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Camp Assurance impacts hundreds of youth each year

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BELDEN – Shannon Arduser doesn’t want people to hope they’re going to heaven - he wants them to know.

“We can never do enough but Jesus has done enough,” he said. “When we realize we need our sins forgiven and turn to him as our only hope then we can be confident. On our good days and on our bad days, Jesus can never love us more and will never love us less.”

For more than 75 years, Camp Assurance has been providing that assurance to youth through its summer camp and other ministries.

“You don’t drive by Camp Assurance and say, ‘Whoa, that’s the sprawling, fun summer camp I want to go to.’ The strength of Camp Assurance is the relationships,” Shannon said, inviting people to “Come and See” - the theme for this year’s camps.

Nestled on two acres where Highway 20 meets Highway 57, the camp starts to buzz with activity each May, starting with its Vacation Bible School outreach at area towns and staff training.

“I kind of feel like going out into town, sharing the Bible, sharing the missionary stories, sharing with kids how they can have a relationship with Jesus is really part of training,” Shannon said.

The summer progresses with several different camps offered for different age groups ranging from 7 to 17 and ranging in length from 48 hours to a week. Along with worship and growing in God’s word, campers experience summer fun - swimming, barbecues, campfires, sport tournaments, spending time in nature and hayrack rides.

Marie said inclusion is a large component of the camp ministry.

“This is a place where you belong. We want them to know they are loved by God and everyone was made by God in his image and is loved,” she said.

When each camper leaves, Shannon wants them to be certain . . . assured.

“I want them to know they can be confident they have a relationship with Jesus and that even though we may only see each other once a year - hopefully I see them more than that - but he is there for them,” he said. “They are not alone.”

Shannon is the current camp director, along with his wife, Marie, who was involved in overseas ministry before meeting Shannon.

He grew up at Camp Assurance working alongside his father, Don, who instilled a strong work ethic.

“The grounds were a lot rougher back then and we would use a dump rake to shred the grounds and then rake it all up and pitchfork it into the back of someone’s truck. I would be wiring up springs on mattresses. I just remember it was hard work and working with people,” he said, also recalling his father driving the tractor for the camp’s hayrack rides that would end at his family’s property.

His father encouraged Shannon’s path to the ministry field.

“I went to Bible college. My dad really thought I should. I wasn’t so sure,” Shannon said. “God got a hold of my life and confirmed that I should.” But through two different pastoral internships he still wasn’t confident in his oratorial skills and didn’t care for all the pressure put on any single message.

It was under the mentorship of a South Dakota pastor that he fell in love with camp ministry.

“What are you going to do? Be a dorm leader the rest of your life? But God put me in some leadership roles in my senior year of college,” he said which lead him ultimately to the camp director role at Camp Assurance. “I said ‘I’m not ready for that,’ but God has really provided and that’s been 25 years ago.”

Over those years, he’s seen God’s handiwork in the relationships he’s cultivated with camp staff who in turn bless others.

“It’s that mentoring piece,” Shannon said. “People get the ethos of camp and then they model it and bring people alongside.”

The Ardusers’ summers are intense but purposeful.

“Being able to work with high schoolers and college students, fixed on a purpose to help kids cross from death to life, cement that relationship with Jesus, affect this life but their eternity as well, I am the most privileged guy in Northeast Nebraska to direct this place,” Shannon said.