Church-related camps, such as those operated by the American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA), remain a great way for children and youth to make friends, be themselves, enjoy the outdoors and be in a setting where God in many ways reaches down and touches their lives as they “retreat” from everyday life and its distractions.
Those insights came out of ABCUSA Mission Summit Conversations on camping a few years ago, and they seem to ring true today.
At the same time camps face great challenges. The base of support for them is changing. Denominations have historically subsidized camping, but according to an ABCUSA Mission Table summary of thoughts from 2013, camps have been a money-losing proposition and denominations and funding have shrunk.
Congregations, which once subsidized the cost of sending children to camp when parents alone couldn’t afford the expense, sometimes find they can no longer afford the subsidies because of financial restraints. At the same time the costs of insurance, staff and food for camps have increased. Some families have gotten used to living in a “nature deficit” because they spend time with technology rather than getting outdoors the way they once did. Also, there is some evidence since 9/11 that parents are increasingly skittish about sending their children some distances away from home.
But there is good news about camping this season. Camp Moses Merrill and Conference Center in Linwood, Neb., is having its largest camping season since 2005.
“We have enrolled 367 campers and 36 of them made a first-time commitment to Christ,” says Bev Pacas, the events coordinator for the camp. “They are super campers! Their smiles are infectious. The joy of seeing so many of these kids worshiping, praying and playing in God’s great outdoors is awesome! These campers are making and renewing friendships that will survive the test to time and distance.”
“We have such an enthusiastic group of volunteers and paid staff this summer,” Pacas says. “There is no doubt the Holy Spirit was working with an amazing group of leaders. They are the heart and soul of the camp.”
Pacas lists seven factors to explain the big season at Moses Merrill this year:
• “God, prayers and the Holy Spirit are at work.”
• “We have great relationships with churches in Nebraska. We’ve driven home to them that the camp is their mission. The camp belongs to them. It is a mission started in Fullerton, Neb., in 1943. We cannot survive without their support. Camp is a mission that can spread Good News to friends and neighbors.”
• “Churches continue to support us financially. Many churches pay a portion of camp registrations as well as helping kids with fundraisers to defray the cost of camp.”
• “We’ve campaigned and reached out to surrounding communities as well as to our traditional network of ABC churches.”
• Our use of social media – Facebook, Twitter, our website has been successful. We have to go where the kids and parents are, and they are on social media.”
• “While Moses Merrill hosts other camps, retreats and conferences we have remained focused on our primary mission to bring kids to Christ through our summer camp program.”
• “We have involved a new group of people in supporting us. They realized how important camp was to them growing up and are ready to contribute one way or another to this mission.”
Pacas notes that she and staff are called to the mission of the camp. “I’m not sure it was our plan, but I believe it was God’s,” she says. “I am amazed at witnessing our campers being immersed in a Christian community while they are at camp without the distractions of the everyday world. While here they are away from social media, work, computers, etc. The impact is life-changing for our campers, cabin leaders, coordinators and staff.”