Camp Ministry During a Pandemic
Emma Pope, Early Childhood Education Major
It’s been a wild past four weeks to say the least, both literally and figuratively. I’ve had the privilege to spend the past month as a counselor at The Wilds Christian Camp in Brevard, North Carolina. Even though camp was forced to close early due to COVID-19, I would not trade my experience for anything. There is no guide on how to run camp in the midst of a pandemic, so everyone – from director, to counselor, to waitress, to camper – was forced to adapt this summer to all the curveballs thrown and, ultimately, depend on God throughout all of it.
So, let’s start at the very beginning – a very great place to start. Like many other college students, I was completely devastated by school getting canceled. However, I had a light at the end of the tunnel: camp! I was so excited for my first ever summer counseling at my favorite place on the planet – where so many significant spiritual decisions were made, where relationships were strengthened, and where I decided to make Jesus my personal Lord and Savior. As online classes were wrapping up and summer was drawing near, I anxiously watched every time the North Carolina governor spoke to see if he would make any announcements regarding the opening of camps. An announcement was made that the opening of camp would be postponed by two weeks. This news was hard to swallow. I viewed this as just a way to stall the inevitable, thinking we were never going to be able to go. I wondered to myself, “Why on earth would God not want camp? Camp is such a good thing! Why wouldn’t God want this ministry to open?” I began to grow angry toward God and closed myself off for a bit. Ultimately, I knew this was silly because moping around my room for weeks wasn’t going to make any sort of a difference. So, by God’s grace, I decided to change the only thing I could control: my attitude. I began running to Him in prayer every day. In the midst of uncertainty, one thing is always certain: we have a great God who hears our prayers and will only do what is ultimately best for us. Boy, was that a truth I needed to learn!
Fast forward a few weeks – it was finally time to leave for staff training week. My stomach was in knots, and I was absolutely, completely nerve-cited (nervously excited). I wouldn’t consider myself to have the typical, outgoing-camp-counselor personality, but I knew I was where God had called me for the summer. I made it through the first week. Whoever described staff training week as “drinking from a fire hose” could not be more accurate. I was feeling overwhelmed. It was clear that the campers that would be coming this summer were going to have great needs to which I simply didn’t have the solutions. There were so many little details about the schedule and about how to play the games. There was no way I could remember all of them. Again, I was pushed to God in prayer. He was and is the only One who could do all these things. I knew I needed His strength even though my independent nature doesn’t always want to admit that reality.
Keeping this in mind, I thought I was doing great. I was spending more time in prayer than ever before, feeling as if God truly had strengthened me. I found out that for the first two weeks, I would be on COR (counselor on rotation). Basically, I wasn’t going to be counseling for a while. It felt as if God was saying, “Not so fast.” To be honest, I was a little disappointed. One of the words frequently used this summer was “flexibility.” Absolutely everyone working at The Wilds this summer had to be flexible. I learned that I needed to be content wherever God had me. He is ultimately in control. I ended up working in Cool Beans coffee shop for those two weeks as well as doing all kinds of other odd jobs – spraying hands with hands sanitizer, pulling weeds, and picking up rocks out of the creek. (That last one is a lot funnier without context). For anyone who doesn’t know me, I am absolutely addicted to coffee and drink far too much. This short-term barista gig was quite exciting! God taught me the importance of being willing to serve Him behind the scenes. Of course, I wanted to counsel. At times, counseling can be considered the “glamorous” job. But, God was still able to work in so many hearts without my help. I had this realization during the evening service after the salvation message. At this point in the week, I probably didn’t have the best attitude. During the invitation, nearly fifteen kids raised their hands to go out and talk to their counselors about getting saved. Seeing God working in their hearts was so powerful. He didn’t need me. He is so powerful on His own. I had been given the privilege of being at camp and helping sow the seeds, but it is the Holy Spirit who brings the harvest.
My two weeks of COR were done. Looking back, it was clearly a work of God to be on COR those weeks. I was not spiritually ready or mature enough to have my own cabin. Still, God did a lot of good those weeks in growing me and pointing out areas of sin and pride. I was again nervously excited to have my own cabin of girls. I ended up with 7th-9th graders. They were a super sweet group of girls. However, being younger, they had some trouble paying attention during the services. Frankly, I was getting a little frustrated. I had been praying every day that they would start paying better attention and that God would still work in their hearts through what they did hear. None of them ever responded to the evening services. Friday, I had my last one-on-one conversation with one of my girls. She was one who I thought had been paying the least amount of attention. Before we got very far into our conversation, she broke down and told me how she was worried about coming here at first because there were three services each day. She told me how, as the week went on, she started to truly enjoy the services and wanted some help on how to read her Bible on her own. I was over the moon! God answered a very specific prayer request. Apparently, my girls had been paying better attention than I had ever realized.
I had another one-on-one with a camper. The youngest in my cabin, she was attending her first year in teen camp. She was precious, often telling me how excited she was to be there. Our conversation started with her talking about some of her struggles in her relationships with her mom and her friends at school. Ultimately, many of her problems came from not controlling her tongue. I wanted to share some verses with her but couldn’t think of any references off the top of my head. I quickly prayed that God would give me some verses to help comfort her. Immediately, James came to mind; I knew James talks about the tongue. I flipped open my Bible to the book of James and scanned the pages for something about the tongue. Coming across James 3, I saw the section title “Taming the Tongue.” Those were the exact verses I was thinking of. I was able again to see God working in a very specific way. That evening, the service was also about the tongue. My camper came up to me afterwards and said, “That’s crazy! That’s exactly what we were talking about earlier.” We talked about how God knows exactly what we are struggling with and helps us through these things. He doesn’t do anything by accident.
Overall, this was a wild four weeks – four weeks I wouldn’t trade for anything. Working at camp during a pandemic is not ideal. Counseling and walking around while wearing a mask are not ideal. However, God doesn’t want us to serve Him only when it is ideal. He wants us to serve Him no matter the cost. One thing that encouraged camp staff as we received the horrible news of camp shutting down was that, while our ministry here at camp may have ended, ministry itself is not over. Ministry is not a place but rather a desire to invest in others’ lives and see them take the next steps spiritually. While camp is an ideal place to share God’s Word, surrounded by it and free from distractions, God is the same God at home as He is at camp. We have so many opportunities to share God’s Word with the people around us here at home as well, with people at school, church, etc. Ministry can take place wherever you are, so I want to encourage you to have that mindset during this crazy time here at home, as well as when we move into the upcoming school year.
Brett Stowe, BJU grad, missionary in South Africa
The last 5 months of ministry has been a bit of a whirlwind. Have there been hardships? Yes. Have there been blessings? Absolutely! Amidst the ups and downs of ministry throughout the past few months, God has been teaching my family a few lessons that I would like to pass along for those who may need to be reminded or encouraged in their own ministry context during this time.
My family ministers along the Garden Route of South Africa as church-planting missionaries in the city of Knysna. We had originally planned to be in the States for a family wedding during the month of April with the intention of arriving back in South Africa around June/July. Those plans were drastically changed! Due to my wife’s pregnancy, it looks as if we will be here through October (at the least). We now find ourselves thousands of miles away from our ministry, home, and young church plant. While we are incredibly thankful and grateful to have ministry partners who have labored well in our absence, the reality of ministering from afar was not what we had on the church-planting agenda for this year. Read any book on church-planting strategy, and I guarantee it will not advise you to leave the city/country for an extended period of time after your first year together. Yet, this is exactly where God has us right now, in His providence and according to His good and perfect plan. As we embrace this season of ministry life, here are five lessons that I am learning that I hope will encourage others to do the same.
Prayer is often assumed and rarely administered. I confess, one of my greatest spiritual challenges is consistent prayer, and sometimes, simply praying. But prayer is the ammunition by which the Great Commission battle is won. Yes, gospel workers must go, and the Word of God must be proclaimed, but these works done apart from a God-dependent spirit are futile and vain. We must seek to reflect the heart and practice of the Apostle Paul when he writes to the church in Philippi,
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil.1:3-6 ESV).
Rely on the Spirit
This second lesson goes hand-in-hand with the first. If we are truly relying on the Spirit, we will pray. But along with our prayers, it is good for us to be reminded that God’s Spirit is the only One who can change a heart. The Holy Spirit, not our personalities or ministry strategies, possesses the power and grace to open the eyes of blinded hearts (2 Cor. 4:6). It is such a great comfort to know that Christ did not give us this task to accomplish on our own; He gave us His Spirit. So, as you worry about a struggling member or face discouragement from a wayward disciple, remember, God’s Spirit is at work. Trust Him. Rely on Him.
This lesson is not particularly fun, especially for a Western American. Innovation and change are our battle cry. We have been taught by the culture from an early age, “You can do anything,” and, “Follow your dreams!” In case you are wondering, this is not how life works. One of the realities and privileges of man in God’s creation is that he is finite. We cannot do anything we desire. Our “dreams” are vain apart from Christ. We were created with limits, and that is a good thing (Gen. 1). As you seek to be creative in ministry for the glory of God during this time, don’t become anxious regarding your limitations. Embrace your limitations and look to Christ. Let your limitations drive you to your knees and before the throne of grace. We may be limited, but our God has no limits!
If you were a technological skeptic before COVID-19, chances are that you have at least softened over the past few months. God has been good to give us technological advances that have sustained some form of ministry in our current global situation. In our own ministry, we benefit from weekly Sunday gatherings online. I am able to tune into our South African church service and even preach, because of technology. Is this preferred? No. Is it helpful? Yes. Other technologies such as blog posts, podcasts, and other various forms can be utilized for God’s kingdom work. This is a blessing from God.
Claim Matthew 16:18
The final lesson is to remember what Christ has promised in His Word and anchor yourself in His truth. Matthew 16:18 says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ promises to build His Church. Do we really believe that? Have we become so self-dependent that we have forgotten that Christ WILL build His Church? We labor in our church-planting with the hope that Christ has already promised to do it. The work of Christ is bigger than you and I. We are but a tiny part of it, yet He is pleased to use us. This is marvelous grace!
My family still is unsure as to when we will be able to return to South Africa (although we hope it is soon), but we labor from a distance until we can. We are still learning these lessons and seeking to implement them, but I pray that all of us will remember during this time of uncertainty that we serve a God of certainty. He has promised to “build His Church,” and neither the “gates of hell” nor COVID-19 will stop that!
An Open-Door in Peru
Buddy and Loren Fitzgerald, BJU grads, missionaries in Peru
“That is rough but unimaginable” were some of my first thoughts when I heard from missionary friends in Asia about their restrictions due to the coronavirus. Little did we know that, on March 15, the Peruvian president would announce one of the strictest and longest-running reactionary lockdowns in the world.
My name is Buddy Fitzgerald. I grew up in Greenville, SC, and attended Bob Jones from kindergarten through grad school. I was a missions major in undergrad and was required to do a missions internship. I say “required,” but it was really more like “thrilled.” I prayed about the opportunity very seriously, knowing that God could end up directing me to that location long term. I arrived in Peru for a two-month stint in May 2003 to work with a family in the mountains and jungles of central Peru. The Lord did some real work in my heart during that time and eventually led my wife and me back to Peru. We were approved by Baptist World Mission to go to Peru in the spring, and I finished my M.A. program with the seminary in May 2006. After just one very busy year of deputation, the Lord had brought in all our support, and we moved to Peru in August 2007.
We spent a short time in the mountains working with some veteran missionaries to hone our language skills and cultural understanding and to form friendships. However, our hearts were in the jungle. We came to Peru to share the gospel with those who have never had a chance to hear. (Please read Romans 15:20-21 if you don’t have it memorized… Go ahead. I´ll wait!)
Over the years, we have made dozens of river trips, ranging from medical, dental, or wellness, to preaching, discipleship, or exploration trips. We even flipped our boat one time and were stranded on a rainforest river beach (with two babies) for a little while. We still have not been able to move into a tribal village long-term, but we continue to work towards that goal while we plant a church, support national church-plants, and establish a base-station for Amazon jungle ministry.
As soon as the lockdown was announced, we knew that it would greatly affect a lot of our church folks and obviously many others in town. We began by praying that the Lord would open doors for us, allow us to serve others, and direct our steps in order to avoid long or short-term problems. During the first two weeks, we were giving out packages of foodstuffs to church families and their contacts. However, at the beginning of April, all of that changed. A neighbor lady came for food, and we mentioned to her that if any other family or friends needed food, she could send them our way as well. Within a few minutes small groups started arriving, and, as each group came, I preached the gospel, and we gave each person a package of food. We had some ministry funds but knew they couldn’t last long. The second day we had over one hundred people show up, and the third day there were more than two hundred people. I preached the gospel dozens of times, knowing that many of the people who came had not heard a clear presentation of the gospel before.
I asked the people to come at 8 am, Monday through Saturday, but, very shortly, we had people forming lines outside as early 1 or 2 am. Peru has a social medicine system, so Peruvians are used to going to the hospital very early to get a spot before returning at normal hours to see a doctor. As a family, we were spending hours every morning making and sharing these “care packages,” then going to buy more supplies in bulk, before spending several more hours packing more bags. Thankfully, the Lord later gave us wisdom to change our system, saving us a lot of time and energy.
One of the most amazing things that happened was seeing God work. We decided as a family that we would not ask for funds at all. We would simply pray and show what God was doing here. As we did so, dozens of people began asking how they could give. And give they did! Through many sacrificial offerings of individuals and churches, we have been able to distribute tens of thousands of food packages. The Lord brought in over $70k for this emergency relief effort!
The country of Peru officially lifted the quarantine for most of the country just recently, but our region is one that is still under lockdown. We are nearing 4 months at this point and have unfortunately seen too much death here. We have numerous friends and acquaintances who have died from COVID-19, including our mechanic, medical contacts, and even pastor friends. My auto-mechanic, Alfredo, worked on my cars for many years. He was close to my age, and I’m very thankful that I presented the gospel to him on several occasions. Recently we had some deep talks, and I pray that he put his faith in Jesus before ending his time on earth.
Obviously, our greatest joy at this time is the spiritual work that the Lord has done. After a few weeks of preaching, I started thinking about the end of the quarantine and began to give out my cell number to the folks. I told them that if they would send me a message, I would add them to an electronic Bible study group. I have had over 170 people write to me and join our online Bible study! We have seen over 40 people make professions of faith during these months, and many of them are preparing for a public testimony by baptism! Finally, numerous church folks and even unsaved friends have come to help in this daily labor. It is a great joy to continue making disciples of Jesus!
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.