Jensen Woods quite literally saved my life. I found myself to be depressed as a young child without knowing that I was depressed. I started drinking at age 12. Somehow, I was able to keep it hidden from everyone. From 12-15 I tried to commit suicide 3 times. Jensen Woods and the staff were the only thing I looked forward to every year. Through the camp and the staff I found my religion. I grew up in the church, but never really got it. This camp means so much to me and my family.
There are two places from my high school and college years that have made an indelible mark both in my heart and also on who I am today. And the thread that ties both of these places together was that I was introduced to them through the youth camping experience. As a camper, it was the boundary waters of Canada where the mix of nature and fellowship inspired me. Some 30 years later I am still in correspondence with a great many fellow campers and counselors who shared in that magical experience. As a counselor, it was Jensen Woods that was my home and heart for two summers.
Jensen Woods for me was nothing less than paradise on Earth. Dusty during the dry times and a muddy mess in the wet ones, it mattered not in the least. You can hardly imagine the joy of an 11 year old who is being actively encouraged to go sliding down a muddy lane or the delight of a kid jumping off a cliff (Ok… it was like 4 feet!) into the creek below. We slept in treehouses and hogans and even on tarps as we watched the brilliant stars in the sky, unfettered by man-made lights. We spoke of constellations and the distance of the universe. We cooked our food over campfires (and smelled like one half the time!) and sang songs long into the night. We learned about the different plants and the animals who shared our woods. We swam in the pond and went creekin’ on the hot days. Campers were introduced to horses and the work that goes into horse care. Some of these kids had hardly even seen a horse up close before these camps. The appreciation for nature and their time at Jensen Woods is one that I’m positive still endures in their lives today.
For me, it’s still my happy place. I had both solitude to think and fellowship to laugh. I grew up a lot those two years… not that anyone could directly tell at the time! I’ve stopped by to visit during the off-times of the year when my work took me in the vicinity. I’ve sat by the pond and paid my respect to the treehouses. I’ve wandered the long lane back to the creek and remembered structures that had long since passed. The memories always make me smile. I was even able to take my family out there for a weekend a few years back, something my kids have frequently referenced over the years. I doubt there’s been in day in the last 26 years since I spent my last summer there that I wouldn’t consider most seriously any invitation to return for a day, a week, or for a lifetime.
I can only hope that other souls get the same opportunity in the future to come to love the spirit of Jensen Woods.
Franchise Owner / Manager
For most of my childhood, from the time I was 8 until I was 21, every summer was spent at Jensen woods. I was a camper, a wrangler in training, a counselor in training, a paid counselor, dean of staff, and finally in the summer of 2012, I had the immense privilege to serve as the Director of Jensen Woods. So to say that Jensen Woods, and the community of people who worked there, were a formative part of my childhood would be an understatement of grand proportions.
Simply stated, I would not be a Christian in any way, shape, or form without the camping ministry of Jensen Woods. In junior high and the early part of high school, I was addicted to drugs, would binge drink on a regular basis, had sex with multiple girls, would lie straight to your face, and steal right from under your nose. Yet, the people of Jensen Woods loved me regardless of who I was (or at least who I tried to present myself as). Jensen Woods was a safe place where the pressures of high school simply melted away. It was also the place where I first heard of Jesus and his love for me. It was the place where God became real to me. It was the place where God’s presence was so palpable that I could do nothing us but accept it, repent of my sin, and enjoy the warmth of God’s love for what it really is – a pure gift of grace!
The people of Jensen Woods taught me what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. They taught me how to love, how to be courageous, how to stand firm in my faith,how to be in true community with others, and how to be a good leader through service. Jensen Woods became a holy place for me, where I would frequently go to be encouraged in my faith, and to listen to God’s still small voice. It was the place where I first said a prayer I really meant.
It is not only my life that has been changed, there are many others who are now disciples of Jesus because of the way God has used Jensen Woods camping ministries. Just from the 3 year period that I was a counselor at Jensen Woods (2005-2007), our summer staff from those years now includes: an ordained Deacon in the IGRC, a PhD student at a UMC seminary who is also a candidate for ordination, a worship pastor at a large church in Peoria, a soon to be ordained Presbyterian pastor who also teaches Old Testament at a university, and myself, a certified candidate for ordination in the IGRC and a Youth Pastor at a vibrant church in downtown Chicago. And these are just the people who are doing full time vocational ministry!!! This doesn’t even include the countless others who are disciples of Jesus Christ and living out their faith in a vast multitude of ways and means.
Youth Pastor Colin Knapp
Hello, my name is Danielle and I attended Jensen woods for 4 years when I was younger. I’m currently 24 and I have drove past the Jensen woods sign on US-24 and always think about the memories I made. I loved singing around the fire, swimming in the lake, hikes, horseback riding, and of course, creeking! I made some great memories at Jensen woods and was sad to hear it closing. One of my most vivid memories was praying with a counselor about accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior. At the time, I had been going to church weekly, but never knew what it meant to accept Jesus into my heart. The counselor had us state our names and say out loud in prayer our acceptance of Jesus as our Savior. It was a life changing moment. I know I had two other girls by my side doing the same thing. And I am sure the camp had several children accepting Jesus throughout their years of service. I loved the camp and the years I was able to spend there. I pray more children can enjoy the camp and meet Jesus Christ during their stay.
The camping ministry of Jensen Woods has greatly shaped my life. For a majority of my childhood, from age 10 to 21, I looked forward to spending my summers at Jensen Woods. I had visited other, less rustic IGRC camps, but never felt the belonging or closeness to God and the beauty of his natural world that I felt there. I progressed from being a camper, to wrangler in training, to head wrangler and eventually assistant director in my time there. During those summers, God taught me so much of embracing his peace as he prepared me to be a sanctuary for his word. He taught me what family was meant to be, by teaching me the roles of the family of Christ and how he puts people in your life to support you and lead you in his way. In my college years, I had originally sought after a veterinary medicine degree, but God led me instead to pursue a degree in Elementary Education to continue to work with children. Jensen Woods has had a profound impact on the course of my life in these, and many other ways! I truly hope other youth will continue to get to experience all the blessings that Jensen Woods has to offer.
This Facebook post was written April 2019 by a former camper who is now going to send her daughter to camp all the way from Mississippi!! Thank you Brandi!!
“God works in amazing ways y’all! I have been looking for a summer camp for Layken that is Christian based…for weeks I have searched. I found some here in Mississippi that ranged from $1200-$2500 for only three to five days! Waaaaay too much for this mamma! A few days ago, I received a friend request from Gretchen Forsythe and accepted. That same day she sent me a message telling me that Jensen Woods back home in Illinois needed some Mississippi kiddos to come camp with them 😉. (Btw….She had no idea that I was actively searching for camps.)The real kicker is that this is the same Christian based camp that I went to when I was a kid. Anyway, I was able to sign her up for the exact camp I attended 30 years ago! How cool is that?! A Christian based horseback riding camp…For only $350 for 6 days! So if you are looking for a good camp for your babies, I highly recommend Jensen Woods! They have lots of different ones to choose from if horses aren’t your thing. 😄”