NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: summer camps and COVID-19.
For many kids, summer time means trips to camp. Back in the day, it was hockey camp up in the northwoods of Haliburton, Ontario.
If I were a kid today, I couldn’t even cross the border for a purpose deemed nonessential.
Now, you’d think Canadians of all people would understand that hockey is an essential activity, but such is the seriousness of COVID-19 that they don’t.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: They’re not alone, either.
Most Christian camps won’t be hosting any kiddos this summer.
But camp leaders aren’t letting the pandemic keep them from reaching campers for Christ.
WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg has our story.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Louis and Carrie Nelson believe there are few things better than camp. They run Camp Hope high in the mountains near Grand Junction, Colorado.
CARRIE: We really think that’s what Heaven is gonna smell like. Like bug spray and sunscreen.
Camp Hope typically puts on camps in June and July. Many of the campers come from difficult circumstances and unchurched homes. Local churches and donors offer scholarships so any child can attend.
CARRIE: We have hiking trails. We have a craft room, game room, just everything that a kiddo would expect to camp to have.
In April, the Nelsons decided they wouldn’t be able to do camp this year. For them, enforcing social distancing in bathrooms, buses and the camp mess hall would be nearly impossible.
So they started to ponder how they could reach children still at home.
CARRIE: God has called us to these kids. He’s not called us to a camp.
Their answer? Online Bible studies hosted by the people who would have been camp counselors. The Nelsons call their counselors Kingdom Buddies.
CARRIE: We have about 15 Bible studies going through Zoom… Our Kingdom Buddies, we encourage them to let it be organic. Meet with a kiddo. What do they need? Some of them needed to get their schoolwork done. Or they’re struggling with, you know, being home all day and they’re just lonely. They just want to talk.
Louis and Carrie Nelson are also using this slowed down summer to do repairs and remodel their facilities. Usually, they don’t have time for that during the camp slam.
LOUIS: We have the time to fix roofs and decks and windows… and so it really is giving us the opportunity to take a look at what our next 20 years is going to be like and start making those repairs, renovations now.
For other camp ministries, this summer could permanently change how they do camp moving forward.
Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, Colorado trains high school and college students in Christian worldview and apologetics. About 200 students come for two weeks at a time. They all stay in a renovated, historic hotel.
Jeff Myers is the president. He says when COVID came, his team members began brainstorming how they could still fulfill their mission.
MYERS: Our mission is to equip and support a rising generation to champion a Biblical worldview and to embrace God’s truth. That mission doesn’t go away just because our facilities might not be operable.
In eight weeks, the team turned their curriculum into an online experience called Summit Virtual. But when parents found out their children couldn’t attend the in-person training, many canceled.
MYERS: That alarmed me because I do not believe we’re in a cultural moment where we can wait a year to give young adults the kind of Biblical worldview training they need…
So Summit offered parents free samples of the online classes, and students can get three college credit hours for attending. That boosted attendance for each session by about 20 percent.
Jeff Myers says going virtual is also allowing the ministry to reach students in other countries.
MYERS: There’s a huge group of students joining us from Singapore. So we believe God has led us through this crisis to develop a whole new avenue of ministry that is global and not bound by time or space.
Another ministry making the most of COVID-19 changes is Royal Family Kids Camp. RFK puts on camps for foster care children in 44 states.
President Paul Martin says nearly all of the camps for this summer have been called off. So instead, RFK is urging its roughly 18,000 volunteer counselors to partner with overwhelmed social workers.
MARTIN: There might be a social worker in a certain state that just needs…coloring books or masks… There might be social workers that need trained nationally background checked volunteers to accompany them with visits.
Martin says the canceled camps are pushing the ministry to think more holistically. Now, RFK is asking more chapters to implement year-long mentorship programs and to put on events for foster children throughout the year.
MARTIN: Increasingly COVID is causing us to think, you know, yes, we’re going to continue to have camps. But we also want to make sure that with our growth that we are equipping these vulnerable children to actually be contributors to their communities.
Still, some camps are adapting so they can offer kids a real-life, traditional camp experience. Joel Young directs Grove Christian Camp near Eugene, Oregon.
YOUNG: Our lodge and our cabins are all kind of out in an open area between the two forests and the river.
Typically, the camp hosts about 1,000 children for overnight and day camps. This summer, no one will be staying overnight. But Young says the camp and its partner churches are working to create day camps that follow state and CDC guidelines.
YOUNG: Like we have a rock climbing wall. After each stable group, it has to be fully sanitized. And everybody will wash their hands before and wash your hands after. We’re doing sack lunches a lot. So kids don’t touch anything with their own sack.
Young says so far not that many parents have registered their children. But even so, he says the extra effort is worth it.
YOUNG: Even if we just have 10 or 12. We want to do it.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.