In 2005, Volunteers for Christ, through its missionary - Lecio Wanderley, purchased 33 acres in the foothills outside of Recife as the future site of our Christian camping facility. This ranch had been a beautiful vacation retreat, but, over the years, it had fallen into total disrepair and been “reclaimed” by the jungle. After many years of cleaning, planning, and fundraising, VFC hosted its first camp season in 2012 (previously, we had been renting a Baptist camp facility).
While construction and improvements are ongoing, we now have enough boys/girls cabins with on-suite bathrooms to sleep over 100 campers, an administrator’s house, dining hall with a large kitchen, water tower, meeting rooms, covered conference/meeting areas, counselor lodging, nurse’s station, snack bar, amphitheater, outdoor chapel, outdoor shower/bathroom facilities, large swimming pool, children’s pool, zipline, rock climbing wall, full size soccer field, sand volleyball, basketball court, frisbee golf course, archery, paintball, BBQ area, prayer retreat, maintenance/storage building, obstacle course through the jungle, and even a fishing pond! There are also plans to add another kitchen and dining area, more boys/girls cabins, perimeter security fencing, 10 two bedroom chalets for conferences/retreats, improved gate entrance with electronically controlled access, and a larger crafts/games/recreation center.
Our philosophy of camping has been heavily influenced by Young Life and Kanakuk. We believe that one of the most effective tools for reaching the young people of northeastern Brazil for Jesus Christ is a week at camp. Camping season in Brazil is during the months of January and July when the schools are not in session. About half of the children/teenagers who attend camp do not have a relationship with Jesus. During their week at camp, the kids have a great time playing sports, swimming, ziplining, and fellowship with attendees, as well as our volunteer counselors. They attend daily praise and worship services, Bible studies, and are engaged in small group biblical discussions led by our trained staff. Many young people put their trust in Jesus Christ during this week of camp and we try to foster their ongoing spiritual growth with monthly “reunion” meetings, as well as encouraging them to find a church “home” if they do not already have one.
As you can see, running a camp property of this size is an expensive undertaking, so most of our campers must be able to afford to pay for the experience, but we offer discounts and some scholarships to make it as accessible as possible. One of our biggest joys is the week in July when camp is reserved just for the poor, inner-city children we serve through Kid’s Place and the young people associated with our Community Bible Church plant in Abreu do Una. They could never afford to attend camp, so our summer mission trip team raises all the funds, enabling us to invite between 100-150 children from some of the poorest areas of northeastern Brazil to camp. Our camp team then travels to Rancho Pitanga for a week to help staff and put on a first class camping experience for all the kids. Most of them have never even left their homes, so you can only imagine what an impact a week like this has on their lives. We provide all the transportation, food, and lodging for the week and from the time they arrive until the week ends, we get to share God’s love for them through sports, games, praise and worship, skits/dramas, Bible study, and prayer. Truly an amazing week!
During the 10 months out of the year when the facility is not being used for Christian camping, VFC leases it out for church retreats, Christian conferences, corporate retreats, seminars, business meetings, weddings, training and leadership functions, and other similar type activities in order to generate enough income to not only cover our operational costs, including utilities, maintenance, improvements, taxes, and payroll, but also help out VFC’s other ministries and missionaries. So far, God has generously blessed Rancho Pitanga and we are excited to see what the future holds.