Dearest Rachel –
In the mornings when she comes over to work on this or that room, Jan usually arrives a half an hour before her official schedule. What I mean by this is, when she says she’ll be here by nine, she’ll generally arrive around eight- thirty. It’s the sort of hyper punctuality that my family going back generations would’ve appreciated. My grandfather was always of the opinion that if you weren’t at least fifteen minutes early to something, you were late, and he instilled that ethos into my father. And while my father instilled that in me in turn, I wasn’t so wedded to the concept that I would lose my cool when you and Daniel did not adopt that attitude. At least, I learned not to lose my cool about it; there are hills to die on, when it comes to a relationship. This wasn’t necessarily one of them.
Usually, because of other circumstances (such as the dog and the attention he needs at one end or the other of his digestive system), I am not what you’d call ready to receive her and begin work. More often than not, I’m in the middle of some sort of ad hoc breakfast. Thankfully, she’s not the start to object to it my delays. In fact, we spend that time talking and catching up on things in my life although she does read these letters, so she knows what’s going on. I think she just likes getting a sneak preview of possible future letters, as though she were a Patreon subscriber (Not that I would ever said something like that up; that would be just crass).
At the same time, some of our breakfast discussions rather inspire a letter. This is one of those times.
You see – and, you know all about this– that her husband, Scott, is on staff at church. In effect, although I am a volunteer, he’s the one I report to. I won’t go so far as calling him my boss, but perhaps my ‘supervisor’ would be reasonably accurate. What I do is to assemble the financial information for both the church and the camp that we recently acquired within the past two years.
That timing is significant, because prior to our merger with the church that owned the camp previously, their books were… how shall we say… disorganized. There was a fellow who is part of an accounting firm who did their books at the end of the year, so the transactions didn’t go entirely undone. But they didn’t have anyone on staff regularly recording things and the like, so there wasn’t a whole lot of detail in their record keeping. It wasn’t terrible, especially considering the circumstances, but it could use improvement. And that’s what Scott and I said out to do.
The fact of the matter is, ministry is a business, just like any other, to a certain extent. As crass as it seems to admit, even God’s work is forced to use money to function in this world. And those ministries that wish to stay in operation need to keep accountable track of what comes in and goes out. This includes things like planning income and expenditures – what we in “the biz” like to call ‘budgeting.’
Now, you’ll remember I just said we acquired this camp two years ago. Well of course, justice last fiscal year began, the entire world developed a virus. Well, actually China developed the virus; we all just managed – by accident or design – to get infected by it. This means that whatever history the camp had, which we would ordinarily use as a basic model for the kind of revenue and expenditures we might expect, were useless. Any predictions that we would make would be sheer “by guess and by golly” estimates. The only thing we knew for sure was that we wouldn’t have a lot of income from operations. If people weren’t going to camp, we weren’t going to be earning money by having them there.
It was at this point that the church leadership decided to hold a fundraising campaign for the camp’s sake. and here’s where we start to get into the meat of this missive. We thought we would need a certain amount to stay afloat. What we got was nearly half again that amount. In a year poisoned by Covid, the camp actually found itself in the black by a fair amount.
What’s more, while the campaign ended with the fiscal year, this year, donations continue to roll in. Some of them are quite substantial, with the occasional five-figured check coming in. And as wondrous as it is how well the Lord will provide if we let Him, Jan was expressing a wish yesterday morning that He would do the same for the church: why, she wondered, did such spectacular contributions come in for the camp? We rarely see such notable generosity for the church; just sort of routine amounts from week to week.
I get where she’s coming from – we really didn’t plan anything in the way of contributions to the camp this year; since the fundraising campaign was over with the past fiscal year, we didn’t see any reason to rely on continued donations, and we didn’t include anything in our budget for this year. And I suppose it’s at this point that the Lord looks at our numbers, chuckles, and says “Oh, ye of little faith,” and opens the heavens for us. And while I’m loathe to have anything to do with the prosperity gospel, it would seem to suggest that He thinks we’re doing something right here.
At the same time, I’ve been thinking about it since yesterday, and maybe Jan and I are missing some thing about church. After all, a lot goes on in December – every December – as people make their year end contributions to the church. But it’s true that generally speaking, the church doesn’t see huge checks out of the blue; it’s more a case of regular, relatively small, donations.
It’s really the difference between the ‘business,’ if you will, of a church versus that of a camp. The church is day-to-day, week-to-week maintenance of the body of Christ. Nothing particularly glamorous about it. A Christian camp, on the other hand, can be an absolute harvest. Kids who have been raised in the church, or the seed has been planted and watered, find themselves at camp, where they hear the word twice a day for a week, and suddenly ‘get it,’ and come to him. This year, we have heard stories of how many kids have made professions of faith – and the results are (like with the financial support) beyond what we would expect. The ministry is bearing fruit, and those who would give wish to support that. There is a certain rustic glamour in the camp’s ability to harvest that is lacking in the daily operations of planting and watering that the church provides.
Indeed, it may be a chicken-and-egg conundrum as to which starts which. Certainly the bearing fruit encourages people to give, but the programs which bear fruit need funding to even start. So which comes first? Perhaps, though, we should consider that a moot point, and simply encourage the upward cycle we’re on to continue. We need to express gratitude for all those willing to contribute, to say nothing of the volunteers and the pastoral staff who – as they say on stage – bring it on home.
I have to admit, there are times when I think I should be bitter about camp; after all, it’s where I lost you. And I know full well that you would not want me to think that way, and I do try not to. What I do is to try to imagine some day, in what we would consider from the perspective of history a relatively short time (but a fairly long time from a human lifetime’s perspective). One day, each of these kids will grow up, they will age, and their lives here on earth will end, as it happens to every last one of us. I picture you, waiting at the gates were traditionally Saint Peter is considered to serve. For all I know, you’ll be standing there with my grandfather, as that used to be his role. And as each of these kids finally comes home, you would greet each of them with a smile and a hug, and show them around as heaven grows ever larger the further in you go with them. You contributed – like so many others – to their being at camp, and thus, to them being there with you, and you can take joy in that once they join you there.