COLLINS - Steve Pausch sees himself as God's ambulance driver.
Youth For Christ exists, he said, just to keep young people "spiritually alive" long enough to get to the hospital in this case, church.
Following that logic, "In the Whisper" is not just a piece of property, it's an ambulance. Pausch has teamed up with Dick Bilton to build a camp where Youth for Christ and other church groups can go to get away from the noise of modern life and get closer to God.
Pausch and Bilton, both of Collins, first met on a mission trip to Mississippi last year. Bilton became interested in what Pausch does, and Bilton asked what he could do to help.
"I've wanted to do a cabin for about 15 years," Pausch said. So Bilton suggested they build a small cabin behind Bilton's barn.
Three days later, Pausch got a call. "Let's take a ride," Bilton said.
Bilton took Pausch on a tour of the 110-acre forest that would soon become "In the Whisper."
Bilton said he'd reforested the land 15 years ago, but he never really knew why after all, you can't farm the same land where you plant trees.
After they hatched their plan, Pausch brought out his friend, Mark Haynes, a contractor, to get his opinion what he really wanted to ask about was the possibility of digging a lake. Within five minutes, and before he could work up to his request, however, Haynes said, "You need a lake."
And just like that, Haynes brought out his men and equipment and before Pausch and Bilton knew what had happened, they had a 5-acre lake stocked with more than 3,000 fish.
Since then, someone gave them a slide-in truck-camper for a kitchen and they secured a couple trailers. Bilton is now in the midst of transforming them into Pausch's "living room in the woods."
Pausch wants to be able to take tough, world-weary young people somewhere for just 24 hours where there aren't any TVs or video games somewhere where they can sit around the table and talk. It's so hard to make the right decisions with all the stuff crammed down kids' throats these days, Pausch said. Bilton calls it "a place where I can sit and talk to you without shouting."
Plus, there's something special about the woods. Even kids around here have never been out in the woods at night. On other trips, Pausch said, he's seen six or eight tough gang-members from West Cleveland hugging each other because they're lost in the dark.
"It gets a different kind of dark out here," Pausch said. It breaks down the barriers these kids have built around themselves.
But the camp isn't just for talking. There'll be fun activities of course remember the lake and there'll always be plenty of work projects to improve the camp.
They do have big plans. "It's possibly beyond my comprehension how far it could go," Bilton said. A similar facility in Defiance hosts a couple thousand young people a year and they've only got 20 acres.
In addition to lakes and cabins, the duo is even considering a spot for a sports field though that's pretty far down the line.
Right now they're just worried about finishing their first cabin. So far it's been an operation on a shoestring well, maybe "bootlaces" now, Pausch said.
They're trying to raise $25,000 to $30,000 to finish the first cabin. The trailers were $2,000 a piece. The environmentally friendly, unplumbed toilet costs $4,000. The driveway will be $12,000.
But they're happy to share the bounty they do have. They are ready to offer the camp to other church groups or even to science classes.
With Youth for Christ, Pausch, its executive director, has been taking young people on trips similar to those he plans at "In the Whisper" for years. Mission trips and white-water rafting have been staples.
Julie Finley, a rising sophomore at Mallone College who lives in Collins, has been active in Youth for Christ with Pausch for years. Through the First Methodist Church in Collins, she participated in events such as MAD House, hang outs and Christian Rebels.
MAD House, which stands for Make a Difference, is an outreach program where the participants did crazy things to get other kids to come, Finley said. Contests to see who could spit a live cricket the furthest or who would eat a goldfish (not the cracker), were regular features. Crazy stuff like that would get even the popular kids to come, Finley said.
Hangouts were alternatives to partying on Friday nights after football games. "Tons of people" from the whole community would come to ... hang out, she said.
Finley said Youth for Christ also took her on all sorts of random activities and retreats even to Live Services, a Christian music festival.
"In the Whisper," Finley said, will be another opportunity to reach young people. Much like the activities she took part in during high school, it'll be a place for "just hanging out around the camp fire."
The name, "In the Whisper," comes from a passage in the old testament when Elijah, hunkered in a mountain cave, surrounded by thunder and storms, earthquakes and fire, found God in a whisper.