We returned Thursday evening from Camp Bob White in central Missouri. Camp is always busy, but even more so this year, since we had about 30 percent more campers and staff than we’ve ever had before! The 133 campers and staff came from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota (I don’t think I left anyone out …). It is very encouraging to me to see the level of interest and enthusiasm these campers and staff have for our COGWA Youth Camps program!

Mary and I have been pretty heavily involved in the camp program for 20 years—since 1995. We continue to do so because of the powerful impact we’ve seen these camps have on the children and teens who attend. Once again this year, we had campers who are the children of campers we had just a few years back. In fact, this was the second or perhaps third year that we’ve had staff members who are the children of campers we have served at one of our camps! Perhaps it is, as one man said, a fact that shows our age—but far more importantly, it is a wonderful legacy that is being built year by year, and camper by camper! Our camp program provides something these campers can’t find anyplace else!

We ask for and rely on God’s involvement and blessing on the camp, and His blessings were certainly evident again this year. Upon arrival at the camp, I have to do a check-in walk-through with the state park manager. This year, because the local gas company had to put in a new gas line parallel to the highway and right through the camp, we were the first group to use the camp since last October. They had heavy equipment parked in the Bob White group campgrounds; and they had quite a bit torn up, including a large ditch right across the access road to the camp. The manager told me they had to cancel reservations for six groups who were to meet before we did. And Bob White was only opened up on the Friday before we arrived!

Because the buildings had all been shut up tight and likely because of all the rain the area has received, on our walk-through we were shocked to discover black mold in two of the cabins. There was no way we could use these cabins for our campers or staff! After just a minute or two inside, my nose and throat were burning, and I realized this could be a real problem! Each cabin sleeps 24, and we were at the point of needing almost every bed. 

The park has another group camp called Shawnee. It is on the other side of the highway, perhaps a mile or so away from Bob White. There was a group in there last week, but no one was scheduled to use it while we were there, so the park manager offered to allow us to use some of those cabins. They aren’t as nice and are much older and more “rustic” (read that as old and somewhat dilapidated), but it was our only viable option. So we shuffled campers around in the remaining Bob White cabins and had most of our staff bunk away in the other group camp.

It was inconvenient, and we had to arrange shuttles back and forth for everyone every day, but our staff proved flexible. Had there been another group on the Shawnee campground, I don’t have any idea what we could have done. But God opened a door and provided a way for us to continue with the camp, and our dedicated staff made it work!

Another way we saw the blessing of God’s hand is with the weather. It was forecast to be pretty hot (low 90s) with very high humidity all of camp. There was also a strong chance of rain on Sunday afternoon—just at the time we’d be arriving, unloading everything and getting settled in. And as we were driving up, getting closer to camp, the sky to the north and west was very black and threatening. One staff member called to let me know she was going to be a little late because of the heavy storms she was going through not very far from camp! 

Mary and I were a good half-hour late arriving, because, unknown to us, our planned route was blocked by a bridge that was out. So we had to backtrack and then detour around to find our way out and back on our route. So, by the time we arrived, quite a few staff members were already there. Everyone jumped in immediately and began unloading the trailer and truck to beat the rain, but it never rained on camp. Somehow it all stayed just north of us, so we had no problems with rain. We were also able to have staff orientation, counselor meetings and later the camper orientation outside under the trees, which was much more comfortable than inside the dining hall. 

On Monday (our first full day of activities) the weather remained overcast the entire day with a pretty good breeze. It was still fairly warm, but the clouds and the breeze made it so much more comfortable than it could have been!

Then Monday night another strong storm moved in, heading right toward us. When it began thundering and lightning, we pulled everyone out of the water activities and brought them up to the dining hall. One staff member pulled up the weather radar, and it showed something very curious: As the greens, yellows and reds of the storm headed toward us, a clear line emerged along the southern edge of the storm. It came down to a point a short distance north of us and then slid along that line until it was past us. We had a few individual drops, but nothing more. The biggest impact of the storm for us was the nice drop in temperatures. It was only 68 degrees when we got up Tuesday morning, and it remained cooler throughout the day!

Wednesday was the last activity day, and it was pretty warm. But it is a summer camp, and we expect some of that! Overall, God’s blessing was evident.

The theme for this year is “Pearl of Great Price: Find It and Keep It.” With children this age, something physical helps cement a concept in their minds. So we handed out little zippered pouches to each camper, with one plastic pearl in it. We told them that pearl represented God’s calling, and they needed to work hard to keep it safe, as something very valuable.

We also explained there were ways they could earn other pearls, such as naming all of the 10 Commandments, saying all of the holy days in order, listing all of the fruit of the Spirit, all the books of the Old Testament and all the books of the New Testament. According to the list I kept (and I may have missed a few), the 66 campers combined earned an additional 105 pearls for completing one or more of those tasks—adding other valuable pearls of knowledge and understanding!

It was impressive to see even some of the smallest and youngest campers rattling off what we had asked of them, including all 39 books of the Old Testament and then the 27 books of the New Testament! It makes me wonder how many of us can recall from memory what these small children were able to do. And it certainly shows how much their parents have worked with them to know and understand some of these most basic and fundamental elements of the Bible and faith. 

By noon on Thursday, the campers and staff, tired but with smiles, loaded into cars and headed back out toward wherever home is for each. I’m sure all were exhausted, but we left knowing we had tried to do our very best, and we each took home some powerful lessons, good friends and very fond memories.

Tom Clark, director