Rand Hummel on Christian Camps During COVID-19

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How many people do you know who have been positively impacted by the ministry of a Christian summer camp? I spent almost 30 years serving as the staff evangelist and the camp director at Northland Camp and Conference Center, and during that time I saw God work powerfully in the lives of thousands of campers.

God saved our student host, Sarah Rumpf, at a Christian camp, so we discuss her experiences. And I’m very thankful that Dr. Rand Hummel stopped by my office to discuss the current state of camps and how The Wilds of New England is operating during COVID-19. I hope this episode gives you the burden to pray for Christian camps everywhere.

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Transcript for Rand Hummel on Christian Camping during COVID-19 podcast:

(Music)

Rumpf: Welcome to Highest Potential with Dr. Steve Pettit, a podcast that explores how Bob Jones University empowers individuals to reach their highest potential for God’s glory.

Pettit: Well, welcome back to my office for a new episode of our podcast. I’m so delighted today to have Sarah Rumpf with us. Sarah, how are you?

Rumpf: Good, how are you doing?

Pettit: I’m doing great. Student Body is surviving the semester?

Rumpf: One week at a time.

Pettit: One week at a time. We’re probably beyond the tired point.

Rumpf: Yeah, I’d say so.

Pettit: And I think everybody is trying to get over the hump and come in towards finishing off the semester.

Rumpf: Yeah. We only have a few weeks left, so – hard to believe.

Pettit:  Hard to believe. Well, the students have done well; we’re thankful for God’s blessing. I think everybody’s still thankful that we can be on campus and in class.

Rumpf: Yeah.

Pettit: One of the things we’ve been talking about is the opportunity for people to be involved in serving in the summertimes, especially in summer camp ministries. And I know, Sarah, you have had a lot of experience growing up in New England in summer camps. So, tell us a little bit about those experiences.

Rumpf:  Yeah, so I grew up going to the Wilds of New England. I started out in 2008 when I was – I think I was in third or fourth grade starting out. It wasn’t New England back then. They hadn’t had their property in New Hampshire yet, so they were just renting a facility. So, that was my first summer in 2008, and then in 2009 they bought the property in Deering and I was able to go to the Wilds of New England every year until I graduated. So, I participated in CIT program, and I loved my time at the Wilds of New England.

Pettit: So, CIT is what as a?

Rumpf: So, it’s called a “Camper in Training” program, it’s a Go Leadership program for highschoolers who are interested in taking the next step in camp ministry.

Pettit: Right, right. So, you went there all through your teen years.

Rumpf: Yep.

Pettit: And then, what about college?

Rumpf: Yes, so then in college I knew I wanted to spend at least one summer serving at a camp, and I wanted to counsel, so I ended up working at the High Point Camp in Pennsylvania and I loved my time there. I was a counselor, and it was great.

Pettit: So, one summer.

Rumpf: Yeah.

Pettit: OK. So, looking back in your going to camp, from your perspective, what are some of the most memorable experiences?

Rumpf: Yeah, so growing up at camp, definitely the first one on that list is getting saved. So, I was saved at camp, at the Wilds, and then, just making so many friends there and building relationships with my counselors. I’m still friends with some of my counselors, you know, years and years later, so …

Pettit: So, it had a great impact on your life.

Rumpf: Oh yeah, huge.

Pettit: And of course, Mr. Rand Hummel, always has an impact.

Rumpf: Yes, yeah.

Pettit: And, I’m assuming you really enjoyed hearing him speak.

Rumpf: Yes, absolutely. I grew up hearing him at camp, so when he comes to campus, I’m brought back to my camp days.

Pettit: We’re excited that Rand is going to be back here this year for our Bible Conference.

Rumpf: Oh, that’s awesome!

Pettit: So, we’re excited about having him back.

My experience in camp actually goes over about a 30-year span. So, a little bit longer than you’ve been alive. I started in 1982, speaking in a camp in northeastern Wisconsin called Northland Camp and Conference Center and my good friend, Marty Herron, had just become the camp director. And Marty was probably about 25 or 26 years old, and I was a 26-year-old youth pastor, and he invited me to speak at a summer camp, and I came up and spoke in ’82. And he invited me back in 1984 to speak again in the camp, and then in 1985 I began in the ministry of evangelism and he asked me to come and be the summer camp evangelist.

So, I was the camp evangelist from 1985 until 2002. So, that’s a pretty long span there. And every summer my family and I went there, and it is probably my children’s fondest memories of growing up, at least some of them. As we would pull up to the camp in the summertime after traveling all year, and I’d let my kids out, and they would just – that was their world. And we would go in the middle of May, and we would leave in early August.

Rumpf: So, you were travelling throughout the year and then in summers you would …

Pettit: Yes, yes.

Rumpf: So, a second home almost.

Pettit: Well actually, it became our first home because in 1999, we bought a house there, and that became our summer home.

Rumpf: OK.

Pettit: And then in 2002, I became the director of Northland Camp, and I did that until 2011. And so, 29 years at Northland Camp, and the camp experience was life changing for campers who came. And I meet people now almost everywhere I go who did a summer at Northland.

Rumpf: Yeah.

Pettit: Either as a camper or a counselor working there.

So, obviously camp has had a tremendous impact in people’s lives. And so, that’s really what today’s podcast is all about. I’m very thankful that Dr. Rand Hummel actually came to speak to the student body in chapel here. And then we took the time to gather together in my office and to talk about the current state of camping, especially in how Christian camps have been handling life during COVID. And it’s been very, very challenging, but I think this conversation will be encouraging and also put us in a place of praying for our Christian camps around the United States of America. So, let’s listen to our conversation.

(Music)

Pettit: Well, we are so thrilled and honored today to have Dr. Rand Hummel, or just Rand, with us today. And Rand is a – how do I describe Rand? He’s a preacher, he’s a camp director, he’s an author. He’s probably best known as a friend to lots and lots of people, and Rand, we’re just thrilled to have you today.

Hummel: Thank you.

Pettit: Rand is the camp director at the Wilds of New England up in New Hampshire. And he’s speaking at chapel at Bob Jones University and has always been a favorite to our students.

And so, I wanted Rand to come to my office today, and I want to talk to him about camping, the state of camping, where we are, and then also how is it that COVID has affected it, and what do things look like in the future.

But let me just begin. Rand, tell us a little bit about your life and how you are where you got today.

Hummel: Wow. Well first of all, I’ve had the privilege of being with The Wilds for 42 years, 30 years in North Carolina and now 12 years in New England. And I will say after 42 years, I love getting up every morning and going to work. I love what I do, I really do. I love the staff, I love the kids, and just the challenge of helping them to learn to hate sin more and love God more. And that really is what I get to do. And so I’ve made, had the privilege of having a lot of friends of many, many ages through the camping ministry.

How did I get there? I come from a kind of very, well, very difficult background. So, I was dating a girl back in 1972. She was – told me I needed to come to her church because there were these guys playing brass instruments, I play a trumpet, from some college called Bob Jones University, never heard of it. In 1972 I met an ensemble, had pizza with two of the guys after. I was impressed, because this was 1972, and they had short hair, and I didn’t, obviously. And I thought, Wow, they’re not embarrassed about that. So, that night at five to 12, I knelt next to my bed and said, God, I want to be like those guys.

So, two years later, I did. I actually found a room in the church on my way to work and prayed an extra half hour every morning for the entire summer before I came to Bob Jones University in 1974 so maybe that they would not kick me out or whatever. I had never been here and knew nothing about it, but I knew I wasn’t that spiritual to make it through a Christian university.

Then I got here, and God started using individuals, roommates and professors to touch my heart. And never applied to go to The Wilds. I knew I wasn’t probably spiritual enough or popular enough; I just didn’t think they would ever accept me. I worked as a plumber getting through all my years of school and when I finished and graduated, I was getting married, and they said, what are you going to do? I was headed to the mission field to help a missionary with their music, and um, as a plumber and I wouldn’t have to raise support. And they said, well, The Wilds is looking for people to learn camping work maintenance. And so, I went for one year, 1978, and obviously, this many years. Bottom line was – because of the difficult past, I was gpnna – if I could go to like Chile, South America, and could be 6,000 miles away from that life, which I wanted to hide and God wanted to use. This is II Corinthians 1:4, “Use the difficulties to impact others for Christ.”

And so, I went to The Wilds. They asked me to stay; I said no. They asked me again and I said, One more year. And bottom line, everything that God was working – everything that I was trying to run from, God pushed me into a brand-new situation to the point where once I started it, I started loving it. Would you preach chapel? I said no way; I can’t do that. Would you write? When Bob Jones University asked me to write for them, I said, I can’t. You look at my grades in English, you won’t ask me. They said, Can we take one of your messages and put it in a book form? I said, Fine. And that’s what started it. Now that’s one of my favorite things is getting up early and studying so I can write now, so. And it’s been a — I’ve had a wonderful, joyful life serving the Lord by literally taking the truth of God to kids with the love of God.

Pettit: Well, all the years I’ve known you, which really goes back to probably ’81 or 2, so it’s almost 40 years, your zeal and your passion and your love for teenagers in particular has affected thousands and thousands of young people. And I’m sure there’s very few people who’ve I’ve ever met who have had that influence, but it’s just the outflow of the inflow of the life of Christ in and through you.

I want our people that listen to really grasp the value of camping. And of course, The Wilds is a very unique place. It’s located here in North Carolina about an hour and 15 minutes from the campus of Bob Jones University. And of course, The Wilds of New England is an outflow of that camp.

But, talk to us about the value of camping. And of course, you’ve been under the The Wilds’ philosophy all this time that was originally started with Dr. Ken Hay, who actually taught here at Bob Jones University. So, talk to us about that.

Hummel: Yeah. Well, especially in our COVID world today, if you think about it, the kids are kind of stuck in the house in front of a computer screen or iPad, they don’t get to be with their friends, and they’re very lonely, OK? And that’s why this past summer – oh, the emails and the texts how much they miss camp was huge, because part of getting them away from the normals of life and just getting to a place … Camps all over the United States, there are wonderful Christian camps. I think you have maybe over 50 that normally come here every fall and get students to work for them and all, and they’re all great places. Because we’re getting them to a place where we have a controlled environment, extended exposure to the Word of God, and then, obvious extended exposure to dedicated lives, what we call the counselors.

And people say, what makes up a good camp? Well honestly, I can say, it’s not the property; you can have an OK property and a not-so-funny fun time and just OK food – you’ve got counselors that really love the kids and really love God, and you have a speaker that so loves God and uses his Word, you’re going to have a great week of camp, you are.

Dr. Hay taught us you could have a good camp in the church parking lot. And I remember him saying that, and I said well it’s nice having property with zip lines and waterfalls and all that. And then this last summer when in New England, they closed us down in New Hampshire, and within – literally – within 24 hours, my staff said, “We’re going to go to the kids then,” and we set up 12 Day of Camps at churches, four of them in Pennsylvania and the other eight through the six states of New England, and over 1,200 kids show up.

Pettit: That’s awesome.

Hummel: Many, many trusted Christ – in church parking lots! Now they’ve got some “Orange Blossom Special” and “If My Nose is Running Money” and “Five Pounds of Possum,” and we preached twice to them. I had pizza; the first, second, third, fourth, fifth — we did have hot dogs at the sixth rally, OK, and then all the rest were pizza again. So, I’m putting off pizza a little bit now. But just to be with these kids, and they were so excited just for us to be there and show that we really care.

And so, camping is a part where we just kind of come in – if you want to know what I do, I’m a sheepdog, OK? Pastors are shepherds, they have their sheep, and then as a sheepdog, I can bite  at the heels and bark at them and push them back to the shepherd, back to the local church, and at the same time showing them how excited we are about God’s Word and trying to kind of infuse and plant seeds into their heart that they would love the Word of God.

Pettit: Well, you and I both – you know, you’ve been a camp director for many years, and I was a camp director up in northern Wisconsin, and the impact of camping on the lives of Christian young people is just absolutely undeniable. And hundreds and hundreds of young people who have been saved, and their lives have been transformed through that concentration of God’s Word in one week is unbelievable.

So, do you see this as a – do you see that this is what people still want for the future?

Hummel: Oh, according to what we’re seeing both through fundraising, through letters – I think if we opened camp today, if we could. Number 1, the kids want to come. Number 2, the parents – they need a break from their kids, they want to send them for a couple weeks, and we’re seeing that. So, I trust that next summer, 2021, would again for all our camps across the United States be one of the greatest summers that we’ll have. We trust God will do that if He doesn’t return, the doors will be opened up and the regulations will be such that we can have full weeks of camp.

Yeah, the kids – we do a thing called daily meditations. It’s just a five-minute Bible study, walking through a book of the Bible for teens. Anybody can subscribe to it. You can go to randhummel.com to subscribe to it, and I don’t even know how many right now are doing that daily, because they just love a touch of that memory of being with their Christian friends and being encouraged by the Word of God.

And if, even those listening, if you think how many people you know, or maybe yourself, that actually made a life-changing decision at a camp. It is – it’s huge in their lives.

Pettit: You know, historically, revival has always started among young people.

Hummel: Right.

Pettit: And of course, one of the most likely places for that to take place is in a Christian camp. I’ve seen it happen over my ministry. And I remember back in the early 90s, some unusual things happened, not just a handful but literally hundreds of teenagers getting saved and their lives being transformed. Those people are in ministry today

And when I think of The Wilds of New England and the influence that it is having in that region pf the country – tell us about New England and the influence that the Wilds of New England is having.

Hummel: Well, first of all, we serve over 300 local churches every summer and that’s amazing. We just had a couple’s retreat this past weekend at The Wilds of New England. I spoke because all of our speakers were from out of state, and we had to cancel everybody. We had 30 couples, and 10 of them were pastors, OK? With that in mind, I went to another pastor’s fellowship last Monday – I think maybe 18 or 20 pastors were there. One of them – I’ll just put it this way, one of them came up to me and said, “Rand, I know you’re burdened for The Wilds of New England and you want to see it continue.”

Because, obviously, with COVID all camps – you name the Christian camp in your state, and there’s going to be financial ramifications, because most camps make their money in the summer, so if you take a normal camper fee, say $300, and you have 1,000 campers, you can see how it’s a big hit. So financially, there’s issues there. And then even in the staff recruiting, getting college kids being willing to come to camp and work there for a summer, okay? And all of this, when you put it in place in New England, we have seen God work some amazing – and taking care of us financially; staffing, because personally 74% of our counselors come through our CIT, our Counselor In Training program at The Wilds of New England, and that alone is increasing the leadership in every youth group out there.

Pettit: So, CIT would be like a two-week …

Hummel: Yeah, it’s a two-week training, leadership …

Pettit: More intensive.

Hummel: They have to be a junior or senior to come, and it’s a great two weeks, but encouraging teens. Now, New England, there’s not big churches, not many. Youth groups of two, three and four. So, when they come to camp, they schedule so they’re always coming with their friends and they just look around and go, “Wow! I’ve never seen this many teens in my life!”

Now, I had the privilege of being in North Carolina with about 1,000 kids a week, and I’ve even had kids from New England say, Now, I hear there’s another Wilds in North Carolina. Are they as big as this one?” And I say, “Well, about 10 times bigger than this one.”

But just to see – I think one thing is just to see pastors coming together and seeing we’re fighting this battle against sin, against our culture, but they’re all in it together. Everybody does it a little bit different, but at the same time, we’re in this together trying to help these kids truly know God and know Him personally.

Pettit: Well, the impact of camping is just, at least from my perspective, I’ve watched it when I was an evangelist. And I would go into churches, and I would see the effect of camping in the fall and the spring of what took place in the summer and actually, the boost that it would make in the lives of the young people.

And then, of course, in the world we live in, since our emphasis is on Christian higher education, the Christian colleges were blessed because of the combination of the local church and the camps. And when you were to ask a student at Bob Jones University how many of you made a life decision in camp, hundreds and hundreds of hands have gone up.

So, let’s talk about kind of where COVID hit The Wilds and then how are we looking coming forward.

Hummel: Well, I’ll give you some circle vision. When I heard that we couldn’t have camp, I’ll be honest – I cried, and then I got mad, and then I figured the governor had just made a mistake and he’s going to change it. In other words, I was truly grieving. The problem is that I did that for about three weeks, okay. And honestly, you go through – ‘cause this was the first time for me in 42 years that we didn’t have that kind of camp.

What we did is we took camp to the kids. And like I said, we went to local churches all over  New England, outside rallies, put up buckets six feet apart, played games where we were socially distanced, and we masked, and we had zero problems over 1,200 kids

I preached twice – one thing I want to mention, I preached a message called “Martyraphobia, the Fear of Witnessing,” and out of that 1,200, at least – probably more than this, but at least 600 at least raised their hand that they would make a commitment to God that they would witness to at least three of their unsaved friends before school started this fall. Well, you know, if you say three times 600, that’s like 1,800 other teens who heard the Gospel.

And would I do it again? Yeah. Do I want to do it again? No. I’d rather have them at the campsite where we can be lovin’ on them from Monday all the way through Saturday, okay?

So, that’s the first thing. Second thing, obviously, is the finances, and many, many camps lost a lot. At The Wilds of New England, we have cut expenses. Our entire staff, and there’s only five of us, but we are all now bi-vocational. I am pastoring as interim pastor, Steve’s working for an auto mechanic, Cathy’s cleaning – just to supplement our income so we’re ready to have a wonderful week coming up.

But again, through the rallies, through gracious giving friends and churches, God is supplying. In other words, we just had our fundraising banquet on Monday night, and I will say this – we’re going to have camp next summer.

Pettit: Amen.

Hummel: And we have zero debt, which is such a blessing.

Pettit: Right.

Hummel: And with the zero debt, and we’re working hard to make sure we’re going to be ready for those kids next year. But a lot of camps, especially the bigger camps, you know, they took such a hit. Honestly, if anybody is looking to invest in teenagers, there’s a thing they’re doing at The Wilds about Adopt A Camper. You can go on wilds.org and see this. And as you adopt a camper you’re helping to just take care of the funds to keep the camp site and the staff and so forth at the place where we can be ready next summer and still give the kids an excellent experience.

And then along with how the COVID hit, in regards to just being out to churches, and I feel so for local churches because it’s hard to meet together and to bring outside speakers in and so forth. So, if the churches – people say, What’s the best thing for campers or What’s the best thing we can do for The Wilds, send your kids. Send your kids. Start now encouraging parents to send them for a week or two weeks. You say, I don’t know which camp to go to, pick two camps and go to two of them, okay?

Because it’s that concentrated exposure to the Word of God, the dedicated lives – it is so conducive for life-changing decisions for these kids. You think Paul. One journey, one road, changed his life. And a week at camp can literally, literally – I mentioned at the beginning how that I had pizza with two guys for two hours, it changed the direction of my life. Can you imagine a godly counselor impacting some teenagers for a whole week? That can impact the entire direction of their life.

Pettit: You know, this summer, well, not this summer, but when COVID hit here at Bob Jones, we were like everybody else. We had to close the doors, and we had to pivot to remote online. And of course, during that time everybody was in an isolated mode. Someone has said that 2020 is the longest leap year ever—29 days in February, 300 days in March, and five years in April. And everything seems so long. And during that time, all of us were isolated here. I came in the office and worked every day but then I went home and didn’t see anybody, didn’t go out to eat, you know, you weren’t attending local churches.

I came to the conclusion that on the one hand, this is not a positive spiritual experience. This is a negative. It is a negative with the people of God. It is a distressing, stressful, emotional time where people are drifting away, and I’m so thankful that we can listen to sermons online, but a sermon online is not a sermon on the campus or the church. It’s two different worlds. God intended for the church to gather together because Christ is in the midst of that body. And so, I see it has been a negative and I feel like the people of God are going to have to put forth a greater urgency. Instead of being passive and going with the flow, it is actually time to now kick it in gear and come out strong. So, this summer for camp ministry, in my estimation, is humongous, because we really don’t want to go another summer without this in the life of our young people. And this is just such an urgent time for us.

Those that are listening, I want to encourage you to give a gift to The Wilds or The Wilds of New England and support camping ministry, because it’s the life blood of our future. Bob Jones University is dependent on churches and particularly upon youth groups, and Christian schools and the spiritual life that is going on.

So Rand, what you’re doing is so important, so, why don’t you give us and kind of cast a vision for us. I know you’re always; you always have a vision of what’s next. I’ve never known you to want to sit back and just rest but go forward, so how do you cast the vision for the next few years here?

Hummel: Yeah, well, obviously encouraging, like for you, to encourage your students to find a good Christian camp in the United States and work there. Because they only have so many summers to give, and the memories that they build are lifelong. I can put it this way – I finished a book – now get this, I finished it in December even though, because of COVID, it’s going to come out this month. The title of it  is Contagious, and it was before I even knew that COVID was going to hit. It’s basically a study on the first book of Thessalonians — contagious love, contagious hope, contagious joy. And when the Thessalonians got it, it spread quickly to the whole world.

And that’s why it’s so important when you take 50, like in New England staff members, 240 like in North Carolina, and take every other camp. You take that many young people who have contagious hope, and contagious love and contagious joy, and they pour their lives one-on-one into these campers that come in, I’m telling you, the ministry of multiplication, it’s just amazing what God’s going to do through that. And so, I mean personally, I look around the world and I think the Lord’s going to come soon.

Pettit: Yes.

Hummel: And He might, and that would be a wonderful, wonderful thing, OK? If He tarries, I think we need to more and more and more encourage as many as we can to go to camp, to work at camp – it’s so important for them. I’ll mention New England. Barna did a study last year. Do you realize seven of the 10 most post-Christian cities in America are all in New England?

Pettit: Yes.

Hummel: And when I read that, I was on my way to walk up to our barn, and there’s 180 kids up there singing praises to God, and I’m saying, Lord, You put us – we can punch holes into the darkness of the air of this country, and this is such a wonderful thing, may we continue.

And then just encouraging and reinforcing the local church, faithful to the Word of God, bringing servant-hearted staff in there. It is an environment that is very conducive to spiritual change and honestly, we do have a lot of fun.

Pettit: Yes.

Hummel: We laugh a lot. We’re crazy, OK? But it shows kids that you can be a happy Christian. You can love the Lord and enjoy things without being any kind of boring, or I put it this way – no more Eeyore. Come on, let’s be Tigger-Christians in this. And let’s show them the joy of abounding in the grace of God.

Pettit: Rand, tell us, if someone wanted to follow you on social media or contact you, what’s the best way?

Hummel: Well, on Facebook we do have The Wilds of New England, we do “Where in the World is Rand?” and there’s a lot that follow. I get to travel a lot – it’s a little bit different with COVID. I do have a website, randhummel.com, that has a lot of the books I’ve written and gives, you can tie right into any of The Wilds, The Wilds of New England or Camps Abroad, which is a ministry, we help start camps all over the world. And Facebook, I’m on it, but I don’t do much with it, to be honest with you.

But honestly, if I can be an encouragement in any way to just plant a seed of love for the Word of God with kids. If they would faithfully be in the Word every single day, their lives would change.

Pettit: As …

Hummel: We know this. We know this. Every pastor cries for this. It’s why you guys are even here at Bob Jones University. You want to increase their love for the Word of God. Because if they’re in the Word of God, they’re going to love God more. The more they love Him, the more they’re going to want to spend time with Him, and it just continues in that way.

And so, my desire, for however many more years God gives us. You know, Steve, I look at you, and you’re getting old, and all my friends are getting old, and honestly, if the Lord tarries, let’s just keep showing the kids how wonderful God is, how wicked we are and His grace, and His love, His forgiveness – is so undeserved, but it is there for every single one of us.

Pettit: Amen.

Well Rand, thank you for your time. We’re excited about having you in chapel today at Bob Jones. And if you want to hear Rand’s sermon you can go to sermonaudio.com and type in “Bob Jones University,” and you’ll find that sermon and I know you’ll enjoy it.

Thanks for listening today.

(Music)

Rumpf: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Highest Potential with Steve Pettit. Don’t forget to find us and subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks again for listening. We’ll talk to you next week.

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