The Houston founders of Rock Nest Bible Camp were honoured this year for their lifetime of service.
George and Joyce Fitchett started Rock Nest Bible Camp in 1974.
Their goal was to strengthen the First Nations church and give hope to kids.
“It has been a pleasure to be part of the native culture… how they do life is so good in a lot of ways,” Joyce said.
“I just consider it a privilege to have had a part in giving hope to kids.”
With that hope as their driving passion, the two have spent over 50 years running Bible camp.
Over 40 of those years were at Rock Nest, where they are fondly known as Duke and Duchess.
Wendall Garrison, Rock Nest Director who took over after George, says he still has adults asking about Duke and Duchess.
“Most people 30 years or older who came to camp here remember Duke and Duchess,” Garrison said.
Since fun is among the top priorities at camp, George fit there perfectly.
“I loved games and playing with the kids.. I still love playing with kids,” he said.
He also loves making games and activities for the kids – and was the key player in building the climbing wall, indoor gym and air tram that are still enjoyed by kids today.
Both George and Joyce have been involved in summer Bible camps since they were teenagers.
They both became Christians at camps and met in summer 1963 at a Bible camp in Belleville, Washington.
George was camp director and Joyce was a camp councillor, and they both had a passion for camp ministry.
They were married in 1964, and became missionaries with United Indian Missions (UIM) a year later.
At that time, UIM was seeking a camp director for a First Nations camp in B.C., and Joyce says the opportunity fit perfect with George’s love for native people and Bible camps.
Supported by churches Oregon, George and Joyce moved to Smithers in 1969, where they led and served in a small Smithers church and ran Bible studies and kids clubs.
During summers they directed a Bible camp in Terrace for a few years until it closed. Then they started working to open one near Smithers.
In 1974, UIM bought property on Irrigation Lake for what is known today as Rock Nest Bible Camp.
It was bought in partnership with a Rough Acres Bible Camp Society, and the two camps shared facilities for close to 15 years before they grew enough to split into two.
When they started, the camp had nothing but an outhouse.
George says the Granisle copper mine donated several trailers to the camp, which were gradually converted into bunkhouses, a dining hall, chapel, and missionary home.
The first year, they ran three weeks of camp with 30 to 40 kids from reserves between Terrace and Prince George.
The girls stayed in a bunkhouse, the boys in tents.
Between the two of them, they directed and organized the camp logistics, program, schedule, finances and lodging.
Joyce also helped in the kitchen and did lifeguarding and George managed maintenance and building programs on the side.
Director Garrison says he is grateful for all the hard work they put in to make Rock Nest what it is today.
“They worked really, really hard… Even today, it’s not easy to run camp. You don’t know how many kids are coming, staff is all volunteers, and there are a lot of struggles that the kids come with. It’s easy to give up, but that is one thing they did not do,” Garrison said.
“I know they were tired and I know they got down, but they didn’t stop.”
When asked how they did it all, George and Joyce said “the Lord got us through.”
Houston Baptist Church and churches from the U.S. sent summer missionaries as cabin leaders, speakers, kitchen help, maintenance and construction teams.
Joyce said throughout the years, they had “wonderful, faithful head cooks,” each helping for a succession of close to ten years.
“That has been a huge blessing,” Joyce said.
Despite the challenges, George and Joyce both testify of the rewards of working with the kids.
Things have changed tremendously over the years, they said.
In the early days kids often came to camp with one set of clothes, hungry, and with no blanket to sleep in.
George says their goal was to show them a good time, have fun, feed them well, and help them to understand and come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
George says one of the biggest rewards for him now, is meeting camp kids now as adults.
Many remember him and tell him about the super time they had at camp.
“It is neat to know that a lot of them had a really good experience,” George said.
This year, George and Joyce received the Lifetime Commitment Award from the Association of North America Missions.
It honoured their lives of service among all missionaries in Canada and U.S.
“It is very deserving!” Garrison said.