Taking Care of the Woods

Each generation of ministry is seen in the trees of God’s great Northwoods.

Each generation of ministry is seen in the trees of God’s great Northwoods.

As caretakers of God’s great Northwoods, VLM has been working for decades to manage the woods in which we do ministry. It takes a lot of effort from volunteers, agency partners, and staff to make sure the camps are here to change the life of kids. Our Forest Management plan addresses many parts of being caretakers:

  • Safe access to our program and cabin areas.

  • Fire mitigation and safe evacuation if ever needed.

  • Healthy stands of northland forest.

  • Wildlife habitat

VLM is working on the next stages of the plan over the next year or so.
Visit the Camp Vermilion Forest Management Page to learn more.


“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” - John 1:10-14

In my grandparent's cottage on the shores of Pickerel Lake in Newago, MI, there was a bookshelf in the corner of the living room. There was some carpet space between it and the massive oil burning heater that kept the house warm. On lazy days, I would sit next to the books and read. There was one book in particular that I would always pull out. Paddle to the Sea, was a picture book and story about a boy who carves a canoe with a native American paddler and sends it out into the intricate web of the great lakes, through the St. Lawrence Seaway system, and out into the ocean.

I would read the story and imagine myself paddling those waters, both turbulent and calm, following the current downstream. I would paddle through locks and dams and across lakes and rivers into the salty ocean. As I grew up, every time I saw a map, I would follow the nearest thin blue line that identified the smallest creeks to see if they too would flow out to sea. This would confirm to me that, if needed, I could get to the big water from where ever I stood.

Following water is an adventure. When travelling it, you are always wondering where it will take you. You can be surprised around every bend and over every horizon. As an adult, my waters sometimes feel more turbulent, and sometimes more calm than when I was a young boy at Pickerel Lake. I try to prepare for each turn of life, but I know that sometimes life is hard.

Knowing where you are going is one way to prepare for what lies ahead. Knowing how to deal with what ever life unexpectedly throws at us is another. As a father who sees his own children beginning to explore what lies ahead of them, I have found solace knowing that God is with us. Immanuel.

God is walking, tenting, laughing, crying and paddling with us. That presence sustains us and supports us. That presence brings us together and lifts us up.

As you go through all the thin, crooked, straight, dotted, and wide blue lines on your map I pray that you feel the presence of God.

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory..."

Joel Abenth, VLM Executive Director

Generosity in Action

VLM is working with Thrivent Financial to give people a language of generosity. Creating action now and leaving a legacy for future campers is powerful ministry.

Together, we will be hosting these upcoming events in God's great northwoods.

Generosity and Legacy Dinner

October 17, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Dovetail Café, Duluth, MN

Action Team 101

Learn how to encourage action for your favorite causes.

October 29th, 6-8pm, Trinity Lutheran, Cook, MN

RSVP to 218-666-5465

Give to the Max is coming!

One Ministry and Many Paddles!

VLM will be celebrating 10-years of Giving to the Max on November 14th, 2019. In November of 2009, VLM had four pioneering online donors give $180. The following year we received more than $9,000. Generous matching really increased online activity and for the next 8 years, giving rose significantly. Since 2008, 1577 Donors have given:




10-Year impact of Give to the Max Day $412,096.24 for VLM. THATS A LOT OF PADDLES! AND A LOT OF MINISTRY!

Save the date! Give to the Max Day is coming up on November 14th!

Check out the VLM GiveMN page for more information. You may schedule your gift starting on November 1st. For more Give to the Max Day fun, follow VLM online

Facebook, Instagram, and #VLMmanypaddles

Welcome to our new storyteller

Greetings to our newest VLM staff member and Director of Marketing and Communications. Kyle will be working with telling the camp story and getting the message out to the many parts of our expansive community. Welcome Kyle!


My name is Kyle Terrio-Johnson. I currently live in Cloquet with my wife, Cari, and my two children, where we are members at Zion Lutheran in Cloquet.

I was raised in Grand Rapids and was a Hiawatha camper in my youth, and am married to a Hiawatha camper whose father helped build Hiawatha into the camp it is today. I am very proud to belong to a member congregation and enjoy the opportunity to send my children to a Voyageurs Lutheran Ministry camp every summer.

Camp Hiawatha is a special place for me. It represents an important part of my faith story, and I still love to arrive at camp and the sight of Grandfather Pine. I learned my first guitar chords under the branches of that tree 40 years ago, and I love that my children get to sit in the shade of the old man of camp just as their father, mother and grandparents did.

I am excited for the opportunity help tell the story of camp to not only our members and those familiar with our ministry but also to groups who aren’t aware of the good work we do and what we can offer them.

I look forward to hearing from you as I engage with my mission here at VLM. My request of you is simple. Share your ideas for who should hear the story of camp as well as your ideas on how to tell that story. I can be reached at kyle@vlmcamps.org or by dialing 218-666-5465.

It’s great to be alive in God’s great Northwoods! I’ll see you at camp!


Camp Hiawatha Program Director opening

Be part of a great ministry in God’s great northwoods!

We are now accepting resumes for the Program Director position at Camp Hiawatha. This position oversees all aspects of the Camp Hiawatha site and program. They also work closely with the Vermilion Program Director to recruit, hire, train, and supervise the summer ministry community.

Previous experience in Outdoor Ministry or similar camp setting, as well as demonstrated supervision skills is preferred. See the full job description here.

Resumes will be accepted until August 31, with an estimated start date of October 1.

Resumes and questions can be sent to Gretchen Bachman, Director of Operations,

VLM is hiring a full time story teller!

This new position is about sharing the camp story!

This new position is about sharing the camp story!

The Director of Marketing and Communications for VLM will be developing creative strategies and branding, as well as print and digital media. In addition, they will be visiting our camp communities and audiences (churches, camper families, potential retreat guests, neighbors, and donors) that are interested in using and engaging in Camp Hiawatha and Camp Vermilion.

We are accepting resumes until July 21st with a potential start date of Sept 1.

This is a full time, salaried, position with full benefits, based out of Duluth, MN.

Download the Director of Marketing and Communications POSITION DESCRIPTION.


“19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:19-22

In this passage we find the disciples in a place that we have all been: locked in and gripped by fear. Just days before, the man they had been following for years was arrested, convicted, and crucified. He had called them from simple lives to follow him into an abundant life. They had been witnesses to miracle after miracle. They watched as He fed thousands, healed the sick, and challenged the church authority of the day. He had even called one of them to walk on water! They had hoped that this man would be a victorious conqueror, overthrowing their oppressors and leading them to freedom. But then things didn’t go as they had planned… They were with Jesus as the army arrested Him. They pulled out their swords to defend Him. They were confused when their King told them to put their swords away. What was going on here?

And this is where the fear and doubt began to creep in. As Jesus was brought before the authorities, they watched the crowd turn against Him. The man before them was in chains and there was no army outside the city to free Him. As the trial continues, it becomes clear that if they are going to continue to follow this man, they would be following him to a conviction and death. Maybe this man was not the Son of God?

They listened to the insults that were hurled at Him. Days before, the crowds had welcomed Him; now they laughed and jeered as He stumbles and falls while carrying a piece of wood that will be used in His death. They watched as the one who promised them abundant life breathed His last breath, hung his head and died. It had been three days and all hope was lost. How could life come from a Man who was now dead?

I woke up last week and immediately pulled the covers over my head. I did not want to get out of bed and deal with my tasks for the day. Fear and doubt had crept in. What was I supposed to do with my day? Was I skilled enough to accomplish the tasks set before me? What about that poor interaction I had the day before with a friend? Are they still mad? Is everything going to fall into place or is it all falling apart?

In the midst of all of these fears and doubts, under my blanket, with my heart locked to the world, I was reminded that Christ is still present. I was reminded that I hadn’t been called to lock myself away and hide under the blankets. There were people coming to get cabins ready for campers, and I knew they were going to want coffee. So begrudgingly I poked my head out, got dressed, and dragged my feet up the hill to Voyageur Lodge.

Oh, what Peace I found there! A lake that was as clear as glass! Trees that I had watched be planted as saplings that were now taller than me! A dining hall that will soon be filled to overflowing with the excitement of campers! Volunteers willing to spend their time scrubbing floors so that our guests have a clean place to rest! Friends of many years sharing updates of their careers, pictures of their families, and plans for weddings! There is so much Peace in the abundant life of Christ!

“30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe [d] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31

Brian Heuer, VLM Summer Staff Member 2007, 2009-2011, 2013, 2017-2019

Come to the DLA Frolic

YOUR ARE INVITED to the annual Deer Lake Frolic, a summer picnic held at Camp Hiawatha in August. Festivities begin at 5:00 with dinner served at 6:00. Dinner includes grilled chicken, corn-on-the-cob, corn bread, salad, and a Dairy Queen ice cream treat for dessert. The Frolic also includes music, kids games, prizes, and silent auction. The event is free, but food tickets are $12 per person (food tickets for age 6 & under are free). Contact beautifuldeerlake@gmail.com for $12 advanced tickets or you may buy them at the door for $15. Hope to see you there!   

Why are we sharing this event? Because VLM and Camp Hiawatha are members of the Deer Lake Association (DLA) and value our partnership with the DLA. In addition to Deer Lake water quality, DLA's mission includes building community among members, property owners, and the broader community who use or have connections to the lake, including you!

Worship With Us!

The month of June brings the start of our weekly worship services at Camp Hiawatha. This tradition has been happening for many years, and is often a highlight for those who summer on and around Deer Lake.

These services are completely volunteer led, from putting the schedule together to preaching to offering music for the service. And while the basic format of the service remains the same, the variety of speakers and musicians gives each week a unique feel and experience.

A simple breakfast is offered following the service for a free will offering. This provides time and space for fellowship and reconnecting with friends seen only during the summer months at the lake.

This year our services start on Sunday, June 2 and run through Sunday, August 25. Worship begins at 10:00am with fellowship and a meal immediately following. If you are in the Deer Lake/Grand Rapids are this summer, we would love to have you join us!


“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

Have you ever been in a situation where you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders? The decision at hand, a passage to defining your future, hinges on you, and there are so many details to consider that your mind is scurrying rapidly to answer each one? Simply put, it seems impossible - to make the right decision, but also to deal with the outcomes of it.

I recently lived this situation. I had a decision to make and a very on-the-spot deadline in which to make it. My heart desperately wanted to make the right one, to obey God’s plan for me, but with all of the details to consider, it was quite overwhelming.

Thankfully, I have some incredible people in my life. Most of which I met at camp! I was told to make a pros and cons list, to listen to my heart, to trust my gut, to pray about it. All helpful and not helpful at all in the same breath. In this decision, I was asking for all the help I could get! Truth is though, the more I talked about it, the more I prayed about it and the more I asked for prayers, the more I panicked. But at the end of the day, all I could hear was “I think God’s got this. You have to believe He’s got this!”

“God’s got this.”

It’s like a huge wave came over me and went WHOOSH, and all of the anxieties over details and frantically wandering thoughts went still. They were replaced with a peace, the kind that transcends our understanding.

There are countless things in this world—decisions, problems, tasks, responsibilities, cases, people—that seem to be impossible. And yes, with just us in control, they are. But God has proven too many times His capability to do the seemingly impossible for us not to consult with Him or trust in Him on everything!

To assure us further He says that, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our capacity to think and to do are limited; there are countless ways that we can come up short. But God’s ways, His thoughts, are so much greater than ours. We cannot even fathom it; our minds cannot grasp it. One of my greatest fears has been that I might get in God’s way. That I might make the wrong decision and then I’ll have to pick up and mend all of the wreckage I’ve caused because of it. Ha!

I think I think too highly of myself—to think that I can get in the way of the Almighty God?! For He goes on to say in Isaiah, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

God spoke us into being; therefore, He will achieve through us what He purposes to achieve. We cannot get in the way of that. Trust and believe that God’s got this, whatever the “this” might be.

Lakyn Muilenburg - VLM Alumni 2014-2017

The Joy of Volunteerism

Louie Gueltzow, Camp Hiawatha volunteer

Ten years ago my wife and I retired and decided to relocate to northern Minnesota. We had no ties to the area, no relatives or friends. Starting a new chapter of life in your mid 60’s can be traumatic. Meeting people and making new friendships can be difficult if you don’t take the initiative.

Joining a church, and getting involved with other nonprofits can be one of the easiest places to make new acquaintances. The first few weeks after moving in, my neighbor introduced me to Camp Hiawatha. Each Thursday morning between

Labor Day and Memorial Day a men’s group meets for breakfast. This group also provides many volunteer hours keeping buildings and the grounds in good working condition. Repairing buildings, painting, putting docks and swim raft in and out and mowing are just a few of the volunteer opportunities. This frees up staff time to concentrate on their mission to provide religious camping experience to youth.

Volunteerism can not only be fun but it provides fellowship with like minded individuals. Some of my closest friendships were made through volunteering at Camp Hiawatha. Be open to giving your time and effort to nonprofits.

Church Basket Challenge

It's time to start thinking "outside the basket" and get ideas for your congregation's entry in our 8th Annual Bluegrass Festival - Church Basket Challenge!Donate a basket for our bucket raffle, and your congregation could win a 1 night retreat at either Camp Hiawatha or Camp Vermilion.

Minimum value for a basket is $50. Baskets are due to Camp Vermilion by July 22. Contact us for more information.


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more… It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. -Melody Beattie

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 2 Samuel 6.5

When is the last time you danced before the Lord with all of your might? Check out 2 Samuel chapter 6 for an interesting story of King David who, in the midst of a serious responsibility to care for the ark of the Lord, danced before the Lord. He danced so much that Michal, his wife, “despised him in her heart” for his dancing. But David said, “It was before the Lord… that I have danced.” I did this for the Lord! And in a sign of God’s approval of David’s dancing and disapproval of Michal’s condemnation, Michal never has a child to the day of her death (culturally understood at that time to be a curse from God).

How are our lives made barren when we refuse to have some fun? How do our lives feel dry, dusty, and lifeless when we refuse to dance before the Lord? What a blessing camp can be as a place to learn to dance before the Lord so that we might dance before the Lord in our day to day lives. I read a quote recently from the Jewish Talmud that said that on the judgment day we will have to give account of every good thing which we might have enjoyed and did not. I hear this as a challenge to give thanks for all that God has given us. A challenge to a life of dancing gratitude. Dancing and gratitude and surprise at all God is up to. Dancing and gratitude which can turn what we have into enough and more! Dancing and gratitude which give glory to the LORD.

Pastor Tim Johnston

VLM Alumni and long-time Family Camper


Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father oflights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1-17

When I think about the VLM Camps, Hiawatha and Vermilion, I think about generosity – “the quality of being kind and generous”. When I think of the camps, I think of the people - the counselors, the campers, the leaders, and the donors.

When my 10 year-old son was at Hiawatha, he was extremely homesick. It was his first time away from home. It was a kind and generous counselor who noticed him, showed him he cared, and guided him through the week. This meant the world to our son.

It only takes one week at camp to create life-long friendships between campers. My (now 12 year-old) son’s bonds continue to grow with the boys he met at camp during his first week away from home. (the homesick week). 

Those counselor and camper moments, and the bonds that form in cabin groups are nurtured through the time that is devoted to ensuring solid programs and year-round ministry. VLM is blessed to have a strong leadership team built with kind and generous people who tirelessly work to create life-changing experiences for generations of kids.                

None of this happens without the support of our donors and volunteers. From joining the work day crews to exploring financial strategies to create camp legacies, the partnership of our kind and generous donors is vital. Educational, legacy lunches/dinners are starting to bring new ideas to the table as VLM continues to plan for now and the future. Watch for More of these events being planned for 2019.

VLM is blessed to have summer staff who give their time and show compassion to our kids; to have campers who how kindness and friendship with each other; to have year-round leadership who give of their time to this ministry; to have donors who give so much more than financial support. All of this keeps camp strong and ensures that this ministry will be here to touch the lives of future generations.

How can you show kindness and generosity this week?

Jeff Hakala

VLM volunteer, donor, and camper parent

Living Generously

by Jeffrey A Hakala CLTC®, FIC, RICP® 

As a Financial Consultant with Thrivent Financial, I am blessed to help guide members along their path as they strive to be wise with money and to live generously. To me, generosity is an expression of love.

As a part of my role, I’ve been presenting workshops focused on how the new Federal tax law changes present new opportunities for Estate/Legacy Planning. So far, the workshops have not been highly attended, but I’m starting to see some evidence that people are putting some strategies into action.

Here are two examples:

I received a call early last December from an excited, area non-profit leader. She shared that they just received a check from a community member who had not previously given to their organization – but had attended one of the legacy planning workshops the month prior. She asked me if there is a connection. “I hope so!” is the answer I could give. This is exciting!

During a recent client meeting with a retired couple, I learned that since our last discussion, they had been thinking about some things. They wanted me to understand how their passion has evolved as it pertains to their planning. They have been retired for many years and own a life insurance policy that they feel they no longer need. They have no debt. Children are grown. Their savings and income are strong. They could have decided to close the life insurance policy, but instead, they chose to change some of the details so they can leave the proceeds upon their death to the organization that has given to them in so many ways throughout their lives. It was a big decision that brought them joy. It will undoubtedly bring joy to others and impact the lives of future generations.

I am look forward to future generosity conversations!


I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9

Every Sunday we welcome a new batch of campers to camp. Campers who are seasoned pros, waiting to to see their best buds, as well as brand new campers who are filled with awestruck wonder at what the week may hold. Whether it be the first time or the the umptieth time they have been at camp, leaving home for a week is an act of bravery.

A favorite responsibility of mine, is sitting at the registration table each week, and welcoming the campers. I love having the opportunity to welcome back campers from years previous, and to be there to provide positive reassurance to the new campers who may be apprehensive about their new environment.

One of the first things you learn while working at a camp, is how important it is to be welcoming and inclusive. The need to bring everyone together is so important, just as it is important to beware of any campers and staff on the peripheral who need to be brought in. This is a key factor that we focus on during staff training, and we try and live that out while welcoming summer staff, retreat guests, and of course our own campers weekly. We see this as our duty to the campers, and we try to ensure that at the weeks end, they feel as though they have a new home away from home. In the book of Joshua, the Lord commanded Joshua to be strong, and reminded him that wherever he goes the Lord is with him. While, campers going away for the week is not going into battle, it does require them to be strong and courageous. As a staff, it is our job to recognize that bravery does not always come with fearlessness, but instead it is courage in the face of fear! The most awesome thing of all, is that God is with us on all of our adventures. 

This mindset does not only apply to our campers, it also can apply to each and everyone of us every single day. In our daily life, how can we be strong and courageous? If we recognize that we are never truly alone and we do not have to fear rejection, how can we step outside our own comfort zone?Is there something that you have always wanted to do, but doubted your ability to do so? I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and do something courageous for yourself or for others, with the Lord by your side, nothing is out of reach.

Kathryn Schaefer

VLM Alumni 2013 and 2014

A Camp Rally in Surprise, AZ!

While the weather is cold and blustery up north, we are thinking warm summer camp thoughts down south in Arizona!

You are invited to put on your favorite camp gear and gather for two events.

Monday, March 18 we will be gathering at Spirit of Grace Lutheran Church for pie and coffee. Camp Leaders from VLM and Luther Crest will be sharing camp news from around the country, and some fun ways that camps are changing lives.

The next day, March 19, you are invited to the Legends Deck at Surprise Stadium for an evening Spring Training game between the Cubs and Royals. This all inclusive package includes game admission, a full catered meal, one complimentary beverage, and additional tiered seating to watch the game.

Everyone is invited, no matter what camp you call home! So join us in Surprise, AZ this March as we gather all of the camp folk together for some homemade pie, baseball and fun in the sun!

RSVP by March 1. Details on the event and how to RSVP can be found here

Year Round Job Opportunities

We are looking for hospitable, team-oriented people hoping to make an impact on their community.

Year-round openings:

Head Cook for Camp Vermilion (Cook,MN) - to provide amazing and creative year-round meals to youth and families. Job description

Site Director for Camp Vermilion (Cook, MN) to manage safe property and efficient facilities. Job description

Director of Marketing and Communications (Duluth, MN) to spread the word about the wonderful opportunities in God’s great northwoods. Job description

 Resumes accepted until March 15th.

Please contact Gretchen@VLMcamps.org 218-780-4116

Summer and Seasonal positions also available. Please contact us now to start your new calling in God’s great northwoods!