This is post 3 of 4 in a series of posts about the staff members and volunteers of Champions Special Ministries, which “serves persons with disabilities, their families, and the church through creative, engaging programs and day camps, and helps churches establish relevant ministries to those with Special Needs.” You can read the story of Champions’ founder, Alison Gromer, here, or camp staffer, Caroline Coleman, here.
Nich Bergstrom first met Alison Gromer, founder of Champions Special Ministries, at Camp Barnabas in the summer of 2012. Nich had served with Camp Barnabas the year before where he experienced the birth of a new and unexpected passion for working with special needs individuals.
As a camp counselor, Nich would walk his cabin of 8-12 campers along with their high school one-on-one buddies down the path to worship every morning. Alison, a friend of Nich’s boss, was always sitting at the worship site, and the two fell into the habit of waving hello every time they saw each other.
“We didn’t really know why, and we never had a long conversation. It just became our routine,” he said.
After summer ended, Nich returned to his home in Dallas, Texas, where he began attending seminary and refocused his passion on youth ministry. Nearly a year passed, and then he ran into Alison at his church. He laughed as he remembered the moment.
“We were almost speechless. ‘Wait a minute, I know you. But you’re not supposed to be here.’”
They spent the next twenty minutes sitting in the church lobby as Alison shared her vision for Champions, the new ministry she had just launched that would be hosting summer day camps for individuals with special needs. Alison asked Nich if he would like to be involved, but he declined, unable to imagine how he could manage it with his already busy summer schedule.
Eventually, Alison asked again whether he would be able to come just for their camp in Ft. Worth, and Nich managed to rearrange his schedule to go for just a couple days. But those two days were enough to change his life.
“I remember driving back home thinking, ‘Holy smokes, I forgot how passionate I am about individuals with special needs,’” he said. “That started a whole fire of passion that changed the direction of where I felt led in ministry.”
Not long after that, Alison called Nich to say she had been dreaming about the next year and really wanted him on her team.
She asked somewhat hesitantly, knowing everything Nich already had going on, but he replied enthusiastically. “That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling!”
Though working everything out with his schedule took a few more months, Nich began doing administrative work for Champions almost right away. Then the following summer, he acted as assistant to Alison and head over all of the male staff members.
Most of the time, he worked in the office during the summer, sending emails and setting up details for the next week of camp. But he still remembers one particularly touching moment with a camper.
The young boy used a walker to help him get around, but on the last day of camp, his mom stopped her car and went to help him out. For a few moments, they were out of sight from the Champions staff members. Then the boy came around the car walking by himself with no assistance.
“It was so, so amazing, to see what a week of love and encouragement and empowering could do to a young boy’s soul, that he would want to walk all by himself,” Nich said.
After the summer ended, Nich was seriously considering accepting a full-time position at Champions, but one thing held him back. That summer the Champions team had taken a trip to Haiti, and while they were there, they visited a ministry called Respire Haiti.
“I really felt the Lord pulling some heartstrings,” he said. “[After I got back], the Lord just kept giving me visions and dreams and words about Haiti…so much so that I was trying to pray them away. ‘Lord, this is kind of annoying. I’m not going to Haiti. I can’t go to Haiti.’ But He won that battle.”
Despite knowing God was calling him to Haiti, Nich remembers how hard it was to tell Alison. “I hung up the phone, and I just wept. I was like, ‘What did I just do? I just turned down my dream job to go do this crazy thing in Haiti.’”
Today, however, Nich has just finished his first three-month period in Haiti and plans to return there this summer. In Respire’s school that serves more than 500 children, Nich works daily in special needs classroom that teaches eight children. He sees this as the next step in the progression of his passion to work with marginalized people.
At Camp Barnabas, he took part in the daily activities of helping individuals bathe, brush their teeth, get dressed, etc. and his eyes and heart were opened to the beauty of working with special needs individuals.
At Champions, he had the opportunity to help bring summer camp to kids who had never had that opportunity before, and his heart was grabbed in a new way.
In Haiti, he has seen a mother come to the medical clinic with her desperately ill newborn with Down Syndrome and say, “The doctor wouldn’t operate. He says my baby is no good.”
“All of that is just adding wood to the fire in my heart….It’s just one of those things that the Lord says, ‘If you really care about it, you can’t turn around and pretend you didn’t see it,’” he said. “Now that I’ve seen all this, I’m in it. I love playing a small part in these kids’ lives.”