Hear about challenges, partnership, and hope with Deacon Randy Youngquist-Thurow, Executive Director at Agape + Kure Beach Ministries, and Deacon Mitzie Schafer, Vice President for Development at NovusWay Ministries (Lutheridge, Lutherock, Luther Springs, and Lutheranch).
What have the challenges of COVID-19 been like for your ministry?
Randy: Losing a whole summer of camp is so hard. You can plan and plan, and then everything you planned for months all of a sudden goes away, and there’s a whole other plan that needs to happen. That’s been so exhausting. The reality is that 65% of our operating income comes from people coming and using our facilities. To take that away and have no other recourse to fill that void was very hard. Every member of our staff took significant cuts in pay to help get us through.
Mitzie: Once we knew we were probably not going to have camp last summer, we projected a $3 million loss in revenue which has now basically been realized. So that’s 75% of our budget. That’s an incredibly difficult thing for any ministry to recover from. We made deep cutbacks in expenses and payroll. Everybody sacrificed. Personally for me as a rostered leader who works for this ministry and who benefited from this ministry, and who is a rostered leader because of the ministry in a lot of ways, the emotional loss of not having summer camp was profound, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that. It was also such a loss to the church. It is going to have a huge ripple effect that the whole ELCA missed camp for a summer.
What difference does being a part of the North Carolina Synod make for you?
Randy: The three words that jump to my mind are support, partnership, and leading. Bishop Tim and synod staff have continually checked in on us, and more than that, they have urged us on. They’ve reminded us that we have an important role in the synod, thinking of us as a real partner and seeing the value in what we do. And when we assessed that we needed to go into a special appeal in order to survive through COVID, the Synod stepped up as a leader right away with a financial kickstart that made a huge difference in us meeting and exceeding our goal.
Mitzie: I want people to know that the synod has rallied for us, at the congregation level, at the donor level, and at the synod office and synod staff level. But it’s not like they just appeared all of a sudden because of this crisis. It’s one thing to say that when things are bad, we pull together. But being part of a synod carries us all the time. We’ve done the fun things together—the laughing and the playing, the retreats and the spiritual development and the building each other up. And so, because our relationship is so intimate and so strong, in the midst of a crisis we could adapt to each other’s needs and be in relationship in new ways. So, getting video messages from little Moses DeNise on our day of giving that said he loves camp and he wanted to give his own money to camp—that’s part of being a synod. It happens on a deeper level when a relationship can shift. I think that’s what happened during COVID.
What do you need right now?
Mitzie: We launched the Light the Fire appeal for $1.8 million which was intended to fill the gap and keep us functioning so that we can make sure summer camp 2021 happens safely. We’ve raised $1.4 million of our goal so far, and that’s amazing! While that has allowed us to remain steady and do the year-round work of preparing for summer camp, now we’re in the time of year when camp registrations usually pay for that work, and registrations are coming in slower than usual. So what we need most right now is for people to stay the course on their Light the Fire giving, because this last part of the campaign is the most critical.
Randy: The biggest need is to help us move forward now. We’re not just recovering anymore, we’re moving forward. So, we need help finding staff for this summer. And we need your confidence in getting campers signed up.
Why does camp matter?
Mitzie: Kids need camp. They need to be outside; they need to be in these relationships. They need to grow self-esteem and independence and leadership and friendship skills and positive values and decision-making skills. They need to follow a counselor around who they completely look up to and admire and want to be like someday. They need to hear about the unconditional love of God in a community that means it when they say it. Kids just need camp. So, our hope for this summer is that our sites and our spaces are safely filled with the faith formation and leadership development that only camp can provide.
Randy: It’s about fulfilling our baptismal covenant to teach the faith. We don’t exist without that command. Camp partners with congregations and the people of God to fulfill that baptismal covenant, teach the faith, and build leaders. We need to live that out now bigger and stronger than we’ve ever lived it.
The partnerships between the North Carolina Synod and its camps are longstanding and strong. Your Mission Support dollars are but one aspect of that partnership. Please pray for Agape+Kure Beach Ministries and NovusWay as they continue their ministries during this challenging time and be a part of the continued baptismal covenant they fulfill; the hope they offer. Connect more with the ministries of Agape+Kure Beach and NovusWay by visiting agapekurebeach.org and novusway.org.