For the better part of the past 75 years, youth from all over the state of Oklahoma and beyond have spent at least one week each summer at Falls Creek Youth Camp in Davis.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic however, the Falls Creek experience will not take place this year, organizers announced last week.
The Oklahoma Baptist group announced a delayed start and revised schedule back in April, and continued to evaluate tentative plans intending to make a final decision by May 18.
With well-being of campers, staff and guests in mind, they decided upon the cancellation.
“With a heavy heart, and after extensive consultation with pastors, lay leaders and information from public health officials, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all Falls Creek and CrossTimbers-Davis and CrossTimbers-Grand Lake sessions for 2020,” said Hance Dilbeck, executive director-treasurer with Oklahoma Baptists.
In response, some churches have already decided to try and come up with an alternative plan for their youth, including Durant’s First Baptist Church.
“Everyone knows what’s been taken off the calendar for those youth over the past few months, which has been most things,” FBC pastor Gary McNeill stated. “It’s a tremendous disappointment for us to be unable to have camp in its usual context.
“I’ve been to Falls Creek at least one week every year since 1997 and my children haven't missed a year when they haven't been there at least one week. It's definitely the biggest week of the year for a lot of our youth group.
“It's part of the rhythm of our lives that kids are having to deal with the sadness of losing. One encouraging thing about this discouraging time is it's not picking favorites. We're all in the same boat,” McNeill said.
"That being said, we don't know what all limitations there will be just yet, but I feel like our youth leaders have come up with a good plan. Thousands of youth ministries are trying to do the same thing right now."
According to youth minister Stuart Tilley, the FBC youths who had signed up for camp will now participate in what is called WAVE Camp, in conjunction with the First Baptist WAVE student ministry. It will be held July 9-12 and will take place within the Durant community.
While the WAVE Camp will be mainly for First Baptist youth, Tilley stressed that he had spoken to a few other youth ministers throughout Bryan County and wanted as many people as possible to learn the gospel and enjoy a fun opportunity during the summer, as close to normal as possible.
Many details have yet to be worked out, but the ball is definitely rolling.
"We are looking at housing situations to try and get a camp feel, but don’t know how that will play out," Tilley said. "Safety of our students is the number one priority so we may end up with everyone having to stay at their own residences.
“We hope and plan to utilize all our resources and support of our members when other churches may not be able to do so. We want every student to have the opportunity to have that experience.
"We are looking forward to serving the community and the opportunity to see how things can work through them even in Durant. God can work just like as if we were at Falls Creek right here. It's the same God everywhere."
For years, the Durant church has hosted many others throughout the area for a youth weekend called United each February. While some of the concepts may be the same, Tilley's plan is to up the ante.
That will include normal worship events as well as helping others throughout the city.
"We will have morning and evening worship services like usual and the tentative schedule is to kind of mimic (the) Falls Creek schedule, but we will have the unique opportunity to serve our own community," he added. "We will have the chance to do some recreation activities and mission projects, which will help out our neighbors as well. That will be the cool thing about it.
"It's going to be different than United Weekend. Our hope (is) to make the WAVE camp feel like a United Weekend on steroids,“ he said.
”There are a lot more chances for opportunities in four days instead of basically one day. I want to let the youth come out of the summer feeling like they had their summer camp experience even though Falls Creek is not an option this year."