only place you are going to find that life is in Him, in Jesus Christ.  He invites us to come to Him with our burdens, our cares, with our anxieties, our worries and He wants to take them on Himself and He wants to come along side us and put His arm around us and say, “You know what?  As long as you are surrendered to Me, you can have life abundantly.” 

Bob:  So, if you are sitting down with Barbara tonight or have the kids around at the dinner table, you want to reflect on that verse?  What would you talk about?

Dennis:  Well, there is a story that I tell in, Moments With You, that Bill Bright used to tell for a number of years of a guy who saved up all his money to go on a cruise.  He nearly starved to death for the first few days of the cruise because all he had was just enough money for the ticket.  He had brought in some cheese and crackers and they became stale and the cheese had mold on it. 

Finally at the end of the first week he tackled one of the stewards going down the hall of the boat.  He said, “How can I get some of this food?  I will go to work in the galley, I will wash dishes....”  And the steward said, “Didn’t you know, sir?  The food came with the ticket.” 

Well, you can read this devotional, Moments With You, together as a couple and talk about, ‘Are you a cheese and cracker Christian?’ When Jesus Christ came to give you lobster, prime rib, or the most exotic fish you can imagine. 

I am not talking about the ‘prosperity gospel’ here.  I am talking about the standard of life that you live.  You can have joy in the midst of tragic circumstances if you are walking with the One who said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”

Bob:  Well, again, our hope is that we will provoke you to either reflect on this verse or on another passage of scripture and again to spend time together in God’s word as a family throughout 2010.  While we are on the subject of the New Year, I don’t know if our listeners are thinking about summertime yet, or not.  It feels a little premature here in the middle of January when it is a little chilly to be thinking about summertime, but what we are going to be talking about today actually this takes me back a little bit.  You knew that I had spent a lot of summers when I was growing up at a summer camp right? 


Dennis:  That’s right I did.


Bob:  When I was in my 9th grade year; the summer after my 9th grade, I went to a camp outside of St. Louis that was a YMCA camp.  They had a leadership training program and after I had gone through that and if we had wanted to stay on and help out, like on the maintenance crew for the summer; we wouldn’t make any money, but we would get free room and board and be at camp all summer.  I was all about that!

Dennis:  Hey!  And there were probably plenty of girls.  Right?


Bob:  That’s right!  That was a factor as I remember it.  I was back the next summer for another leadership training program.  This time it was a counselor training program and then from then on for the next six or seven summers I was at the camp all summer long.  There was not a spiritual focus at this camp, but just the experience of being in a camp environment all summer long was formative for me.

Dennis:  I was paid $50 a month I guess it would have been the summer of 1969 at a camp in Southern California.  It was a true camping experience, but it was the headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ and I was on summer staff.  It was a lot like a camp experience because there was curriculum.  There were responsibilities and a lot of great Christian friends to rub shoulders with and to sharpen one another.  If our listeners could right now, I think they would raise their hands and say God used a camping experience in my life and I am interested in how God could use that camping experience in my children as well.  We have a friend with us, Mario Zandstra, who joins us on FamilyLife Today

Mario, you have been involved in camping a long time.  I am glad you are here to set us all straight.

Mario:  Well, I sure am excited to be here. 

Dennis:  Mario and his wife, Lynelle, speak at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences around the country.  They have seven children.  He runs his own camp every day.


Mario:  That’s right!


Dennis:  Ages 10 to 24.  I stand in awe of you.  You look young!


Mario:  Well, I have a great wife that is what makes it happen. 


Dennis:  He is the CEO of Pine Cove which has an enormous Christian camping ministry.  How many young people and adults in a given year will you impact at that camp?


Mario:  We have about 50,000 guests that will come during the course of a 12 month period and a little over 18,000 campers in 11 weeks in the summer.


Dennis:  WOW!


Bob:  That is crunch time, isn’t it? 


Mario:  It is absolutely crunch time, but God does an amazing work at camp.


Dennis:  How did you get interested in Christian camping originally?

Mario:   Well, you know it is interesting.  I grew up in Southern California and there are great camps in California, but because of the economic area that I lived in I didn’t have the opportunity to go to camp.  It was not part of my family’s motif, but when I became a young adult and I moved to Texas, I started going to these single retreats at this camp in East Texas called Pine Cove.  It was in that that I thought, “What a great way to live life; to get away for the weekend...


Dennis:  Happy hunting ground?


Mario:  It was great place to go as a single and now of course, all these years later now that I run it.   It is pretty remarkable!

Dennis:  Vocationally, though, it must have had some kind of impact on you for you to give your life to it.  You are running a big operation now.

Mario:  Well, it is interesting, I was in the business world for 17 years and I never thought I would not be in the business world.   I was on the board of Pine Cove and they had a leadership change and they were looking for somebody to step in and run the organization and I had business experience and a ministry passion. 

I could see what God did in the life of people at camp.  I saw it in my own family.  I made some of the biggest decisions as a husband and as a dad as I went to Family Camp as a young married person in the early 80’s. 


Dennis:  I want to explore that for just a moment.  You said you had business experience and ministry passion?  Bob, you and I have talked a great deal about this.  I think there are a ton of people who are listening right now who are as you describe; they have a lot of business experience, but they also have a passion for ministry.  What tipped you over the edge that you felt like you had to move from the business community to working in the ministry full time?


Mario:  Well, I had read a book called, Half-Time, by Bob Buford.   It was this book that talked about this whole idea of spending the first half of your life developing skills for success, and how you would take those skills and exercise them later for significance.  As I read that book, I remember, I it was on the eve of my 38th birthday.  I took my wife to dinner and we were sitting there just chatting about the book and I said, “Honey, I believe that God is calling us out of full time business and into full time ministry.” 

Now, interestingly enough, I thought that the answer was the church.  I didn’t know it was going to be a Para-Church organization.  Lynelle was unbelievable that night; she says, “Where ever God calls you I will follow.” 

I was involved at Pine Cove as a board member and I was watching this ministry grow and have a unique opportunity in our region of the country.  When the opportunity existed, I presented myself as a candidate because I really felt like God could really use the things that I had learned all my business life for the sake of His glory.

Bob:  Let me take you back from your job transfer to talk about the whole issue of camping.  You do youth camping and family camping at Pine Cove throughout the summer right?

Mario:  That’s right!

Bob:  Youth camping; I am thinking back to my days of going and learning how to canoe or ride a horse or go on hikes.  There is just a lot of fun in the outdoors.  In your case, in the case of Pine Cove and other camps like Pine Cove, Hume Lake in California and Forrest Home out in California, Kannakuk Camps in Missouri and a lot of little camps all around the country.  There is a focus that goes beyond a horseback ride and a hike.  There is really something catalytic about the camp environment and the opportunity for spiritual impact, isn’t there?

Mario:  Well, what happens is you are taking a kid, particularly in youth camp, out of their normal environment.  When they come to camp we don’t let them have their cell phones and of course there is not an internet connection.  They are away from the concrete jungle, into a place, where by God’s grace we create this temporary community.  And it is really all about the temporary community. 

It is two-fold.  One is their cabin.  It is that counselor and the 7 kids that are in the cabin and at some of our youth camps it is as many as 250 kids that are there at a time, but we are creating an environment for God to do a great work in their life.  Part of it is adventure, part of it is sports, part of it is climbing walls and zip lines giving them the confidence they need to do the adventure, but all of it is geared towards developing a relationship with these young men and young women to give them an opportunity to understand where their hope really comes from. 

It doesn’t come from the way they look, what they know, what kind of an athlete they are, who they hang around with, their identity comes from having a relationship with Christ.  All of it is geared towards our college staff having a one on one time out in the open for these kids to see a college kid who passionately loves Jesus and is cool and talks to them about their relationship with God.  The whole goal is moving them towards this one on one time where we can discern where they are spiritually. 


Dennis:  I have a friend for a number of years who ran a camp and he described his ministry as two-fold.  He was certainly interested in ministering to the campers, but he had a terrific ministry in the lives of the counselors because the counselors were really the conduit of him passing on his relationship with Christ to them and helping them grow.  They could really call the camper to a deeper walk with Christ and to begin to think about their lives a little differently.  Is that a good description of what occurs in Pine Cove?

Mario:  Well, it is amazing.  We actually would say to people that our staff is our program.  As we hire a thousand college staff from all over the country....


Dennis:   Whoa, whoa, whoa ...... a thousand kids?


Mario:  One thousand college staff from all over the country.  As we bring them in, we hire great kids, we train them in a great way and then we expect great things.  Part of what is happening is that we are the last leg of the stool in their spiritual formation before they become adults and we literally spend our  time investing in those kids as those kids then in turn invest in the campers’ lives. 

They get a chance maybe for some of them to for the first time to truly give their life away for 5 weeks or 11 weeks in that summer camp experience.  It is amazing what God does in the lives of those college staff. 

We have a program that we did in our local community called, Mission Tyler.  We took all of these college kids, and we said, Okay, we are going to go to the community of Tyler, Texas and we are actually going to give our lives away in the name of Jesus instead of just going and doing projects. 

As a matter of fact we gave the college kids that went out that day, 50 certificates to give camp away for a needy family in the community.  Instead of just walking to Barnes and Noble and handing out gift certificates, we said, “Listen, why don’t you literally walk the streets of the city and pray and say, ’God who in this city needs to come to camp.’”

It was amazing how story after story after story they would encounter a mom who might be a single mom who is struggling and say would it help you if your child went to camp?  The mom would say, “We could never afford that.  We would love that opportunity.”   They gave that away and then followed up with that child and saw what God had done in the life of that kid at camp.


Dennis:  What I hear you say is young people today are experience oriented.  What we have to do is adults is help them take the truth of scripture in to where they live and make decisions based upon that so they are experiencing the reality of what it feels like to obey God.  That is not always easy to be able to spot that as a parent but that is what we are trying to train them to do. 


Mario:  That is what we are trying to do.


Dennis:  To give them a world view that impacts the choices they make.

Mario:  That’s right!  One of the things that we do in the camp setting, for example at the High School camp, we ask them these questions, “Who is God?  Who am I? Is the Bible true and reliable?  And how can I use that in my everyday life and not have it be abstract but actually have it be real in the way that they live the Christian life.

Bob:  In addition to doing youth camping, you do a lot of family camping over the course of the summer.  Explain to listeners who haven’t been to a Family Camp what that experience is like.

Mario:  Well, Family Camp is maybe the way life was intended to be lived, okay? 


Dennis:  Someone serving you meals.  Barbara would love that!


Mario:  Seventeen meals in a row are prepared and cleaned up for afterwards, with the whole axiom, “That if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  So we take care of them, we serve them and that is what our college staff does, but it goes beyond that.

We take them into this temporary community for six days and it is a small group of 30-40 families.   In the context of this time, they worship God.  They have times of prayer, and they have great teaching.  We bring in great teachers from all over the country.  We bring in FamilyLife speakers as well and we do a ‘Week to Remember’ Conference in the context of what we do.  They also get to hang out with these college staff.

 So here you are.  You are learning God’s word, you are hanging out with other families who are like minded with you, you are praying, and then we take it a step further and we say, ”What is one of the struggles in the lives of ... let’s say the dads in the homes?” 

Dads really don’t know how to lead their families.  So, we actually spend very intentional time training those dads how to lead their family in a family devotional, how to lead their wife, and how to ask their wives the right kinds of questions that actually would cause them to want to engage with their husband and to follow them.  All of it is geared towards giving that dad the rightful role in that home. 

Then of course we do activities that are fun like climbing walls, zip lines, horseback riding, skiing, and all of the activities that would allow the kids see mom and dad have a lot of fun.  They are not mom and dad the disciplinarian; they are mom and dad who area actually experiencing life with them as opposed to a normal vacation where they are so busy trying to figure out what the next thing is to do.  We actually help them know what the next thing is to do.


Bob:  Compare side by side for me; a week at Pine Cove Family Camp and a week in Orlando with a park pass to all of the parks.  I am putting them side by side, are they going to cost the same amount?

Mario:  I would say that Family Camp is a far greater value than maybe that normal vacation that would happen at a resort.  But what would happen in that time is that in that resort you spend a lot of time in line, or you spend a lot of time arguing as to what you might do next.

Instead we have these programmed activities.  We have theme nights at Family Camp that allows the families to be expressive and actually create their own kind of fun.  The issue is it is kind of a vacation with a purpose.  We are taking this vacation time and we are giving you the tools to interact as a family, to have fun, to understand what God’s word is, to pray, and to live out that Christian life.

I love a letter I got from a dad and he says, We just got back from Pine Cove and we had this wonderful experience at Family Camp.  This is our 3rd year.  Every year we leave Pine Cove and my wife and I go into this depression time.  Now for the wife it is the 17 straight meals in a row that are no longer being prepared.


Dennis:   She is now hit with reality.


Mario:  She is hit with reality and he says, “We leave camp and we go into this depression and I think we have finally figured it out.  Camp is like a taste of heaven.  It is a place where we worship God.  It is a place where we see God in creation.  It is a place where I as a dad am doing the right kind of things with my family.  We have all this fun.  We do all these things.  We study God’s word together and then we leave and we go back to reality.” 

This is what the man mentioned at the end of his letter, what I have come to realize is what happens at camp is supposed to be reality and we are creating a false reality when we go home.

We have decided in western culture that work is the most important thing as opposed to the family being an important component in life or the Lord being an important component in life. 


Dennis:  We are all so busy.  We do the entertainment thing like Bob was talking about earlier.  Going to Orlando, and there is nothing wrong with Disney World and the MGM studios, and all the different entertainment values that are there, but there really is something to be said about pulling your family out of the mainstream and pulling aside and all of a sudden....(sigh) exhaling.  Just relax and then allow someone to serve you 17 meals in a row.  I can just hear a standing ovation by moms.


Bob:  You and Barbara are now thinking about going to Family Camp just for a week without the family just so she can get those meals served, right?   That is a big selling point.

Dennis:  She wouldn’t need to go there.  She has got me cooking them now.

Bob:  We have done both.  We have been to the theme parks and we have been to Family Camp.  If you go to the kids’ years later and you say, “Remember the trip to Orlando?”  And you say, “What do you remember?”  They will talk about a cool rollercoaster they went on.  

Then you go to them years later and you say, “Remember Family Camp?  What do you remember?”  Well, it might be the ropes course or the zip line that they are going to remember, but chances are there is going to be something purposeful meaningful spiritual, and they are going to remember how God showed up and taught them something or something that they learned while they were at camp. 

I would just hope our listeners would make this an option and that they would get this on the radar screen.  They would go to our website and we have got a link there to the Christian Camping International website.  You can find out about camps all across the country doing their best trying to create the kind of atmosphere that Mario talked about here today where God does show up and where lives are transformed. 

Again, go to and find the link to the Christian Camping International Website and you can find out about a Christian Camp in your area.  There is also a link to the Pine Cove website if you want to find out particularly about Pine Cove, but listen there are a number of great Christian Camps all around the country and your kids can have an unforgettable experience, or your family can if they do a Family Camp program at the camp. 

It really is a great way to spend time in the middle of the summer.  And it may feel premature, but trust me there are a lot of these camps that start to fill up at this time.  So, if you want to make sure your kids are registered, go online at to get more information about the different camps and then make plans for either your kids to attend or for you guys to go as a family. 

Let me wrap up here by saying a quick word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We do appreciate your faithful partnership with us.  We are listener supported so when folks like you make a donation from time to time or sign on as a legacy partner and make a monthly contribution to help support FamilyLife Today, you are the ones that keep FamilyLife Today on in this city and in other cities all across the country. 

So we want to say a word of thanks. 

In fact we would like to express our thanks to you tangibly this month by sending you a two CD  set that features about two hours of conversation that we had with Dr. Emerson Eggerich the author of the book, Love and Respect.  We talked with him about marriage and the need that wives have to be loved and the need that husbands have to be respected.  It was a fascinating conversation and the two CDs are our thank you gift this month when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. 

If you do that online at and you would like to receive those CDs just type the word, “RESPECT” in the key code box that you find on the online donation form.  If you call to make your donation, 1-800-FLTODAY, just ask for the two CDs on Love and Respect and again we will send them out to you as a thank you gift for your support.  And again, we do appreciate your partnership with us.

We hope you have a great weekend!  We hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend and I hope you can join us back on Monday because Andy and Nicky Bray are going to be with us.  They are a couple of Kiwi’s.  That is not insulting; they live in New Zealand and that is what you call New Zealanders, you call them Kiwi’s.  They actually head up FamilyLife’s Ministry in New Zealand and in recent days they have as a family had to learn how to lean in to God’s grace in a unique way. 

 Andy Bray:  I suffer from chronic renal failure which means I have to get onto a kidney machine. 

Nikki Bray:  We both get fearful.  That machine can be quite frightening because things can go wrong and it is quite scary.  We haven’t always responded in the best way, but we have had to extend God’s grace to one another in the midst of those situations.

Bob:  They will share their story with us on Monday.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I am Bob Lepine.  We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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