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Camp Piankatank: Serving Kids and Their Families in All Seasons of the Pandemic

Posted 9/23/20 at 2:20pm. Written by Steve Gourley.

I want to share with you how God provided for Camp Piankatank, even in the midst of a global pandemic, and showed us that his gospel will still reach all those who need to hear it. Camp Piankatank entered 2020 with high expectations for its 60th year of Christian camping.

After Virginia Baptists purchased the property in October of 1960, Camp Piankatank became well known as a Royal Ambassador (RA) camp for many years. While we are no longer an RA camp, we still have the same purpose of sharing the love of Christ with young people from all over Virginia. Outside the summer months we are able to continue to operate as a retreat facility for all different types of groups like civic organizations, church youth groups, men’s groups, and school groups. We accommodate these groups year-round, both overnight and just for the day.

After several recent years of consistent growth we were planning to add several much-needed things around camp such as a new dock, a new climbing wall, and perhaps some necessary pool repairs, along with the new and exciting activities that we add each year. Then 2020 happened. When we were supposed to have our first big weekend of the Spring, everything shut down, and everybody started cancelling retreats. However, even though everything shut down, we never questioned whether we would minister to our campers or not.

Our mission is to develop dynamic disciples for Christ through relationships and adventure. We just needed to figure out how we would accomplish this mission in different ways.

As summer drew closer, despite our best efforts to reach out to state officials and make our case that we could safely have overnight camp with a reduced capacity, we were forced to cancel our overnight camp sessions. We then decided that we would do a shortened day camp for just the month of July, and decrease the number of summer missionaries that we use.

We have done day camps in previous summers, but we averaged about 12 campers a week. Even with a reduced staff of only eight, we needed to average at least 20 campers a week to be able to cover our increased costs of running the program. This was certainly something to consider, but we knew that God was calling us to continue the ministry of Camp Piankatank for Summer 2020.

The first such confirmation of this calling came even before campers were at camp. We have asked our summer missionaries to help in raising their support for the summer for the past four years. They are usually able to raise some support, and we provide the rest. This year our summer missionaries were able to raise more support than they have in any other year, with a couple of larger donations from friends of Camp Piankatank.

As we continued into the summer and our first week of camp, it was evident that this was going to be very different and difficult. However, we immediately knew that this was going to be worth our efforts. We were able to speak with parents twice every day, who genuinely expressed their gratitude for providing this program. More importantly, we had a number of stories from parents of children who were able to recite their memory verses at home, were excited to pray for the family or by themselves, and went home singing worship songs.

This is exactly what we want to hear about–lives being changed by the faithful ministry that we are able to provide. About halfway through the summer, another donor brought another donation to help with whatever we needed for the camp. We ended the summer having had a very successful, albeit “strange” summer camp ministry, with 110 total registrations. When we wanted to take the summer missionaries out to an end-of summer-banquet, one of our generous friends of Camp Piankatank called the restaurant and paid for our meal. There were so many stories like this from a summer that was altogether unexpected, confirming what we always knew and expected from God, that he will provide and he will be glorified.

Since all our retreats for the Fall continued to be cancelled, we again wanted to find a way that we could still meet our mission for the rest of this year. After so many parents were asking for us to continue our day camp program, and after we learned that schools would not be opening, we started looking into how we could meet this unexpected need for the school year.

We worked with the Department of Social Services and compiled all the necessary paperwork, and we were able to receive the religious exemption for a child day care center.

We are now in the middle of our new Piankatank Learners program, where we offer a safe place for parents to bring their children while they go to work, and their children are able to complete their virtual learning. After all the students finish their work we have our “fun time” around camp as we do different activities, provide a snack, and have a Bible lesson every afternoon. Our hope is that these children will be able to successfully complete their schooling while still having an opportunity to grow in their faith. It’s not always an easy program to provide, but when we consider the potential impact for God’s Kingdom, it makes everything worth it.

If you’d like to hear more about the programs that Camp Piankatank offers, or to keep up with any changes, visit our website at camppiankatank.com and follow us on Facebook.

Steve Gourley is Director at Camp Piankatank in Hartfield, Virginia.