Camp Gave and Camp Received: A Powerful Legacy of Patti Cannon
By Aaron E. Ziebarth, Executive Director
Five weeks before Patti Cannon was to speak for Energizer 3, her doctors found fluid on her lungs. Having battled cancer for more than a decade, Miss Patti’s doctors told her, “You need chemo.”
Miss Patti did the math in her head and realized chemotherapy would conflict with her week of speaking at Joy El with her friend Jackie Pegram. She informed the doctors she would not be starting chemo.
“There is just no way that I would give up what I love,” Miss Patti explained. “One of the things since I’ve had cancer: I’m able to make decisions so quickly on what’s important and what’s not.”
In fact, upon learning she had cancer years ago, Miss Patti created her own rendition of the now-popular “bucket list.” She went on a cruise, visited some people, headed to New York. She enjoyed it, but it did not satisfy.
“Now, what do I really enjoy?” Miss Patti asked herself. “Camp comes to the top of the list.” She and ministry co-laborer Miss Jackie decided seven years ago that they would only do children’s ministry as they aged. They loved it, and they knew how valuable it was.
So, even with great health limitations due to her cancer, Miss Patti and Miss Jackie returned to Joy El this past summer and once again reached campers’ hearts with God’s Word.
“I remember my campers talking about her Flash the Sheep stories and even making connections to them throughout our Bible studies!” senior counselor Rachel Shively said. “Her stories helped my campers make connections to understanding the Gospel throughout the week, and I know it also helped them remember the Gospel better to take the stories and share them at home!”
Miss Patti not only reaches the campers with God’s Word, but God has also used her in the lives of Joy El summer staff members year after year.
“She said to me once, that when you’re truly hungry for God’s Word, it will show, and in turn others will see it too and will want to have what you have as well,” community day camp coordinator Jehomi Vargas recounted. “That’s the short version. That was almost five years ago, and that has stuck with me since then and helped me in my search for God, because I want others to see God in me.”
Miss Patti grew up around mostly non-Christians. She saved her own babysitting money to pay her way to Bible camp every summer. Camp was where Miss Patti first learned to read the Bible, pray, sing Christian songs, spend time alone with God, and more. She calls it the highlight of her life. “Camp is where my heart is,” Miss Patti declares.
Miss Patti was camp speaker for the first time many years ago in Iowa. She has taught countless children since then, as well as equipping missionaries and others in teaching children God’s Word. We have been privileged to have her teaming up with Miss Jackie to speak at Joy El Camps & Retreats for approximately 6 years.
Miss Patti and Miss Jackie have made it clear they enjoy serving at Joy El.
“One of the things I love here is just listening to the kids go by,” Miss Patti says with a smile. “No place but here do we have this joy… It’s just sheer joy all week. It’s like our vacation in teaching. Your staff we love so much. Your whole program, the way you train them. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Knowing her health limitations, Miss Patti alarmed at least one of our summer staff members. “This past summer Miss Patti frankly scared me every time she got up on stage,” activities coordinator Abigail Lackey confessed. “But she showed me confidence in God and perseverance to spread His Gospel to the lost. Miss Patti has taught something that seems to be missing in children’s ministry today: theology unveiled. I am so thankful for her dedication to teaching children about the nature and trustworthiness of God, the metanarrative of God’s plan as seen in His Word, and the eternal love of the Good Shepherd.”
This is Miss Patti’s life purpose. Within her own family and to children around the globe, she has shared the eternal love of our Good Shepherd. We are exceedingly grateful for her significant role in this ministry.
I chatted with Miss Patti last summer about these things. She conveyed so clearly her desire to “go out in this life doing what we love and what is valuable.” As she says, “I’m so determined to work double-time doing what I love… With every breath I will praise Him … and I will share the Gospel ‘til my last breath. That’s what brings me joy.”
Hospice care began for Miss Patti last week. As her friend Miss Jackie described her last night, “She is weak of body but strong in the Lord.” As we all expect of Miss Patti, she continues to bless those around her, enjoy life, and rejoice in the Lord, even as her flesh fails. Please pray for her as she continues to battle pain and cancer and looks forward to the day she will be fully healed in Christ.
To hear more about Miss Patti’s ministry, listen to our chat here: INTERVIEW AUDIO
Read more quotes from staff members about Miss Patti’s ministry at Joy El through the years:
“My campers loved and clung to any of the motions and words she would share to help to learn the stories in the Bible as well as what all the Bible tells us. I loved these as well and still find myself saying them in my head when trying to find things in the Bible.” –Julie Sipes
“I agree with Julie. My campers would always go back to the motions and sayings she taught us. I as well would use them to teach my campers how to find something in the Bible or a truth from the Bible during the weeks that she wasn’t even there. She definitely is a legacy.” –Jackie Swope
“She does a good job of communicating the Gospel and has a godly, gentle, loving demeanor.” –Sam Hahn
“Miss Patti has a deep love for teaching the Bible and knowing it well. It inspires me to love teaching the Word in ways that are understandable to my audience.” –Courtney Martin
“Miss Patti’s love for others and love for God is so evident in all that she does. Her excitement and passion for teaching God’s Word in a tangible way for children sparked an excitement and hunger for the Word of God in my campers’ lives. She has been influential in my own life in many ways too. She has been an example in my own life of what it looks like to truly be in love with the Gospel and give my life for the sake of making the Good News of Jesus Christ known.” –Haley O’Meara
“I was there preparing for chapel and Mrs. Patti was there. As we were getting ready she was telling me about how blessed she was to be there working with the children. Needless to say, as all of the children poured in there was a child that ran up to Mrs. Patti and hugged her and said that she was so grateful for how Mrs. Patti shared Jesus’ love. It was so beautiful as that child was longing for love and saw the Lord working in Mrs. Patti as she shared the Gospel with them and other little tricks. Mrs. Patti teared up as she was so glad that this child verbally recognized the Lord in her.” –Cheryl Martin
“She makes a big intimidating book (the Bible) simple for the campers.” –Kaleb Jentzsch
“Miss Patti is very special to me. Every year at camp she goes over and above to make sure the campers and staff know what it means to love God and His Word. She does this by giving various examples and illustrations that are enjoyable. All of her messages have left memories that campers and I can use in my everyday life!” –Jazmine Howard
“Miss Patti makes the Bible come alive to the kids, making it easy to understand and interesting to learn. She captivates them by telling stories and then drawing parallels to the Bible, getting so many kids excited about the Bible.” –Forest Horn
“Miss Patti has had a lasting impact on my life as a friend and mentor. When I first met her I was drawn to her love for the Lord and passion to equip young minds with the truths of the Bible. Today, I serve as a children’s ministry intern at a church in West Chester, and I teach the kids many things I learned from Miss Patti. She has supported me over the years and has played a big part in helping me develop my passion of teaching children. I am so thankful for her investment in my life.” –Christa Mast