Scenic view of trees at camp

Leading Through A Pandemic: Perspectives from 4 Camp Directors

by Pine CovePosted Feb 3, 2021

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Pine Cove saw some tough changes and disruptions this summer—but the Gospel was still proclaimed! We asked a few of our directors about the challenges they faced, so read on to hear some honest thoughts and words of wisdom from Caleb “Wheelin'” Carter (Ranch), Taylor “Fish Face” Jervis (Shores), Austin “Homestar” Langemeier (Silverado), and Rebecca “Deemer” Smith (Camp in the City).

This has been such a crazy season. When did you first realize that something big was happening?

Austin Langemeier: I was getting lifeguard trained in Houston for the summer. My Men’s Director, Zach Wooten, was driving us back from a long day in the frigid waters, and I was scrolling through Instagram and saw that the NBA had suspended its season. Right then, I called several Pine Cove folks because I knew this was going to change everything for the summer.

Taylor Jervis: Well funny enough, I was at Disney World. We spent a week at Disney as a family, so I was catching some news on my phone while waiting in line for the Avatar ride and filling up my Mickey popcorn bucket. We left on a Sunday and they shut all of the parks down the next day! We landed back in Dallas, drove home to Tyler, and began our four-week quarantine together as a family. All of the camp directors began to pray and plan on Zoom calls for summer 2020 with the little info that we had in late March.

What were some of the most challenging changes you made for the summer and how did you motivate your staff to buy in?

Caleb Carter: Without question, the hardest thing about this summer regarding changes has been the restrictions that we’ve had to place on our summer staff. Hear me: they were the absolute right decisions, it was just hard to look at my staff that were giving their all already, and then tell them they couldn’t go to weddings, go in restaurants, have loved ones come visit, etc. Again, these changes were extremely important to our ability to continue keeping the gates open and proclaiming Christ to our campers. It was easily worth it! It was just the thing I felt the most weight about, in terms of changes we made. Managing the edification and morale of my staff is a big part of my job, and that definitely made it harder! But look at all the glory that went to His name due to these sacrifices! So again, very worth it!

Rebecca Smith: We were in a unique position at Camp in the City because not only were we trying to plan a safe and healthy summer for our campers in a world of constant change, but we also work inside the context of a partnership with over a hundred church partners, which is really important to us. We don’t just rent a building or use a church because of the space. We truly desire to equip local churches to do ministry in their communities, and our churches are ministry partners that we lock arms with. This caused us to really look at what we believe foundationally about why we do camp and why we value partnership and the local church. It truly is because of the Gospel. We wanted to serve these churches and communities, not because we think our skits, games, and activities are the best, but because we believe that we can bring the truth of the Gospel through the tool of camp.

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What did it look like to adapt over the summer?

Taylor Jervis: There were changes made by leaders of our nation, our state, and our organization almost every week this summer. And you know what, bring it on! God’s people have been adapting since the wilderness! Wake up, and, “Oh look! The pillar of smoke is over there now! Let’s follow Him where He’s going!” But here’s the thing I’ve discovered about adapting: it begins with trust. I trust God and the leaders He has put over me. From there, I can adapt to anything. So on a practical level, lots of praying, meeting, organizing, communicating, and executing—for the sake of high school and college students drawing near to the Father who loves them!

Rebecca Smith: It was hard at first as I adjusted to the reality that things weren’t going to be “camp as normal.” There’s a healthy grief that comes with things that you love changing, and it’s okay to feel sadness. As I started to feel that ache of sadness, the Lord was very clear in reminding me that none of this was mine. It was out of His gracious kindness that He allowed me to be a part of building Camp in the City, but City was (and is) for HIS glory and not mine. Our human hearts love to take credit for God’s handiwork and try to build our own kingdoms. It was in the sadness of change that He reminded me that He entrusts us things to steward, but my response should be open-handed obedience to give Him control over what is already His.

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Was there a helpful framework or other resources you used to help make decisions and lead during this time?

Austin Langemeier: I would say the framework used during this time was the same as before. How did Christ lead His people throughout the world pandemic of sin? He made any sacrifice necessary. He got down to their level. He held people accountable. He was motivated by love. He was compassionate and understanding. He cared for people’s physical and emotional well-being. He didn’t always want it… but the Lord’s will be done. He stayed connected to the Father and led out of that connection. For the Lord’s glory and kingdom.

Caleb Carter: The only resource we had was the Holy Spirit. And what a resource He proves Himself to be! He is responsible for the Word of God, and reminds us of the Word of God, and puts power to the concepts within the Word of God. As we notice anxiety increasing in staff due to the ever-changing landscape, what did we do? We leaned into the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, and we exhorted and edified our staff with truth. “Teach me to number my days, that I may gain wisdom.” “…our life is a vapor…” “…to live is Christ and to die is gain…” This was honestly the only way for us to take all of the changes in stride, and maintain a posture of worship and service. And it worked! It seems like we all honestly had substantially more fun than we were during non-COVID summers.

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What would you say to other people who are facing difficult decisions of their own?

Caleb Carter: First off, read what I wrote previously about the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. That’s 90% of the battle. For the other 10%, it was a big deal getting to make decisions in a context with collective wisdom. I’m thankful that I wasn’t in a vacuum making decisions. The leaders above us were weighing in. The other camp directors were weighing in. My full-time team at the Ranch was weighing in. Our summer leadership team was weighing in. Our summer staff was weighing in. The thing about the Holy Spirit is that He is in all of us who believe, and He expresses power and wisdom through the collective much more than He does when we are alone. This is His choice, per His design! There were some big decisions made at the Ranch this summer that came from the wisdom shared by summer staffers! Thank you, Holy Spirit! And thank you, Body of Christ!

Rebecca Smith: I’ve found myself changing my prayers over the years, from asking God to remove the difficult thing in front of me and instead asking that He would increase my faith and trust in Him through it. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Whatever difficult season or decision you’re faced with, trust that He is deepening your roots when you seek Him as the source of life and wisdom. You usually don’t realize how much your roots have grown until much later, but trust that the growing pains you’re experiencing now are purposeful and useful for life and godliness ahead.

Austin Langemeier: Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Follow His example of leadership. Are you willing to sacrifice your idols for Christ and His kingdom? There are so many things to filter through: the bottom line, people’s experience, physical health, spiritual health, mental health, the media, friends and families’ opinions. Are you motivated by Christ’s love? Are you being faithful to seek wisdom not only from the Father but trusted mentors? Are you looking closely at the details because you care for your people? Are you connected to Jesus through His Word and prayer and listening to His Spirit? Is this not what we always should have done? How much more should we do this now? Finally, remember that God doesn’t say He loves those who are perfect decision-makers. God loves sinners enough to send His one and only Son to die for them, not so they can then become perfect decision-makers, but so they can be connected to Him and become more like Him through being connected to the vine.

Taylor Jervis: It seems like the word of the year is “uncertain.” But we are a people who have the objective reality of Jesus within us. The only certainty I know is the life of Jesus in me, the work of the Holy Spirit around me, and the love of the Father upon me. In a time of social distancing, separation, chaos, confusion, and a world at war, the answer is and always has been to draw near. And He will draw near to you.


Pine Cove

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