On May 7, the Dakota Conference decided that summer camps would move forward as planned. Making this difficult decision in the middle of a pandemic was worrisome, but knowing this decision was guided by God and His Spirit provided peace. This decision was verified by changed lives, multiple baptisms and re-baptisms and the introduction of a “(Re)volution,” which was the theme for Dakota’s summer camps.
Initially, the process of planning summer camps was as virtual camping. An official announcement and statement were released to parents and campers that this was the only option this summer. A team of 10 staff were needed to do something revolutionary: “virtual camp.” Though an exciting prospect, how do you recreate camp to be virtual?
The landscape of COVID-19 in the Dakotas turned, though, allowing the conference to reconsider its initial decision. Looking at projections, studying and surveying people, and with a lot of prayer, a decision was made to hold summer camp at 65 percent capacity.
But how do you run camps in the middle of a pandemic? Socially distancing and wearing masks is not camping. Campers needed to have the most normal experience in the middle of the most abnormal time of their lives. It meant taking extraordinary measures to make sure camp would be the safest place the campers could be.
Health screenings were sent out before campers arrived to ensure they were safe and staying safe. A health screening was done upon arrival to make sure no campers were bringing anything into camp, and health screenings continued morning and evening every day of camp to monitor the health of each camper.
Drastic sanitation measures were also taken in order for surfaces to be kept clean and as safe as possible. A sanitation team was formed from the 20 staff hired in order to make sure everything was kept continually clean.
The sanitation team cleaned surfaces, bathrooms, floors, and the kitchen three times a day, leading to transition day, Sunday, as the next batch of campers arrived. The entire staff dedicated the morning and afternoon to clean and sanitize the camp, including bathrooms, bathhouses, showers and beds. This system, in addition to the incredible work of the entire staff, led to a safe and successful summer. It opened the door to begin a revolution.
Yes, running summer camps during a pandemic was revolutionary in and of itself, but the staff never felt that was the end goal nor the call. The world is full of hatred, divisiveness, racism and disunity. The world needs a revolution, a dethroning of worldly systems for a heavenly one.
This revolution consists of bringing love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of anger, justice instead of injustice, joy instead of sadness, life instead of death, peace instead of war, heaven instead of hell. Dakota campers accepted the call to be revolutionaries for Jesus, dedicating their lives to the expansion of God’s eternal kingdom.
Pastor Ricky Melendez is co-director (with his wife, Pastor Brooke Melendez) of Youth and Young Adults.