“Two weeks ago my answer would have been different,” she said. “The number of calls and emails I’ve received about our mobile camp here has been overwhelming. I love camp Jo-Ota, but I’m thankful for this opportunity.”
What was really exciting to McFarland was that the 50 children they were taking to Camp Jo-Ota were already active in the church, and they used the experience as part of the disciple-making process. The mobile camp, however, attracted an additional 100 children that she didn’t know, making it an outreach opportunity like she had never seen.
“These are families I’ve never met in my 15 years of ministry here,” she said. “The way I look at ministry has changed in the last two weeks. People are here who otherwise wouldn’t be here.”
McFarland promoted the event with fliers at school, convincing the administration to allow her to do so by pitching it as a safe place for kids to go for the week.
“There is a lot of poverty here, and many people don’t go on a summer vacation. This week will be summer vacation for these kids,” she said. McFarland leaned hard, or perhaps pushed is a better term, on the congregation to be invitational and sign up friends and neighbor children for the camp.
“I asked our members to remember their vows, which includes witness,” McFarland said. “I asked each family to bring someone with them.”
She blanketed every form of social media in the area with invitations, and provided her own cell phone number to field the calls. If anyone who attends the church had a child who wasn’t signed up, McFarland called them and had a conversation about it.
“I checked in just to see if there was anything I could explain, or anything else we could do to help them be here,” she said.
McFarland also took the Camping and Retreat Ministries Board seriously when they said the mobile camp is not the same as Vacation Bible School.
“Our VBS is two weeks after the mobile camp,” she said.
The mobile camp created a significant amount of work for McFarland. In addition to all of the promotions, she also had to come up with seven families to host the 23 college students who were the mobile camp counselors in their homes for a week. She coordinated things between the mobile camp and the church all week. As a follow-up, McFarland sent the parents pictures of their children at camp, along with an invitation to VBS.
The Sunday before the camp started there were 120 children signed up. The next morning an additional 30 showed, filling the camp to capacity. McFarland decided her gauge for success would be if the children came back. “On day two they were all here,” she said.
Five of the mobile camp counselors were recruited from the Missouri Conference, 11 more were hired on contract through Navigators, along with coordinators.
The counselors all went through a 10-day training in Colorado Springs, where they covered everything from how to set up a giant inflatable water slide, to how to lead a Bible study for seven-year-old girls. The traveling crew moved about in two 12-passenger vans and a box truck. The entire set-up is assembled each morning, starting around 7 a.m. and finishing about 8:15 a.m. All of the equipment is owned by the Navigators.
Melissa Eitel hosted three of the young women counselors after she was asked to do so by McFarland.
“I have three daughters, and if they were doing this I would want people to open their home to them,” Eitel said. “I can’t say enough good about these girls. They are always asking what they can do to help, they clean up after dinner, they’ve been good role models for my daughters. It’s been a blessing.”
After the camp concludes on Friday, the counselors spend one more night with their host families. Then on Saturday morning they pack up and move to their new location. Sunday morning they are in worship in the church that is hosting the next camp.
Last year Becca Massey was the health care supervisor at Camp Galilee. This year she is a counselor with the mobile camp. She was hesitant when Mobile Camp Director Raymond Varner first approached her about being on the road all summer. “I prayed and talked to God about it, and came to realize that I was called to be here,” she said.
Massey has eight brothers and three sisters, so she feels well equipped to do group work with children. And she was impressed with the training.
“The days were long and tiring, but the experience was amazing,” she said. “I felt like my relationship with Christ was strengthened through the experience.”
She had about a week off after finishing her college finals before she went to Colorado. After Colorado it was back to Missouri to immediately start the first camp.
When the summer is over, she’ll have a couple of days at home before it’s back to college.
In addition to the mobile counselors, local churches hosting mobile camps provide high school-age volunteers to crew the event for the week. The mobile camp team said they needed 10 high school students to help crew the camp. In Kirksville McFarland gave them 20.
“It’s great to have the high school kids on crew, because we’re raising up leaders to be counselors for our future camps,” said Mobile Camp Director Raymond Varner.
Watch upcoming issues of the Missouri Methodists for a recap of the 10 mobile camps, as well as stories about core camps and mission camps.