Alternative Camps for NOW!

April 16, 2020

"and when Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp!” So, he called that place Mahanaim." (Genesis 32:2)
I asked myself, "What is our theology of comfort in the ministry of camping and retreat in this COVID-19 pandemic?" I brought up the word theology because I believe that each and every one of us is a theologian by virtue of our experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus from all forms of oppression, injustice, hatred and evil. Our theology as I suggest in this time of COVID-19 pandemic is that God is with us, Mahanaim: God is our camp and we, as part of God's camp while sheltering in place are trusting in God while facing the raging storm of disease, pain, death, grief and anxiety. And in Jesus, God is our camp, as we embrace EMMANUEL.
I've been reflecting with calmness, cautious and so eager how to navigate and maneuver collectively our camping ministry while bodily (social) distancing. I am praying how we can sustain offering spiritual formation and discipleship means through camping and retreat ministries in defining the new normal of connecting and building relationship. I believe in God's gift to us of a community. As a community of faith called United Methodists in the California-Nevada Conference, we could find answers to our questions collectively, together. I begin to embrace and understand the Hebrew word, Mahanaim, God's camps. Camp is defined as the persons, people so sheltered collectively. While first responders and those who are on the front line are sheltered by God with their courage and commitment to their call, we are on the second line of advocacy in helping them save lives by our sheltering in place and yet, finding and working on creative ways to meet the needs of the poor, the undocumented and the marginalized.
Questions arise and we wrestle with hope and faith on what would work in engaging children, youth, young adults and adults in the ministries of camping and retreat amid pandemic. I invite us to explore more and understand the theology of Mahanaim, God's camps; God and us together living in such a time as this.
On our behalf, I thank our collective ministry of the United Methodist Camps, Retreat Ministries (UMCRM) in providing Digital Day Camp for our use. I call this, "ALTERNATIVE CAMPS FOR NOW." This is a wonderful gift from the UMCRM to offer to our churches in our continued spiritual formation and discipleship ministry to proclaim that we're still together. I look forward to contributing creative ways of camping to this virtual day camp. 
May we embrace the theology of Mahanaim, God's camp and our camp together through this virtual day camp. Our Board of Camping, Camp Directors, staff, volunteers and I, would like to invite you to consider and do Alternative Camps with us. 
Your friend in camping and retreat ministry,
Fel Cao, Director Camping Retreat and Young People’s Ministries

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At United Methodist Camps, our campers are always at the heart of what we do. We know that recent events have caused significant change in the lives of campers everywhere and we are here to support in the best way we know how.