by Valerie Morby Posted Jan 25, 2021
Just like the rest of the world, Mindy Van Andel watched the pandemic news closely this past spring. Early on, she had an idea that the coronavirus would somehow impact camp. Her kids weren’t scheduled to attend youth camp for four more months, but the Lord was already stirring something inside her, whispering for her to prepare her heart—and her home—for the changes to come.
Mindy’s oldest daughter, 17-year-old Abbey, has been attending camp at Pine Cove ever since she was in second grade. Summer 2020 was scheduled to be her last summer of youth camp.
“After I got over myself,” Mindy explains, “I was like, ‘Okay, Lord… we need to finish this out.’”
She was ready to finish it out, no matter what it looked like—even if it meant hosting counselors at her house in the event that they’d been displaced from working at camp. After all, she had extra space to pull it off—a guest apartment over the garage. A contingency plan was born. If the authorities wouldn’t let Pine Cove host camp, Mindy’s family would do it!
“This whole thing came to my head and I was just praying this out… I was like, ‘Okay, we have this loft apartment. And… I could call a couple of those counselors. They could come here, they could run camp up there. And all I would need to do is supply the space and the food and they could do everything else.’ And so I talked to [my husband] and he was like, ‘Yep, I’m in.’”
When Week 8 rolled around, Abbey was glad to finally be back at Pine Cove—this time for her senior year. The first few days at the Shores passed quickly, with Abbey and her cabin mates bonding quickly with their counselor “Kicks.”
Then day three dawned with disappointment: the Shores made the difficult decision to shut down for the remainder of their two-week Overflow session. Amidst the disbelief and tears, Abbey felt certain of something and spoke up.
“Wait, I bet you my mom’s gonna do something!”
Of course she was. Mindy received a call from the Pine Cove staff early Tuesday morning informing her of the camp closure, and she quickly sprang into action making phone calls and executing on her plan to bring camp to her house.
Before she knew it, Mindy was hosting her daughter and three camp friends—one of whom Abbey has attended Pine Cove with for a decade—up in their garage apartment for the rest of their two-week session. And “Camp Quarantino,” as they soon dubbed it, was born.
The displaced campers brought their trunks up to the apartment, decorated their bunks, and settled in for their session. Mornings began with quiet time followed by breakfast, Pit ‘n’ Palace, crafts, FOB, games, and (nearly) everything you’d expect from a day at camp. Not quite what they’d imagined, but what the Lord had planned all along.
And what does every Pine Cove camp need to keep things running smoothly? A work crew! That’s where younger siblings Lauren and Ethan came in. Before “the Quad Squad” (as Abbey and her friends named themselves) had even returned from camp, Lauren and Ethan had baked brownies and created a homemade banner welcoming the campers. And on “nice night,” they took it upon themselves to shower, dress up, and wait on the girls!
It would have been easy for Lauren to harbor resentment toward her older sister. After all, Lauren was now unable to go to camp herself due to Abbey’s quarantined return. Instead, Lauren put into practice what she’d seen modeled for her every summer since elementary school.
Mindy explains that Lauren confided in her, “I could be sulky and sad about not being able to go to Pine Cove for the summer, or I could decide to try to make the best of it. You look at the Pine Cove staff… it’s been modeled for us, that they always jump in and do the thing that needs to be done.”
Camp Quarantino ended up being full of activities, time spent video conferencing their counselor “Kicks” for Bible study, a community service project—and one very special surprise.
On Saturday afternoon, Mindy called up to the apartment and asked the girls to come outside. Though confused, the campers headed downstairs and out to the front yard. As they rounded the corner, they heard a familiar voice say, “I heard camp was still going on!” It’s a voice they knew well after years spent as campers at the Shores: camp director Taylor “Fish Face” Jervis.
Taylor had come to see Camp Quarantino for himself, and he didn’t come empty-handed. He brought the campers their CQs and Overflow t-shirts, and presented them with their senior necklaces. But for “the Quad Squad,” the best gift of all was just having their camp director there!
“It was just so cool,” Mindy remembers. “[Taylor] said it was encouraging to him, but I mean, it was so encouraging to them that he would take time out of all the crazy that would be going on at camp to do all of that.”
Truly, it’s not every day that your camp director, of all people, shows up and surprises you in your front yard!
“One of them was like, ‘I feel like we’ve just been visited by a celebrity!’” Mindy says laughing.
All things considered, Camp Quarantino ended up being a solid stand-in for camp, and a memorable final chapter in “the Quad Squad’s” time as Pine Cove campers. It was especially memorable for one person in particular: Mindy!
A week and a half spent running camp isn’t easy, even if it’s what you’re trained for! But for Mindy, who’s never been a member of the Pine Cove staff, stepping into the role of de facto camp director was a challenge. Hitting her limit every single day, only to get up and do it again the next day, emptying herself out for her “campers” again and again—where’d she learn to pour herself out like that? A Pine Cove counselor named “Tater.”
One week at the Bluffs family camp several summers ago, Mindy noticed that Tater was going above and beyond in cheering, jumping, and giving his all. He never seemed to stop, and she just couldn’t understand where his energy was coming from. So she asked him.
“I’ll never forget this,” Mindy explains. “He said, ‘God says that He will fill us up to the full. And so I’m holding Him to it. If I go to bed at night and I am just not completely spent, if there’s still an ounce of energy left in my body, I didn’t do it to the full.’”
It’s a lesson that Mindy says she’s thought about ever since she first heard it at the Bluffs back in 2018. She realized she’d never been spent like that before. Until four campers came to do camp at her house, and she found herself in the same position Pine Cove summer staffers are all too familiar with. Camp Quarantino had Mindy getting up early, working hard all day, and having deep, theological conversations with the girls late into the night.
“His little phrase kept coming to my head and I said, ‘Okay, Lord, I’m going to hold you to it. I’m going to hold you to that. If you’re going to give it to me in the full, then I want it. I’m expecting you every morning to give it to me full.’ And He did.”
Again and again, it’s the Pine Cove summer staff—even from afar—who influenced Mindy and Camp Quarantino. The lessons she and her kids learned from years of summers at camp stuck with all of them, and when things got tough, it was the example set before them by the Pine Cove staff that encouraged them to keep going.
“It’s invaluable what our kids have pulled from camp. It’s been worth every penny that we have spent. I mean, I have said I will eat rice and beans for the rest of my life, as long as my kids can go to Pine Cove. Because of the things that they have learned about the Lord.”
The tenderness and enthusiasm with which Mindy speaks about the Pine Cove counselors and staff who have influenced the life and faith of her children is powerful. Mindy finds herself consistently using the staff as an example for her kids—and her campers.
“We talked about it with the girls multiple times: when [the counselors] are jumping up and down at the gates… that’s what we should be doing every single day, because we have the Gospel within us! Like we, we’re headed home. This place isn’t our home. Thank goodness, because this is so hopeless! We should be jumping up and down every single day because we have full hope and faith that we’re headed home and this will all be behind us.”
It’s clear that Mindy holds the Pine Cove staff in high esteem, looking forward to the day when her children join their ranks and keeping them in her prayers.
“I can’t wait to be at the gates of heaven when Pine Cove staff come walking through,” Mindy says through tears, “because I get to cheer them on. And then I get to hear God say, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”
After two weeks running her own camp, Mindy is clearly now an honorary Pine Cove staff member (one who still needs a camp name!). She put in the work, poured herself out, and did it all as unto the Lord. So Mindy, to echo your own words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”