Feature

Mahaffey Camp Rocks

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You could call it an Alliance heritage site. For generations of Alliance families and friends, the 45 acres comprising Mahaffey Camp and Conference Center in central Pennsylvania are sacred ground.

“Since the camp’s founding in 1894, thousands of pastors and missionaries attending here received their call to serve in ministry,” says Nancy Depp, Mahaffey’s program coordinator. “Every summer during family camp alone, more than 100 individuals make first-time commitments to Christ or receive a call to ministry. During our youth camps this year, nearly 40 percent of the campers made a spiritual decision.”

Written in Stone

Alliance founder A. B. Simpson must have had Mahaffey in mind when in the late 1800s he envisioned a worldwide movement of God through Christian camping. Mahaffey’s spiritual legacy reflects that vision—a storied heritage now memorialized in stone.

As of late spring 2009, 10 large boulders grace the campground’s rustic acreage; each bears a Scripture verse sandblasted into its rough surface. Unearthed last winter during Mahaffey’s new sewage system installation, the large rocks weigh between 280 pounds and 28 tons. “I’ve always felt that this campground is holy ground,” says Pat Miller, 75, a Mahaffey Camp regular since age 8. “The Scripture rocks are a special verification to me.”

Each Scripture-inscribed boulder is also a memorial paid for by individuals and families whose lives are intertwined with the camp’s vibrant, multigenerational ministries. “We had a verse inscribed on one of the stones in memory of my wife Esther’s parents, who pastored churches in the Western Pennsylvania District,” says Bob Fetherlin, vice president for International Ministries at the U.S. C&MA National Office. “It’s a very meaningful opportunity, in light of the time and effort they invested in the camp each summer and how Mahaffey has impacted our lives.”

Yet to fully grasp the significance of the camp’s boulder memorials is also to know the story behind the camp’s new sewage system; its installation, after all, is how the big rocks were discovered.

Building Moratorium

For decades, Mahaffey’s aging facilities, including 189 private cottages built in the early 1920s and 1930s, utilized a dated sewage system that included more than 100 holding tanks. Because that system was out of compliance with new regulations, 15 years ago the Department of Environmental Protection issued a building moratorium on the property. Without a new system, no improvements could be made to the camp’s crumbling infrastructure.

For the next 10 years, camp officials made repeated attempts to work with the local municipal authority to obtain a system up to code. “About six years ago, we came to a standstill in the negotiations,” says Ed Depp, Mahaffey Camp’s developer/director and Nancy’s husband. “Our board wrote a letter to state officials, describing the stalemate. They responded, encouraging the local authorities to work with us.” The state then offered an incentive—a low-interest project loan for a new system.

“I call it the miracle solution!” says Ed, who adds that digging the new lines commenced in December 2008.

‘Built on the Rock‘

Nancy recalls the cold, snowy day in early February 2009 when she saw the large stones for the first time. “I was looking out of our kitchen window as they were running the new lines and saw that they were unearthing a rock larger than our minivan! I said to Ed, ‘We’ve got to keep these rocks and use them in our camp landscaping—they’re awesome!’”

The camp staff later agreed that inscribing a Bible verse on each boulder would serve as a fitting memorial. “We contacted a local gentleman who has a sandblasting company,” Nancy explains. “He agreed to inscribe Scriptures on the rocks. By late spring, he completed work on the boulders; summer camp interns painted the Scriptures so that the words would stand out.”

Mahaffey’s boulder memorials have already made an impact among campers. “During youth camp and horse camp, the kids made an activity out of memorizing the Scriptures,” she adds.

Witness to the Community

Meanwhile, work on the sewer lines was completed in October 2009, and the camp’s building moratorium is now lifted. “We’ve started building new facilities, including a new restroom complex in our RV area,” says the grateful camp director.

“Esther and I returned there this summer after many years of not having seen the camp,” Fetherlin adds. “We were very impressed by all the positive changes: the renovation of the kitchen/dining facility, the many renovated cottages. All the camp upgrades were great. Certainly the installation of a sewage system is a huge step forward; the camp is now connecting with its surrounding community in more intentional ways, and it is now used year-round for retreats and other events.”

As for local community members, “they’ve been excited to see the developments here, the progress we’ve made. People have even stopped in to take photos of the Scripture rocks,” says Ed. In addition to the entrance boulder, six are at the camp’s main tabernacle, two are positioned across from the camp office, one is at the bell tower and one (the Fetherlin’s memorial boulder) will stand at the entrance to the youth tabernacle.

“The rocks are a blessing, a testimony to Mahaffey Camp’s rich heritage,” Nancy concludes. “Thousands attending here since the camp’s founding have been called to serve in ministry, and these Scripture-inscribed stones are a wonderful reminder of that legacy for generations to come.”

Original painting of Mahaffey Camp dining hall by John R. Miller. Printed with permission.

I Spoke at Mahaffey Camp

On the field, many missionaries would often tell stories of things that happened in a church camp called Mahaffey. Since I’m not from the East, I had never heard of such a place, but on my missionary tour in Pennsylvania, Mahaffey Camp came up as I was talking with my host one morning. He asked if I had ever spoken there. I told him that I had never been to the place, and he promptly told me, as the other missionaries had, “Some say you may be hard pressed to get to heaven if you haven’t been asked to speak at Mahaffey.” Then he said, “Come on, I’ll take you.”

Arriving at the campgrounds, we could plainly see that we were the only people there. He took me to the main hall and opened the door. I went in and climbed over all the stuff stored in there for the winter and went to the stage. There, I gave a five-minute message to all animals that had decided to winter in the barn-like building. Now I can say I was asked—and I spoke at Mahaffey Camp.

_—Roger Hartley
former Alliance missionary to Indonesia_

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