Carmen Dieken explores God at Eagle Sky of the Ozarks

Her experiences at Eagle Sky amplified her passion for encouraging freedom and curiosity at all ages.

On paper, Carmen Dieken does not look like she would have a passion for children. As a sophomore studying geriatric social work at MU, Dieken said she has a heart for the elderly. But, she said that Eagle Sky Christian Camps showed her that children and the elderly have more in common than she thought.

In the spring of 2020, Dieken said she felt led by God to work at a camp during the coming summer. After reaching out to camps in the area, she learned about Eagle Sky through a family friend.

The Christian camp’s primary focus is bringing children closer to Christ with the help of activities and events throughout the week, including a ropes course and kayaking. Dieken was invited to interview for a position at the camp, and said she immediately felt God’s presence.

“As soon as the interview started I teared up because it just felt like I needed to be there,” Dieken said.

Dieken interviewed for Kanakuk, another Christian summer camp, but didn't feel called to be there. She said that Eagle Sky felt right, and that was all it took for her to commit to spending her summer there.

Dieken was hired as a ropes lead on the Adventure Staff, meaning that her job was to run the ropes course in addition to working as a counselor and general staff member. Dieken said the different tasks they had included preparing the ropes course, disinfecting surfaces, greasing watermelons and ministering to the children throughout the day.

Staff were required to quarantine for a month before the kids arrived due to COVID-19. Dieken said her experience during quarantine was transformative, as she had been struggling with her faith for years. She said the time alone with God during that time allowed her to confront her mother’s illness and the issues she had in the church back home.

Once camp started, Dieken said the children began touching her life in ways she didn’t know she needed. She was not confident in her ability to share God’s Word due to her lack of experience in ministry.

“I didn’t want people to ask me tough questions because I was in a place with my faith where it wasn’t great,” Dieken said.

Dieken recalled one experience at the camp where three girls came up to her, asking questions about God and their sexuality. She was forced to confront her worst fear in having a tough conversation about Christianity. Dieken said they helped her improve her ministry skills and opened her heart to sharing Christ with other kids.

“As much as we change their lives, they change ours,” Dieken said.

Over time, Dieken said the kids began teaching her about her own faith and opening her eyes to the struggles of a younger generation. Dieken said our American, fast-paced culture forces kids to grow up quickly and that takes away many of their freedoms, which drastically changes their childhood.

“It’s crazy to see the world they’re living in versus the world we grew up in,” Dieken said.

Even Robin Hochgrebe, Dieken’s mom, said she noticed a change in Dieken after her time at the camp.

“Prior to that experience she seemed to be on the fringe, not really engaged in the Christian walk,” Hochgrebe said. “She was always involved in youth activities for as long as I can remember, but being thrust into a leadership role at Eagle Sky seemed to leave a lasting impression on her.”

As camp came to a close and the time to re-enter the outside world was approaching, Dieken said she was forced to confront her own struggles once again, including her mom’s illness. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was a junior in high school, and doctors informed her this past December that her cancer had returned and was terminal .

“I feel like the biggest part of my story is my mom,” Dieken said.

Dieken’s parents divorced when she was three, and Dieken said that growing up with a single mother created resentment between them. Her mom went back to school to study social work at MU after the divorce and was often too busy to care for Dieken’s emotional needs.

“At the time, I resented her because she never paid attention to me. She didn’t seem to care—she was always stressed and she’d take it out on me, and it hurt,” Dieken said.

During the COVID-19 quarantine last summer,, however, Dieken said that she and her mother made use of their time together, locked in their home for months on end, to grow closer and work through the emotional separation that had developed over the years.

“This time of growing closer over quarantine, I believe, was really just her coming to the realization that her mother is also a lifelong friend and a relationship to be cherished,” Hochgrebe said.

Dieken said that her mom’s influence on her life and her experiences at Eagle Sky have only amplified her heart for the elderly. She now has a passion for encouraging freedom and curiosity at all ages.

“Don’t look at how old you are. This is an opportunity—you can still learn; you can still do all these things,” Dieken said.

Dieken consistently attends services at The Salt Company in Columbia and said she is working on growing her relationship with God every day. She even does a Bible study with her friends to hold herself accountable.

“My commitment to church has become something I want to do as opposed to something I have to do, and I am enjoying the company, but more so learning more about God,” Dieken said.

Edited by Sophie Chappell | schappell@themaneater.com

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