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A Lesson in Servant Leadership in the life of Sara Petker
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by Haydn Jensen

Perhaps you know that certain strange mixture of profound sadness and thankfulness. You are faced with that odd blend when a dedicated, caring and talented person, who has had meaningful impact on your life and lives around you, passes from this world to her eternal home. Family and loved ones from the Forest Cliff Camp community know it well with the passing of Sara Petker on August 23. As mom to Will (24), Andrew (22), and Katie (18), and Executive Director of the Camp, Sara's impact on the young lives of countless children leaves a rich legacy for camp families and her own children. Please pray for her children.

At the Celebration of Her Life, held August 27 at Community Bible Church near Lucan, the hundreds of people who came to honour Sara gives testimony to her influence in others' lives. Forest Cliff Camp Board Member Chris Cahill offers a clear picture into Sara's personal spiritual impact into the lives of young people: During her 12 years as Executive Director of camp, Sara would often serve as "Sky Pilot" during camp—sharing daily Sky Pilot messages, cabin devotionals, campfire talks and personal conversation with campers. With a knack for talking with kids on their level, she was passionate about wanting them to know how much God loved them. Many, many kids made decisions to follow Jesus because of Sara's loving and deeply compassionate witness. Past interim camp director and Pastor Tim Grigg agrees, noting Sara's consistent approach of treating every person as an individual, getting to know them by name. She expected all her staff to get to know kids that way and to learn something about their story outside of camp.

Chris Cahill also recalls one child two summers ago who, through some poor choices and misbehaviour, found himself before Camp Director Sara for discipline. Clear consequences, boundaries and expectations were established and the situation was addressed. When the child returned to camp last summer and learned that Sara was not there (due to illness), he was very disappointed. Such was Sara's impact on children.

With such personal spiritual impact on individual campers, it's no surprise really that during Sara's 12 years at Forest Cliff Camp enrolment grew tremendously, doubling from 800 to 1600. With the growth came the need for building upgrades, most notably the ambitious move from dining hall to a $1.25M landmark dining complex. Sara's characteristic passion and clear-minded vision proved invaluable for this project. Such an undertaking required much determination and positive communication to raise capital funds while anticipating and overcoming many obstacles. Past Forest Cliff Board Member Paul Gowan applauds Sara for her ability to invest in the lives of young leaders and then “let them go”. Heritage Bible College student Ben Brown agrees with this, remembering Sara when he started at 16 as a camp leader: “She gave us opportunities to lead, to witness and develop as leaders and as young Christians....She knew her stuff and would share on how to do our jobs better....I remember talking about school and how she affirmed in me a gift with working with kids and working in music and it was always nice how she would write each staff member a thank you card at the end of the summer."

Tim Grigg also spoke of Sara's brave willingness to let young men and women test themselves. Tim says, "Sara had an enormous capacity to expect leaders to do things beyond what they could see themselves doing." She was willing to take the risk—let kids try, sometimes fail, but regroup with them to review what happened. She could be blunt, but always in the clear context of love, respect and encouragement.

A recognized leader among leaders in the Christian Camping International (CCI) and Ontario Camps Associations (OCA), Sara developed a wealth of experience during her 32 years in camping. She served on the board of directors for Forest Cliff Camp from 1998 to 2000 and was a regular presenter at the annual conferences for CCI and the OCA. Sara was awarded the 2010 President's Award by CCI/Canada for her leadership in Christian camping. Tim Grigg notes how Sara was not afraid of excellence, using the best resources she could find to help Forest Cliff Camp excel in ministry. Through her involvement with the OCA and CCI, Sara would freely borrow best practices she observed in other camps if they would benefit Forest Cliff Camp.

As Chris Cahill wrote on the Forest Cliff Camp web site, "A beloved and respected leader in the camping community worldwide, with a strong and sparkling legacy, Sara is deeply missed." Whether or not you knew Sara or directly benefited from her ministry efforts, we can all take note of how Sara Petker modelled loving compassion, the pursuit of excellence, and bold investment in young leaders. We can ask God to shape and use us in imitating these same faithful qualities wherever we have opportunity.