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Carol's Kids

By Cindy R. Chamberlin

Carol Barnhurst pulls a wisp of brown hair back from her forehead, asks the youth director about his ski wipeout, and tosses her van keys to a parent. Beside her are four coolers brimming with breads, granola bars and fruit. She could have stayed home this weekend; instead, she’s been up since 5:00 a.m. making pancakes for a crowd, has braved outdoor wind-chill factors diving well below zero, and slept on a camp bed. 


Carol, a teacher and pastor’s wife from Collinsville, Illinois, has led groups of young skiers to Michigan since 1990. But it’s not the powder or vertical slopes which draw her. She no longer even has children of her own in the event. And it’s not for the skiing. Carol says if it was just for the skiing, the event would have died long ago. “It’s about leading youth to Jesus,” she says of the ministry which features one-third raw fun, two-thirds relationships and 100 percent Jesus. “It’s a recipe for youth to see Jesus through the Word,” Carol continues. “It’s a safe place; it’s okay to have fun here.”

The annual Illinois Conference event began in a Sabbath school class in 1990. Then, Carol was a young mother leading a youth department. One day, a fellow leader complained there was so little snow in the area. Carol, having grown up in Michigan, agreed the youth in their church needed to see real snow. So the two minds soon contrived a plan to go to Michigan. Later, the event became a district invite. Today, it has progressed to a Conference-sponsored event:  the Youth Ski Retreat.

What sealed the commitment for Carol was when, nearly three years ago, a brother and sister came on the retreat. The two had been on the far edge of a congregation. But while on the retreat, the girl rededicated her life to Jesus Christ, so much so that she planned to go on a mission trip. Her brother became a Bible worker. Less than a month after the ski weekend, the girl hit black ice on an overpass, and she was killed.

“God used the event to anchor them to Him,” says Carol.

What was unsettling about that event was that Carol had wanted desperately to cancel the retreat that year. She had just moved, wasn’t unpacked, and felt very unsettled. Yet, Carol kept hearing God say, “No, you have to do this.”

Every year she asks God, “Are we done now?”

So far His answer continues to be, “No.”

Ski weekends begin on Friday with an intentional emphasis on bonding. For instance, “It’s very important for the entire group to learn and remember each others’ names,” says Carol. The entire weekend is bathed in prayer. Carol Driver, Illinois Conference Youth administrative assistant, provides promotion and support. Manny Ojeda, Illinois Conference Youth director, provides contemplative and fun worships. Youth lead out in rousing songfests. Parents drive and chaperone. There is plenty of healthy, good food. Each retreat features unique times. This year’s retreat featured outdoor skating and a scavenger hunt, collecting food for the needy.

“Youth need most for people in the Church to know they exist,” says Carol. And it seems, for now, Carol’s kids know just that, and much more.


Carol Barnhurst is married to Dale Barnhurst. They live in Collinsville, Illinois, where they pastor three area churches. The Barnhursts have two adult sons.

Carol is a graduate of Andrews University and Southwestern Adventist University.

Besides being active with her husband, in the church district, Carol is involved with Pathfinder and youth ministries, and she is a substitute teacher in the public school. Carol enjoys snow activities, swimming, cooking and gardening.

In the second photo above, Carol is pictured with some of her "kids."

Cindy R. Chamberlin, author, is the communication director of the Illinois Conference.