This year, Southeast Christian Church’s Shine Disabilities Ministry’s annual summer camp, Camp Freedom, looked a little bit different, but it was no less memorable. 

July 17 and 18, Shine Disabilities Ministry hosted Camp Freedom Family Day Camps: A one-day, activity packed camp experience for adults with disabilities and their families at Country Lake Christian Retreat in Underwood, Indiana.

Families were able to enjoy the fun of camp, which included fishing, archery, water activities and camp songs, in a safe, socially-distant way.

This was the first time members of the Shine Ministry community were together in-person since mid-March.

“Seeing people in one place kind of took your breath away,” Shine Disabilities Ministry Leader Mary Tatum said. “I had to hold back the tears a little bit because it had been so long. It was hard going back home on Saturday because our time together had been so sweet.”

While the weekend was different than in the past, it brought new opportunities for campers.

“One thing we’d never done before is the big zip line,” Tatum said. “There were several folks who tried that who wouldn’t have otherwise. There were some folks in wheelchairs who were humble enough to allow someone to carry them up the stairs and strap them in, and volunteers and the staff at Country Lake were willing to carry people.”

Tatum said that one of her favorite parts of the weekend was the opportunity to build relationships with the families of campers.

“It was so fun interacting with families and getting to know them,” Tatum said. “Normally, we don’t get to spend as much time getting to know parents and loved ones, because we like to be able to offer rest to them, but it was sweet for them to be able to see what their loved ones get to experience.”

Southeast members Chris and Ellen Greeley and their kids, Leyton, 16, and Lucy, 14, volunteered at the camp on Saturday. The Greeleys served at Camp Freedom last year, and were able to reconnect with old friends.

“We were able to kind of float around and come alongside people and buddy up with them as they felt comfortable,” Chris Greeley said. “At first, we paired up with a family from the River Valley Campus whom we knew well, and we went on the wagon ride with them. Then we were able to go zip-lining with another family. And then we ended up fishing with one of the campers for the rest of the day. I think the Shine Ministry staff and the Country Lake staff did such a great job of making sure everyone was comfortable, and making sure everything was accessible for just about anybody.”

Ellen Greeley said her favorite part of the day was seeing her kids spend time with campers their age and build relationships with them.

“It’s always special when you can serve together as a family,” Ellen Greeley said. “We all had unique experiences, but we were able to do that together. At the end of the day, we were able to share stories and memories from the day.”

Ellen Greeley said that right away, her kids sought out campers they had spent time with at last year’s Camp Freedom. Her son got to zip line with a new friend. At one point, she noticed her kids were hanging out with some campers who were their age, laughing and interacting without regard for their differences.

“In that moment, I didn’t see campers and volunteers,” she said. “I just saw a group of teenagers, hanging out and enjoying being together.”

The Greeleys said that the weekend was a beautiful picture of the church being the church.

“It’s events like these that really show how much our church continues to care for people one at a time,” Chris Greeley said. “No matter the individual, the church cares about that individual.”

“It was a time for a lot of people to just be loved on,” Ellen Greeley added. “Jesus said that the world will know you are Christians by your love, and that was clearly displayed …. I think even though our normal Camp Freedom weekend was crammed into a much shorter timeframe, the Shine Ministry was able to give a clear, short devotional that presented the Gospel. It reminded me that the Gospel is for everyone—for those who have never heard and for those who have been Christians for a long time.”