Success Continues at Camp MiVoden Despite COVID

October 18, 2020 | Youth | Kathy Marson, Dustin Jones

For more than 70 years Camp MiVoden has provided a unique experience for teens to connect with God in an amazing setting. For many kids, their time at camp often serves as the first moment they experience God away from home.

All of that was put in jeopardy when COVID-19 arrived. Camps across the nation closed. 

For Jeff Wines, Camp MiVoden director, the questions started to mount. “Can we even run camp?” he remembers wondering. “I wasn’t sure, but I started learning as much as I could about COVID-19.”

By April, the full-time MiVoden team — Ashley, Caleb, Melissa, Denise and Barclay — had spent considerable time coming up with a plan to run camp ... they hoped. 

A few weeks later, Wines was on a conference call with the board of the Association of Adventist Camp Professionals, which he serves as president. The guest presenter, Tom Rosenberg, American Camping Association CEO, pleaded with Adventist camps to open if possible. “The case for camp has changed," he said. "Now more than ever, every child needs camp — not just this summer but beyond this summer, in 2021 and beyond.”

MiVoden is accredited by ACA, whose mission is to have health, safety, and risk management industry standards — whether under normal conditions or in a pandemic. Recommendations from this group weighed heavily on Wines.

As Wines contemplated the facts of COVID-19, Rosenberg's rang in his ears. Rosenberg had asked, “How do we raise the resources to offer more camp, not less, because clearly kids need it.” Wines had a growing concern for young people and their families, and Rosenberg’s comments impacted him as well. The mission to connect campers to Christ and Rosenberg's words were a driving force for Wines and the MiVoden team to be more intentional about running Camp MiVoden this summer. 

“We needed a place where kids could be in a more normalized community,” says Wines. “Young people and families needed relationship with each other in a peaceful Christ-centered, outdoor environment.”

Not long after the conference call, ACA came out with a “Field Guide for Camps" for how to set up and run camp. At about the same time, Idaho and Washington sent information about stages for reopening. “We started working with the Panhandle Health District in Idaho and monitored what was happening with the pandemic in Kootenai County," Wines explains. "We contacted local camps in northern Idaho as well as our sister camp in southern Idaho, Ida-Haven.”

Wines stayed in touch with Upper Columbia Conference and North Pacific Union Conference risk management and legal departments as well as the union youth director, Rob Lang, to make sure how to proceed appropriately. A presentation was made to the Camp MiVoden board about attempting to run camp during COVID-19. After presenting all the information gleaned and a proposal on how to run camp, and after a lot of dialogue, the board unanimously agreed to the proposal of running camp. Wines says, “We recognized that at any time Camp MiVoden could be shut down, but it was worth it to try.”

Wines arrived at Camp MiVoden on June 25, 2020. The smell of the pine trees, the sunlight glinting off the water, birds talking and the gentle breeze wafting through the trees greeted him as he looked out across Hayden Lake. Uppermost in his mind were these words: "Are we ready?"

After months of work, Wines and the amazing year-round staff were tired but ready for the arrival of the summer camp staff. Staff received a mask with Camp MiVoden’s logo on the front. They all had a temperature check and a questionnaire about symptoms related to COVID-19. All staff were asked to document a two-week temperature check before arriving. 

Each staff member was significantly dedicated to being at camp because they knew at any time MiVoden could be shut down. They knew they couldn’t leave for normal days off, and they would only be able to connect with the people in their department at mealtimes with proper physical distance. The staff knew it would be a hard summer, but they also knew it would be one of the most memorable and rewarding summers at camp.

Staff came from all over the country, representing at least seven other camps that couldn’t open. Many of these young people wanted to work at camp no matter what and, in some cases, were willing to fly and drive across the country just to work at MiVoden. 

Wines and his staff began to ask if there were creative new things that could be put in place that would make MiVoden’s ministry better in the long run and help mitigate COVID-19. They asked, “Are there things that have been done in the past that could revitalize camp and give us more opportunities?” Instead of looking at the glass as half empty, they began to look at the glass half full.

“This summer felt like I was running camp for the first time,” says Wines. “However, through the encouragement and journeying with multiple people, I started to look at the opportunities — the opportunities that could happen because of COVID-19."

They moved camp from a seven-day camp to a five-day camp. This allowed for significant cleaning of the camp and a day off for staff. Registration was drive-through for youth campers, with parents only getting out of their car one time to unload luggage. Camp MiVoden provided logo masks for all campers and asked campers to wear masks where appropriate and within the guidelines of Kootenai County and ACA recommendations.

Every Friday as camp finished and campers went home, multiple campers would share how grateful they were for camp. Wines says, “They would mention things that we had changed, due to COVID-19, and ask that we keep many of those things in place. Then, while some cried, they would say that camp this year was amazing and they were so grateful to be at camp.”

“As I look back, recognizing that there are always things that need to be made better, changed or fixed, I realize that, despite everything, we took a chance, looked for the opportunities, asked God to bless, and He showed up in mighty ways,” says Wines. “We have not had one known case of COVID-19 from this summer."

God showed up at Camp MiVoden. “I saw God work through our amazing, full-time staff and summer staff," Wines says. "I saw God work through our campers. I saw God above the mask in the twinkling eye of a camper who enjoyed shooting off a rocket, painting a ceramic, riding a horse or wakeboard. I saw God through programs that shared how Jesus loves each of us and that we can overcome giants. The title of our evening play was Every Giant Will Fall. I saw God as campers were around commitment fires and giving their lives to Jesus.”