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.
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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.