2023 marks the 20th year of operations for the Winkler-based non-profit, Children's Camps International (CCI).

The non-denominational organization supports indigenous churches to realize healthy and sustainable growth through a global children’s camping ministry.

Ray Wieler, the organization's founder and former president, says southern Manitobans have stood behind them since the beginning.

"It's almost surprising to see how quickly 20 years has passed. You realize you're 20 years older. But reflecting back, it's been just an incredible journey, so much has happened. We have very generous supporters here in southern Manitoba, especially in the Winkler community."

Anthony Samy, CCI's national director for India, came to Winkler in 2002 looking for a job.  

After working as a counselor at Winkler Bible Camp, Samy wanted to take that camping model back to his home country.

"This community is very much supportive of what we are doing. So now we work with more than 4000 churches back in India. I also have local leaders back in India. I monitor and make sure these children are followed up because it is very easy to run the campaign ministry. But for the follow up program you need to have committed staff members who can do the follow up. I make sure the follow up is going perfectly. Building relationships - that's what children's ministry is all about."

Samy points out that four million children have been impacted by the ministry since 2003.

Along with celebration dinners and meeting people individually, CCI raises funds in various other ways.

"We've built about 66 homes, often with volunteers, [with] some donations and discounts on material," explains Wieler. "That's generated a lot of money when we sell it just on the retail market. People in this community have heard of the Harvest for Kids, these world record harvests. But they're also going on in in several other provinces - one in Alberta is coming up in about two weeks; a number of them were done in Saskatchewan just around the Saskatoon area, there's about 5 or 6 harvests that happened there this year; another one here in Manitoba just close to Lowe Farm area just about 2-3 weeks ago. We're also selling hail insurance and grain bags and different things. All the profits from those go straight to the ministry."

Wieler has been very involved over the past 20 years but has recently scaled back.  

"Right now, I've handed over all day-to-day operations. Dave Thiessen, who is from Saskatoon area, is overseeing that. We have several staff here in southern Manitoba and they're continuing to go out there and raise awareness and support for the ministry of Children's Camps International." 

The ministry began in India and is seeing its influence spread quickly across Southeast Asia and South America.

The organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary tonight (September 17th) with a fundraising dinner at Winkler Mennonite Brethren Church.

With files from Ronny Guenther and Nicole Klassen

In response to Canada's Online News Act and Meta (Facebook and Instagram) removing access to local news from their platforms, PembinaValleyOnline encourages you to get your news directly from your trusted source by bookmarking this page and downloading the PembinaValleyOnline app.