Loren Nelson III, currently vice president of administration for the Dakota Conference, is also director of senior youth and young adults as well as camp director for Flag Mountain Camp, located in South Dakota, and Northern Lights Camp, which sits along the Canadian border on Lake Metigoshe. His office days are full as he negotiates for the allowance of weeks in the field for camp season.
In the Dakotas, Nelson has made the camping program intentionally evangelistic. During the last few years over 30 campers per year have requested baptism. The Nelsons are also heavily involved in camporees, Pathfinders and campus ministries support. They have sponsored mission trips to Saint Lucia, Belize and Barbados.
Nelson is a PK (preacher’s kid) but had other aspirations until at the age of 14, in 1984, he accompanied his father to Mexico City to attend the Festival of the Laity. He witnessed young men who were not yet pastors actively ministering, giving Bible studies and bringing people to Christ. “One young man–I still remember his name, Julio Labero Lopez–had studied with over 200 people who were baptized in one year. After that experience I went back home with a new respect for what the church stood for.”
While attending day academy, Nelson started his own evening Bible study and fellowship groups. “Until my parents kicked us out,” he says grinning. “We stayed up too late.” He continued the practice in college at Southern Adventist University under the direction of Pastor Virgil Covel, helping in youth and young adult small groups. At Andrews University Seminary he was part of the Beth (house) Havor (fellowship). However, before he finished his Master of Divinity he was called to the Wisconsin Conference to be the associate pastor for youth and young adults for the Green Bay Church. He also worked with Sheboygan and Fish Creek churches.
Nelson met his wife-to-be, Suzanne Rempher, at Andrews. “I was not sitting in the cafeteria staring across the tables looking for a wife,” he quips. “My friend invited me to his house to play games. I didn’t even want to go. She sat across from me and beat me in a game. She was good. I tried to ask her out but she was already dating someone else. I knew I had to leave in just a few months to be a pastor at Green Bay so I threw a cassette tape in her car with the song Should Have Asked Her Faster on it. I just kept after her,” Nelson confesses.
He bought the biggest box of chocolates he could find and drove to the school where she was teaching. When he asked to see her he was told that she had transferred to a different school. “Looking at my watch I knew seminary started in two hours. The new school was an extra 30 minute drive each way. I figured I could make it. When I got there and asked for her, I was told she was teaching and could not be interrupted. I handed the box over with a note, ‘Tell her this is from Loren Nelson.’”
After he moved to Green Bay his buddy, Jim, came for his monthly visit and eventually started bringing Sue with him. There was a group of young people who hung out together. “My sister told me to marry her. The senior pastor told me to go and visit that lovely lady,” Nelson admits.
Nelson took a break from pastoring to finish his studies at the seminary and marry Sue. Then they returned to Green Bay as a team. They opened their home every Friday night for Bible study and fellowship. “From supper to midnight our home was open,” Nelson says. “Young people came and went.”
The Nelsons also served in Appleton, Wisconsin, where they trained young adults to be leaders in their own churches. They were heavily involved in camporees there, too. While serving in Indiana, they encouraged young adult involvement in church as junior deacons and deaconesses, junior elders and in taking responsibility for the church bulletin. A young person was put on the board as a representative. “Board meetings went from three hours to an hour and a half,” Nelson says.
“We grew into our ministry,” explains Nelson. “We have done campus ministries in Ohio and Wisconsin. I pastored at summer camp or blind camp every year. Sue was the girls’ camp director in New York.”
Under the direction of the Nelsons, the camping program has grown in the Dakotas. When they arrived camp consisted of four volunteers and four paid staff with between 50 and 60 kids. Now there are 20 paid staff and over 150 kids, and each year attendance is growing. “We have also added Family Camp at both locations,” says Nelson.
The camp brochure states, “We would like all who come to our camps to experience a richer relationship with God. It is our desire that through the activities, stories, classes and fun, a friendship with Jesus is discovered and nurtured.”