I spent four summers as a camp counselor so I am no stranger to camp life. Even though I’ve known Gene for fourteen years and was aware of his busy schedule at camp, nothing prepared me for the pace. I jumped into the busyness by washing breakfast and lunch dishes and helping with some food prep. Sweat poured down my forehead as the dishes piled up faster than I could deal with them.
But when I arrived, Gene’s back was already drenched with sweat as he had been at it for several hours. Growing up on a dairy farm with seven older siblings helped fortify him for hard work and chaos. And anyone who says that men can’t multitask has never worked with Gene. He not only tackled several tasks at once, but he also was thinking several meals—and several days ahead—all simultaneously. If that were not enough, Gene was as relaxed as Michael Phelps in a kiddie pool. If there was any stress, it was hidden behind his generous smile.
Gene received a high compliment from a summer-long volunteer while I was there. This woman shared how Gene treats his staff and volunteers. She said that Gene possessed the rare quality of managing a diverse group of people without stepping on their toes. Gene can train a new staff person with care and diligence but at the same time he will never micromanage highly competent staff and volunteers. Gene trains and empowers people to maximize their gifts and training. All of this makes for happier staff, happier campers and a highly efficient kitchen.
When I hear tales of his kitchen escapades, nine times out of ten Gene is not complaining but rather telling us stories of spiritual conversations he has had with summer staff. Gene’s conservative evangelical beliefs are almost always different than the Lutheran college students who serve with him. This is the part of his job that Gene truly enjoys. He views all of his work at camp as ministry, but the spiritual conversations are punctuated highlights of camp life. The summer staff view Gene as a theological teddy bear. Most think his beliefs are odd and antiquated, but they know he cares for them—and so they listen. Gene’s success rate at changing hearts and minds is not high, but he knows that he is planting seeds of truth in their lives. He plods along steadily, trusting the Holy Spirit to do His part as Gene does his.
In our church body, Gene has been the heart and soul of a men’s ministry that has existed almost since the inception of our church. J4J (Java 4 Jesus) is a simple concept: gather men around coffee, snacks and casual conversation and close the night with personal sharing and prayer. It has been a great place of connection for men of all ages. Recently, Gene and his family have enjoyed a shared ministry working the sound board and powerpoint for our morning worship services.
I am blessed to call Gene my friend and I gained a greater appreciation of his work ethic and unique ministry context. May the Lord continue to multiply Gene’s sweat and prayers for His greater glory.