Last year, the staff of Camp Yavapines had been expecting over 800 campers to fill their cabins and their hearts, but when the COVID-19 virus became a pandemic and turned the world upside down, they had to get creative with the way they ministered to their campers. The way in which they had been sharing the gospel for the past 72 summers had to change. Little did they know how big God wanted to go with their evangelistic program last summer.
Switching gears from taking care of campers at camp while sharing the message of Jesus’ love for them was a challenge. How do you run a summer camp without the campers driving the go-karts, flying down the zip line, making a splash in the pool, and singing praises to God each day?
As the creative minds of the leadership team planned together, they knew that the biggest impact on the campers is the evening campfire program. The team asked if that could happen without the campers actually being present at camp, and the unanimous answer was, “Yes we can, but it will be different.”
As the 24 passionate and creative summer camp staff gathered together, the can-do attitude was contagious. Soon, a multitude of ideas were being thrown around, and the best of the best were winnowed out. Considering logistics, equipment, and finances, a plan came together, and the beautiful biblical story of Queen Esther unfolded.
The COVID-19 conditions in which many of the campers had been living had similarities to Esther’s story—she was also thrown into a situation that she was not exactly planning on or excited about. The team kept seeing how God was glorified in the story, and they knew God could be glorified in a summer camp dedicated to Him, even without campers.
Cody Blake, the program director, was given the task of retelling the story of Queen Esther by writing the script, rehearsing with the summer camp staff, and designing the costumes and set. The story had four episodes and was aired on four consecutive Friday nights, beginning July 17, 2020. Princess Demiar and Patty Majano helped the actors get ready with their wardrobe, hair, and makeup. Jo Amaya, the videographer, set the stage, lights, and camera in the best way to capture the story; then she filmed, edited, and added music to the story. Kerysa Ford, associate summer camp director and social media manager, placed “A Time Such as This” on YouTube and connected it to the social media accounts. The staff then watched God do big things. Never did they expect the first episode alone to reach over 3,600 people!
We continue to hear stories from people all over who have watched “A Time Such as This.” We believe the Holy Spirit has taken this story far and wide and is continuing to use it to draw His children to Him. We received several comments on our social media pages throughout the weeks, saying things like, “I can’t wait for the next episode to air!” “This was SO well put-together, and I wish there were more episodes!” and “Thank you so much for doing these! We looked forward to it every week!” One staff member, Marry Drozdov, who played one of the supporting characters, was even recognized at a Panera Bread in Indiana as having been a part of “A Time Such as This.”
Besides preparing the story of Queen Esther in the afternoons, the staff were hard at work in the mornings trimming trails, cutting down scrub oak from the center of camp, painting cabins, painting bunk beds, rebuilding raised flower beds, tearing down the unsafe stage at wagon camp, building a safety line and benches at the archery range, weeding flower beds, and cleaning cabins and bathrooms for the families who were camping during the month of July. One of the newest staff members, Marcos Burgos, said, “At camp, we got to clean up the camp and participate in a play that a lot of kids watched and enjoyed. It felt great to know that I was doing something to serve the kids and to serve God.”
Both morning and evening worships were held, but the evening worships were special. Time was spent each evening opening up Scripture and reading a chapter or two, followed by discussion questions, sharing, and applying what was learned. The discussions would often last over an hour.
Staff member Savannah Courtad said, “Camp this year was definitely a unique experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m very glad I was able to work there. It was an honor to be a part of the team and to work hard and to grow spiritually together.”
It was exciting to see how God took a summer camp without campers and was able to not only touch the campers’ lives but change the staff’s lives as well. Long-time staff member and former camper Erla Trevedan said, “It was a different experience being part of the special projects that we did, instead of being with campers. However, because it was a smaller group of people, I really felt like I got close to everyone. Overall, it was one of the best summers yet!”
We were immensely blessed last summer with what God did in different and difficult times, and we look forward to His continued leading and having campers join us in person for summer 2021.
By Wendy Eberhardt and Kerysa Ford