By Pastor Georgette Gaston*
In January of 2020 Faith United Methodist Church (Southern Hills District) on the south side of Cambridge dreamed of ways we might be able to help get kids to church camp. COVID shelter-in-place orders began in March 2020, just as we were making our initiative to send kids to camp. In April 2021, we dreamed that this would be the year we would send 10 kids to church camp, and we began a new campaign with a goal of raising $4,500.
In the meantime, Faith UMC Lay Leader Diana Hall dreamed a bigger dream. What if we could send kids from the community to church camp? What if we could send Foster & Kinship care kids to church camp?
Hall has a lot of experience raising funds as a Relay for Life team leader. She has a multitude of connections in the community framework as a teacher of GED classes at Mid-East Vocational School and she used those connections to invite community agencies into God’s dream. Hall was relentlessly passionate about her invitation to dream and transform lives, and the Cambridge community responded in a huge way!
Guernsey County Family Services joined in by letting Foster and Kinship Care families know of the opportunity and helping them get registered. Camp Wanake Director Julie Lautt and the Rev. Gary Jones, EOC director of Camps & Retreat Ministries did everything they could to help make the process workable and as simple as possible within the guidelines of Foster & Kinship Care. Hall and Lautt worked together closely and made provision for every child’s needs. Additional Cambridge community groups such as WIC (Women Interested in Children), Cambridge Lionesses, private mental health practices, attorneys and businesses were invited into the dream.
In the end, nearly $25,000 was raised within Faith Church and the community. The money part was easy, the logistics were a challenge which Hall and Faith UMC’s Administrative Assistant Stephanie Laube tackled together.
Recognizing that our target group had few resources, the church collected suitcases so that every child could go to camp with luggage. People from the congregation donated more than 50 new bibles so every child could have their own. Hall and Laube worked with Cambridge area businesses for donations as well. Dollar General Warehouse gifted God’s dream with shampoo, body wash, insect spray, antiperspirant, brushes, towels, and washcloths. Colgate gifted toothpaste and toothbrushes. Holiday Inn Express also gave toothpaste, combs, and toothbrushes. Quanex gave refillable water bottles. Barb Funk and Mid-East Vocational School donated cinch sacks to be used as shower bags for each child. Another business that donated was BSI of Derwent. Individual gifts were donated from Tom and Rhonda Stemmer as well as many other individuals.
A week before camp began Faith UMC held a registration and shopping event where guardians completed forms and the kids “shopped” for a suitcase, towels, and toiletries for their camp experience.
Following camp, the Wednesday night Bible study from Faith UMC hosted a Camp Kids Ice Cream Reunion where the people from the church and the kids’ families were able to hear their favorite part of the experience. The youth were able to reunite with other camp friends. When Logan, one of the campers from Faith UMC saw one of his friends, he ran to hug her saying, “I get to see my new friend again!”
The group sang “Spirit of the Living God” while a camper signed the words that Lautt taught them at camp. We also heard other stories of how church camp impacted those able to go. “It was great to hear the kids talk about camp and share their favorite part,” a Children’s Services representative reported. Several campers said they would like to come back. Zoe shared that she loved making ice cream, learning about the Bible, the pool and making a fire.
Another camper has moved to an adoptive home, but he has asked me questions about God ever since returning from church camp.”
What a blessing … we’re already planning ways we can increase the number of children able to go next year. All because we had a small dream to send 10 kids to camp. All because God said, let me lead. And we did! This entire experience has been a light in the darkness of COVID, reminding me of the beauty of the connectional church and why I love it so! This is how God worked the struggles of human existence for the good of God!
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Pastor Georgette Gaston is a full-time local pastor in her third year serving Faith United Methodist Church in Cambridge.