Camp Noah, a day camp for children impacted by disaster, had a setback of its own earlier this summer when plan for a volunteer team of counselors fell through, leaving the program at risk of cancelation.

Run by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Camp Noah relies on volunteers from congregations and other ministries to be counselors. So when the volunteers couldn’t make it, camp leaders refused to let a staffing problem cancel a much-needed and appreciated program in Shawnee, Okla.

Fostering resiliency and hope after disaster, Camp Noah would never disappoint the 48 children who signed up at St. John Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Shawnee, especially since they had already suffered so much during 2013’s devastating tornadoes.

Cari Logan, Camp Noah’s national program manager, asked other Lutheran outdoor ministries if she could borrow their counselors and was gratified with the quick response. Jeff Bluhm, executive director of Lutherdale Ministries in Elkhorn, Wis., immediately stepped up, sending four counselors and offering to recruit more by Facebook and phoning colleagues.

“I thought – shoot, Lutherans have a lot of camps around the country. Sometimes our camps are understaffed, sometimes overstaffed, so we could certainly help,” said Jeff. “We wanted to help make that camp possible for the kids in Oklahoma, and sharing counselors would not be a hardship for us.”

Lutheran outdoor ministries ready to help

Through the generosity of several Lutheran outdoor ministries around the country, 20 camp counselors left their own camps and drove to Shawnee to staff Camp Noah the week of July 7. It was especially important for this Camp Noah to take place because the community had experienced the tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma in May 2013, according to Cari.

The 20 counselors – on loan from Lutherdale Ministries; Lutheran Outdoor Ministry Center, Oregon, Ill.; Ewalu Camp and Retreat Center, Strawberry Point, Iowa; Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp, Crystal Falls, Mich.; and Camp Tomah-Shinga, Junction City, Kan. – were happy to offer their assistance.

“We‘re passionate about helping,” said Karin Hansen, 22, of Lutherdale Ministries, who went to Shawnee on short notice. “It says something about what we’re doing both here and elsewhere.”

She left by car Saturday, arrived Sunday and reported to camp on Monday. “It all happened very quickly. We found out about it in a whirlwind and had to figure it out fast,” said the recent St. Olaf College graduate, grateful for the experience. “I hope to meet new people and work in a new setting with new team members and learn from them and be empowering to those children who need it the most. I’m not sure what we’ll find, but the new experiences will be great.”

Karen Fowler-Lindemulder, pastor at St. John, said the makeshift counseling team did a wonderful job, and she thanked God for making it happen.

“Camp Noah is great. There’s lots of energy and excitement and it was fun to watch the counselors become a new team. God was in the process and the kids are getting what they need.”

Camp Noah’s unique ministry

Camp Noah promotes resiliency and preparedness skills in elementary school children after a disaster, according to Maryn Olson, program manager. “We serve after a disaster,” she said. “Children have lots of storms in their lives – tornadoes, floods, fires, hurricanes, parents getting divorced, even grandma dying.”

A Red Cross grant funded 15 Camp Noah locations in Oklahoma, she said, and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota ran a total of 30 camps around the country this year. Volunteer teams, many of which are on mission trips, staff most of the camps, she added. This particular Camp Noah in Shawnee benefitted from the expertise of trained and professional counselors. “They were a fantastic group,” she said.

“We were overjoyed and deeply grateful for our Lutheran camp community, that our brothers and sisters heard our request and came to help. God is good.”

Cari agreed. “Camp Noah is only possible because of the volunteers who give of themselves.”

Wendy Healy
Healy is a freelance writer and member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Brewster, N.Y. She served as communications director for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York following the 9/11 attacks.

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