Feature

Bankrupt or Blessed?

With God's help, Camp Hope lives up to its name

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Bankrupt!” This was the headline that screamed across the Times Herald newspaper in Vallejo, California. Bankrupt! No money! No security! No hope! One of the largest mid-sized cities in Northern California was broke.

How does a church respond to the news that its city is filing for bankruptcy? How do we react when the eroding economic landscape of our nation hits home? For us, the answer was clear. We continue to do what God wired us to do: minister hope.

During these dark days of uncertainty, New Hope Church Community took a faith-filled risk and followed through with its annual summer camp ministry. Camp Hope, a six-week, Bible-based day camp, introduces the love of Christ to poor and needy youth, many of whom are impacted by HIV/AIDS. God did not file bankruptcy papers on the camp. Instead, our Jehovah Jireh provided more than enough for the ministry to be fruitful.

More than Enough Campers

Registration for the camp began with disappointment. A month before camp was to open, the foster care agency that places kids who are infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS reduced its budget and could not send any youth to the camp. This was a devastating blow, as the agency was our primary source of access to the region’s poorest and neediest kids. Thankfully, however, our Great Shepherd knows how to find His lost sheep!

One of the camp interns knew of a camper’s mother whose ex-husband had died of AIDS. This dear woman was able to connect us with other families that were devastated by the disease and in need of encouragement and restoration. Through this and other divine connections, we ended up with 10 additional prospects—enough to fill the rest of the empty slots. But who would cover the cost of getting them there?

More than Enough Funds

Through much prayer and some generous giving from grandmothers and businessmen, all 10 of these young people were able to attend. The regional manager of a national car rental company was so blessed by Camp Hope’s vision that he leased vans to the camp at an incredible discount. Amid concerns of a “new depression,” amusement parks slashed their prices, making it possible for us to provide the campers with wonderful adventures and special activities. The U.S. C&MA’s Office of Multiplication Ministries provided a much-needed financial grant for the camp’s ministries.

Since a number of our church members were facing job layoffs and home foreclosures, the church budget became very tight. But because of our Lord’s great provision, no general funds from the church were needed to make Camp Hope ’08 a reality. King David’s words from Psalm 37:25 became a wonderful reminder to our church family as we moved forward in faith: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

More than Enough Workers

Administrating a summer camp with just three college interns—who are expected to harness and redirect the angst of a camp filled with elementary and junior high school students—is a daunting task. But the Lord blessed the ministry with more than enough adult volunteers to assist the interns.

Budget restraints limited the camp staffto just one CPR certified leader. But in the eleventh hour, God provided three volunteers who were not only CPR certified but also lifeguard certified as well.

One of the church members felt led to minister in the kitchen. She miraculously freed up her entire summer to “shop and chop” so she could surprise the campers each day with delicious hot meals. She sacrificed her own pocket money to make the breakfast meals even more special.

Parents of the campers rallied to supervise arts and crafts, cooking classes, games and sign language lessons. Several school teachers who were on summer break gave of their time to provide leadership and supervision. Two men from the church alternated driving one of the vans. And a group of caring adult volunteers assembled a caravan of vehicles to drive the campers down one of California’s most scenic freeways to the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk, which ended up being a very memorable field trip.

One of the men who volunteered to drive for us during those hot summer days felt called to serve our youth in a larger capacity. He is now one of the most dedicated youth counselors in our junior-high ministry (see side bar). When it seems as though there are not enough workers, God provides in His own way and in His own time.

More than Enough Hope

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Ministering in a city that is facing a hopeless financial forecast requires faith! And the task of delivering hope in the midst of a crisis—whether family, funding or future—can be accomplished only through the limitless power of Christ. These encouraging words of Ron Harris’ song, “In This Very Room,” highlight the hope we encountered at Camp Hope ’08:

In this very room, there’s quite enough love for one like me;
And in this very room, there’s quite enough joy for one like me;
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power
To chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus, is in this very room.

The Lord enabled Camp Hope to live up to its name. Hope was seen in the broad smiles of the campers. Hope was seen in the twinkling eyes of desperate single parents who did not want their children locked away all summer playing video games. Hope was seen in heaven as 15 hearts opened to receive Jesus as their Savior—six of whom were baptized a week after the camp ended.

At the camp’s closing program, parents and volunteers flooded New Hope Church with stories of hope and healing. One mother testified that through the ministry of the camp, the Lord had convicted her to turn from her lesbian lifestyle.

These and many other stories have encouraged the church and camp staffto start making preparations for Camp Hope ’09. The city of Vallejo may declare bankruptcy, but the church is declaring the blessings of God.

Reshaped Identity

I was a new member at New Hope Church Community when I heard about the life-changing ministry of Camp Hope. I was challenged when Pastor Nichols asked me if I would volunteer to drive one of the vans for the camp. Since I was seeking employment, I thought this would be a great way to give time to the Lord while still leaving margins to look for a job. I had no idea what God had in store for my life.

Initially, I was just picking up and dropping off campers. Slowly, I began to get more involved in camp activities. It was so much fun!

It wasn’t long before I found myself staying at the camp all day. Some days I helped with lessons; others, God prompted me to strike up conversations with campers. Sometimes I asked them questions; sometimes I just listened; and sometimes I became a big kid again as we played various games at the park.

The campers accepted me for who I was. It was easy to let down my defenses and allow the light of Christ to shine through me. In the end, God gave me a richer experience than I ever imagined.

Much of a person’s identity is wrapped up in his occupation. Since I was unemployed, my identity had become “muddled.” But God used this time to show me who I truly am. I am not merely Brian the computer technician; I am also Brian the youth counselor. But most importantly, I am Brian the child of God.

When Camp Hope ended, my real ministry began. I have found great fulfi llment in working in the church’s youth ministry as a counselor. It is an incomparable joy and privilege to have a role in molding these great young people into devoted followers of Christ.

—Brian Sepolen, youth counselor, Camp Hope/New Hope Church Community

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