Making the most of a COVID-19 summer

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SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. – On June 5, Camp Siloam’s Board of Trustees accepted the staff recommendation to cancel the 2020 summer camp season as a precaution to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was one of many announcements that would follow across the state in late May and early June as a number of events in different capacities were canceled.

With facilities empty, Jason Wilkie, Executive Director at Camp Siloam, knew this was going to be a different summer than most but wanted to lean into their mission and use this time, somehow, for God’s glory. On July 5, Camp Siloam began allowing churches to request to rent facilities on campus to conduct their own programs and facilities.

Churches can ‘Book a Retreat’ on Camp Siloam’s website which allows them to rent out meeting spaces, housing, use of the cafeteria where Siloam will prepare meals for them, and other facilities available upon request. The way Siloam developed this strategy allows for them to be able to host up to three churches with a maximum of 100 people each, separately and safely. Most groups have been under 50.

“In this environment, we feel like this is the most feasible way to do ministry until things change,” Wilkie said. “We made a decision several weeks ago that we really need to lean into this more. We haven’t really, actively talked to churches and church leaders about the power of retreats, and the power of retreating to the wilderness to spend time with the Lord and bringing small groups. We’re advocating now, you know, bring a group of 30 and just enjoy time together.”

Churches provide their own programs, such as worship leaders and speakers. Churches are also responsible for pre-monitoring their attendees before arrival. Each church is asked to have their participates monitor their temperature for a week preceding arrival at Siloam. Upon departure from the church, each camper is asked some questions, and parents are asked to sign off on the forms to assure they haven’t shown any symptoms and their temperatures are checked again. These are turned into Camp Siloam upon arrival. Each night while at camp temperatures are checked. Protocols are in place for a camper who spikes a fever or develops symptoms, but so far no one has.

Wilkie talked about an encounter with two boys from Union Valley Baptist Church in Beebe who approached him after one of the services. “They both said, ‘Of the three years we’ve come to camp, this seems like it has been the best year yet’ and it just blew me away that the Lord would still meet them here even though things are different and I was excited about that,” Wilkie said. “Special things can still happen even though it’s small.”

Union Valley Baptist Church in Beebe went twice to Siloam this summer. Once with their youth group and again with their children’s ministry.

“We’re used to going there when there’s like a thousand kids there,” Dana Johnston, Union Valley’s Children’s Minister, said. “So it was a little bit different and quiet but still, the atmosphere of just being there. All the kids had a great time.” On Tuesday evening two kids accepted Christ. “There’s always something about being at camp and you just get that, you can just feel the Lord’s presence there.”

It was the kids’ first time at camp, and as a Camp Siloam tradition, they got to ring the bell after their decisions. “Usually you hear the bell going off all week long,” Johnston said. “So it was refreshing to hear that bell.”

Wilkie was excited to hear that even though the camp was different, God was still moving and changing the lives of those who were visiting. “We were thrilled that God still meets people here no matter the size of the group or what the programming is like,” Wilkie said. “This is just a special place and the Lord just seems to…work here.”

Camp Siloam plans to continue hosting churches for retreats until next June with hopes that camp will return to normal by next summer. Any group can request to book a retreat as long as they allow two things:

  1. For Camp Siloam to pray before every meal.
  2. To allow Siloam to present the Gospel and talk about what they do to each group that comes in.

“This seems to be a pretty good threshold for groups that want to come and that are sharing their own message,” Wilkie said.

To book a retreat, or get more information on how you can do this, click here.

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