Making a difference through ELCA outdoor ministry
Eric Mennel believes God works in unexpected ways.
His video "Unconventional," about a foster child's life-changing experience at Luther Springs Camp and Retreat Center in Hawthorne, Fla., won first prize in the individual category for the ELCA "God's work. Our hands." video contest.
Eric, now a senior at Florida State University, was working as a counselor at Luther Springs when he captured the story.
Viewers and contest judges alike were inspired by the boy who craved to be "part of something bigger." Helping the camp maintenance man with chores satisfied his craving to belong in a way that traditional camp activities did not.
For Eric, that's what outdoor ministry is all about.
"It's an opportunity for people to find that God is already inside of them, begging to be let out -- even if it takes a more unconventional approach. After all, what about God was ever conventional?"
After winning the video contest, Eric went on to a prestigious internship in New York City at "The Daily Show," a nightly cable program.
His Luther Springs colleagues urged him to use the prize money to offset his living expenses, and he's deeply grateful for their support.
"These are people who pour their hearts into making a difference in the lives of all the children who walk through the woods (at Luther Springs), even the counselors. I don't think I'd be where I am if it weren't for them."
The money won from the ELCA video contest provided some cushion during a frugal stay in New York City that included sleeping on an air mattress. The sacrifices were well worth it.
"I saw how the industry works," he says. Because of his first-hand view, his goal is to land a job in the television industry once he graduates this spring.
But no matter where life takes him, Eric knows that his experiences at Luther Springs -- as a camper and as a counselor -- will always stay with him.
Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Florida can probably be credited with most of the good decisions I make on a daily basis," Eric says. "I was a camper at Luther Springs starting at the age of 13 and have been involved every year up until this year.
"I'll always carry a compassion (that encourages me) to feel with others. I know that through my toughest hour it was the compassion of others that allowed me to grow, not just the mere act of being."