NASHVILLE (BP)– Lifeway Summer Camps are back in session across the U.S. after the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures last summer, and church groups couldn’t be more excited to get back to some kind of normal.
“It feels like a fresh start, and camps are full of energy and enthusiasm as groups worship, study Scripture, play and serve together,” said Joe Hicks, manager of FUGE Camps for Lifeway Christian Resources. “Group leaders and students have said a week at camp was exactly what they needed as they all have come out of some really difficult months due to the pandemic.”
Jonathan Wilson, families and missions pastor at Fruit Cove Baptist Church in St. John’s, Florida, said that after their church missed camp in 2020, they wanted to make sure their students had an opportunity to go to camp this summer and encounter God in a fresh way.
Five days before they were scheduled to leave for camp, they got a call saying their camp had been canceled due to COVID. The church had to quickly find an alternative. “Our first call was to Lifeway’s FUGE team,” said Wilson. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy to find camp space for 145 students and adults on short notice, but within a few hours FUGE had several options for us.
“Summer camp played a huge role in my own spiritual formation, so we put a lot of thought and prayer into where we send our students, knowing that God uses the environment of camp to call students closer to Him,” Wilson said. “FUGE is a camp we know and trust, so it was an easy decision to go that route. They were extremely flexible and willing to work with our group to make camp happen for Fruit Cove students.”
Wilson is not alone in making camp a priority for the students at their church. After a year of disruption and social isolation due to COVID-19, kids and student ministers were clamoring to take their groups to camp this summer. Lifeway will host nearly 90,000 campers in 78 locations. Lifeway camps include Centrifuge, MFuge, Student Life, CentriKid and Student Life Kids.
Brad Barnett, senior manager of events for Lifeway Students, said their team has already seen God move in the lives of participants. “While camps are still ongoing for the summer, we’re already celebrating more than 800 first-time professions of faith and 200 decisions to go into full-time ministry. We continue to trust that God will move throughout the rest of the summer and prove to students His faithfulness.”
Lifeway president and CEO Ben Mandrell shared his excitement that camps are back this year. “I’m so thankful for the hard work of our staff to make camp a great experience for campers. We know camp provides an opportunity for students to get out of their normal routine and focus on God,” Mandrell said. “We want to make sure we’re coming alongside church leaders and providing trustworthy experiences like camp to help fuel their ministry of making disciples.”
Of course, the camp experience looks slightly different from previous summers. Lifeway planned for and implemented a number of precautions to help keep COVID-19 at bay, following recommendations from the CDC and local guidelines in the locations where camps are hosted.
“We’ve had a team working since last September to create COVID precautions and protocols to make camps safe,” said Jeremy Echols, manager of CentriKid Camps. Lifeway’s COVID-19 precautions include pre-camp health screenings, increased attention to cleaning, adjusting activities to allow for social distancing, and a detailed response plan should there be exposures.
“We appreciate how cooperative church groups have been to work with us on following our COVID precautions,” said Barnett. “I believe overwhelmingly churches have sensed the care and thorough nature of our work to make camp safe and have been highly appreciative. We’re just excited to be able to provide this opportunity for their students after such a challenging year.”
Barnett said they’ve been very fortunate to have few cases of COVID-19 during an active week of camp.
“Camp may look a little different this year because of COVID,” said Echols, “but churches have told us how excited they are that camp is back. We’re so thankful that despite everything, relationships are being built each week at camp, the message of Jesus is being heard, and kids are able to be kids and have a blast.”
Echols agrees and says they’ve seen kids be able to connect with God through worship and Bible study this summer. “We’ve seen the smiles and heard the laughs of kiddos as they eat snow cones, swim, and do all the fun things that kids need and have missed,” he said. “We’re thankful that, after a year like we’ve had, we’re back diving into God’s Word each day with kids at camp,” said Echols. “I talked with a mom who witnessed her daughter trust Christ at CentriKid this summer, and the mom said, ‘It is worth it!’”
Echols said their prayer for the rest of the summer is for “healthy staffers and campers, that kids and adults would walk away from their camp experiences feeling refreshed and renewed, and that nothing would be a distraction to kids coming and hearing the Gospel.”