By Stan Friedman
JONESVILLE, VA (April 27, 2012) – Members of West Bay Covenant Church in Traverse City, Michigan, have traveled every year since 1976 to Covenant Mountain Mission Bible Camp (CMMBC) to minister in one of Virginia’s most impoverished areas.
“There’s just such a great need there,” says Woody Hansen, who has participated almost every year and generally organizes the expeditions. “We believe in what they are doing.”
They are not the only church that has made numerous trips and developed strong ties to the camp, which still is unknown to many Covenanters. Salem Covenant Church in Oakland, Nebraska, regularly sends teams. More than 30 students from the Evangelical Covenant Church of Lafayette, Indiana, returned during their spring break to do construction.
Covenant Mountain Mission serves primarily children who live in one of the poorest areas of the state. Its summer camps, especially the day camps, provide a unique opportunity for the campers.
“Families in this area could not afford to attend any other camp,” says Joe Faulkinbury, who along with his wife, Tammy, manage the facility.
More than 35 percent of the population falls below the poverty line, according to government figures. That is far greater than the 10.5 percent across the state.
Fifteen percent of the people in Jonesville live at 50 percent below the poverty level – the figure is 4.9 percent for the rest of the state.
In order to minister to children in the area, camp is offered to many at little or no cost. They never turn away a camper due to a lack of finances. Donations underwrite most of the camping fees.
Covenant Mountain Mission offers separate camps for grades 4-6, 7-8, and senior high. In addition to helping with students at the camp, members of mission teams also have done work in some of the local schools.
Churches who attend have seen the difference made in the campers’ lives. Relationships between the campers and the people who travel to work there frequently continue.
Some of the students from the Lafayette congregation have had regular contact with kids through Facebook, says youth pastor Ara Kolliantz.
The Lafayette congregation already had ministered at the camp for years, but their support increased further when the Faulkinburys, who are members, accepted their position. Joe had first been introduced to the camp when he traveled there as a teenager with the church youth group.
Working on the teams has not only given church members an opportunity to help others, but also to get a different glimpse of creation. They write of the overwhelming beauty of the mountains and the sunsets.
One team that had been having internal issues came back so transformed in their relationships with one another, the rest of the church asked them, “What happened to you?” Faulkinbury says.
The camp was started in 1941 by two Covenant women. A history published on the camp’s website records how North Park College student Gertrude Warner had visited the denomination’s offices and said she felt God calling her to Appalachia.
When she was told the Covenant had no work there, she replied, “They will have when I get there!”
The denomination decided to support the camp, which included purchasing a 1921 Chevrolet sedan. Warner and Viola Larson, the other camp co-founder and former missionary to China, quickly named the car “Shasta” because ‘she hasta have tires, she hasta have a driver, she hasta have gasoline.”
It is that kind of determination that has kept the camp going despite operating on a shoestring budget. In recent years, groups have done extensive repairs and construction while ministering to the campers.
Much work remains, however, and volunteers are greatly needed for the summer and succeeding months, Faulkinbury says. For more information, visit the camp’s website.