Darilyn Bixenman just wanted to reconnect with her teenage kids when she told her family they were all going to stay at Annunciation Heights near Estes Park for a family camp weekend.
The mom faced the usual adolescent pushback from her kids who expected a “cheesy” family camp experience, but the weekend became transformative for the family of five, she said.
“My husband and I felt like we hadn’t seen our teens all summer, so I just said, ‘we’re going,’” Bixenman said.
Annunciation Heights is an adventure camp for both families and youth located outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. It is one of the 40 ministries supported by the Archdiocese of Denver and the annual Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal.
The camp offers numerous outdoor activities where youth groups and families can reconnect with God, nature and each other.
“Camp allows families to step away from the busy-ness of life,” said Luke Hlavin, Assistant Camp Director, Annunciation Heights Youth and Family Camp. “With the sacraments and prayer as foundations to our outdoor camp experience, individuals and families can walk away refilled by the abundance of God’s love visible all around them.”
Like her teenagers, even Bixenman had a moment of doubt when they arrived at Annunciation Heights. The camp leaders immediately had each family break out into groups to try a family reconciliation activity.
Her husband John was told to kick off the exercise and everyone in her family had uncertainty about how it would go. As each member took his or her turn, Bixenman noticed a change happening in her family and in the families around her.
“Shortly, people all over the camp were hugging each other and crying and you could feel a sense of unexpected healing going on,” she said. “It felt so good, it became a tool and skill that we brought back from camp with us and we continue to use as a family at home.”
The spiritual activities are only part of the family experience, there are many outdoor activities for families to build their own adventure with zip lining, ropes courses, hiking, boating, fishing and archery.
“Here at Annunciation Heights, families can learn and grow, and have a blast doing it,” Hlavin said.
Many of the staff are full-time missionaries who have dedicated a year or more to life at Annunciation Heights. Missionaries, like Becca, who heard God’s call, feels like she gets as much or more from camp as the families.
Meet the Missionaries
Missionary Becca Haven was only in middle school when she felt God’s first call, but she wasn’t sure what direction her faith would take her.
Toward the end of her college education she began looking for work. Her spiritual director suggested she follow a religious-based path, but she continually said “no thank you, I want a real job.”
But then a job posting for Annunciation Heights surfaced and when she showed it to a friend, her friend questioned whether it was a real because it suited Haven so well. Other signs came along the way, even while she was laid up with knee surgery. She applied, not sure what would happen, and was accepted.
Now she works at the foot of Rocky Mountain National Park and she’s able to witness young people’s faith formation in a way she never imagined.
“When I watch families and their desire to grow in their Catholic faith it gives me hope in the future of families and the future of the Catholic church,” Haven said.
Missionary Eric Frederick called himself a staunch atheist when he first felt the distinct call of God in his life.
“My life was morally based on how I felt at any moment,” Frederick said.
He was drawn to the blending of reason and faith of the Catholic church and what he calls the “objective truth” of the religion and its teachings.
Frederick had a background in outdoor guiding when he came upon the web site for Annunciation Heights. There are always ways to serve at the camp — sometimes even in the middle of the night, he said. But he enjoys the living Catholic community where he belongs.
His faith has blossomed at Annunciation Heights and he felt compelled to sign on for a second year before completing his first.