By Jason Wilkie

Executive Director, Camp Silaom

Lessons learned from 2020

By Jason Wilkie

Executive Director, Camp Silaom

Jason Wilkie is the Executive Director of Camp Siloam in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

On New Year’s Eve there were some humorous Facebook and Instagram posts articulating how glad we are that the challenges of 2020 are behind us.  The following were found on Parade.com:

“First time in history we can save the human race by laying in front of the TV and doing nothing. Let’s not mess this up.”

“2020: verb. When you mess things up beyond belief.

Example: Chad’s car hit a pole, knocked out power and,

well, long story short, he ‘2020’d’ and now a giant squid is destroying the city.”

“Coronavirus has turned us all into dogs: We roam the house looking for food, we’re told ‘no’ if we get too close to strangers, and we get really excited about car rides and walks.”

“Can we uninstall 2020 and install it again? This version has a virus.”

The year 2020 seems like a forgettable year.  A year in which we didn’t accomplish much.  My sister asked me over the holiday what I would like to forget about 2020.  I thought about it for several moments and said, “I don’t want to forget anything.”  Yes, there were difficult moments, but those things have shaped me and grown my faith in a James 1 kind of way.  Navigating last year was like eating a chocolate covered jalapeno; amid the heat, bitterness and challenges, there were some really sweet memories.

2020 was a shaping year for the ministry at Camp Siloam.  While it was not a year of events. It was a year of reflection and shaping of corporate culture and identity.  We identified sales and strategic marketing as a major gap in accomplishing our objectives.  Through a gift from a donor we were able to hire a marketing firm to help us with branding and establishing a strategic marketing plan. We implemented “Traction: Entrepreneurial Operating System” which is a system of planning, goal setting, meetings and accountability designed to help advance the ministry.  

We saw how God can move mountains as we prayed for favor with our insurer, Church Mutual, in coming to agreement on the tornado damage that happened  in October, 2019.  Church Mutual CEO Richard Portier took a personal interest in Camp Siloam’s claim.  Instead of arbitration, we are in the final stages of settling the repairs. 

Don Miller, author of Storybrand, promoted the virus as a time to re-think one’s organization and “pivot.”  Camp Siloam took the opportunity the virus provided to re-evaluate the camp ministry model.  With the help of some creative thinkers outside the camp industry we were able to come up with some new ideas.  We discovered new ways of thinking and brainstorming that help groups understand problems and come to a consensus. We used some of those ideas to meet needs in the Northwest Arkansas community.  One of the immediate needs we were able to meet was the need for men to gather in retreat.  With the help of Eddie Knight at First Baptist in Gentry and Tyler Dixon and Johnny Harp of Cave Springs Baptist we organized a men’s retreat called “Watchmen” in relatively short order and hosted it on October 22, 2020.

We developed a forestry management plan with the help of Tim White, of Russellville.  We harvested and sold timber off of land we don’t use for summer camp.  We had started this plan in February before the crisis and by God’s grace it has helped sustain us.

In 2019 we declared we wanted to have a renewed emphasis on prayer.  In April and May, when the decision to cancel all of summer camp was looming, we were desperately looking to Jesus for a way through. (Funny how God uses crises to draw people closer to him.)  Then in July, the Father sent  Cathy Flack, a prayer warrior who is passionate about prayer and is now coordinating prayer warriors to pray for Jesus’ ministry here.

We have seen the mighty hand of our Heavenly Father at work in 2020.  He heard the prayers of our prayer warriors begging him to preserve His ministry here.  So far, through the generosity of hundreds of people who love what Jesus does in the lives of children at Camp Siloam, God has enabled us to continue.  We won’t know the official results of our financial year until the end of January, however, it is looking as if our revenues will miraculously exceed our expenses in 2020.

Camp Siloam will be open for summer camp in 2021.  We know we can host campers, even if the directives for summer camps from the State of Arkansas remain the same.  Please join us for an incredible summer.

If we didn’t learn anything through this crisis then we have gained nothing. What did we learn at Camp Siloam through the 2020 trials?  Here are ten bullet point lessons we learned this year.

  1. We learned how to make decisions in a landscape that is shifting.  We learned not to make a critical decision until we had to.  Decision making should be easier on the backside of the virus.
  2. We learned the importance of being authentic in a crisis. A crisis draws you into a closer relationship with others.  A crisis draws you closer to the Father.
  3. We learned the importance of unity in big decisions and the organizational strength of making hard decisions with a Board of Trustees.
  4. We learned the importance of acknowledging and honoring the authority over us for our protection.  We learned to appreciate the role our local and state leadership provides for us.
  5. We learned what the CDC really does.
  6. We learned that camp is an experience that can’t be replicated easily in a digital dimension and even if you could, parents wouldn’t pay for it.
  7. We learned the importance of being good friends with your banker.
  8. We learned how much we really do enjoy the company of others.  How important it is to gather together. How much we really do enjoy the company of our co-workers and how important a traditional funeral is for the living to properly say goodbye.
  9. We learned how to ask our minority friends what their American experience is and how to have a healthy dialogue.
  10. We learned how important planning documents are in a crisis (i.e. vision, mission, core values and target market.)

You may say, “The only thing I gained in 2020 was weight.”  We say, in addition to weight, we gained insight, character, endurance, and a strengthened faith.  We look to Jesus and we look forward to 2021.

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