The Central American Camp On Wheels (C.O.W.)
Written by Rodolfo López and Kevin Suwyn
Young Life Staff are Creative, Entrepreneurs and Innovators. Innovation is not just something we are giving attention to now - but rather - it IS who we are as missionaries, pastors and leaders. Over the past few decades the International YL staff and leadership have exemplified the heart of Innovation as much as anyone in the Mission. Taking a concept from the ‘idea’ stage to something that is translatable across geographies and leadership is sign of a true genuine ‘movement.’ One such idea that has slowly made its way across the mission is the Camp on Wheels or COW.
There are a few simple steps/questions that a leader needs to answer to create a Movement/Innovation. Read below to see how the staff in Central America answered those questions step by step.
Step 1: DEFINING the Problem/Opportunity
We know it’s true: camp was the best thing to have ever happened to so many of us as teens. Marty Caldwell and Dan Jessup were prodding us to consider how mobile camping could help us with high quality camping even though most countries don’t (and probably won’t) own their own facilities. We had to take everything we loved about the ‘core’ of YL Camping and fit it to our International ‘context.’
Step 2: DEVELOPING a Solution
As we met together to consider, dream and pray with the local Costa Rican team, other questions came to the surface as well:
- What about the thousands (and millions) of our young friends who won’t ever get to go to camp?
- How do we remove hurdles of funding and distance?
- How do we train and support new ministries (countries) in leader-centered, gospel-centered camping?
- How could we take camp to them, if they couldn’t come to us?
This pushed the conversation to new places as we considered implementing a Camp on Wheels.
Step 3: DECIDING what to Measure
In a “Mega Club” (a one-day activity) we have the capacity to bring together more than 700 kids simultaneously, providing a place that is safe, healthy and fun. We have witnessed first-hand the success of this project as a highly attractive and innovative tool for the most disinterested kids to hear about Jesus. In Costa Rica, the last five COW's have been a key strategy to helping double our impact of kids reached over the year.
In countries like Nicaragua, we have had the opportunity to carry out a series of Mega Clubs helping local areas impact more than 3000 kids over a months’ time (30% being first timers). This happens in coordination with local team of volunteer leaders and community adult support who are the key facilitators during these events.
The teams in Panama, Honduras, and El Salvador have benefited tremendously by traditional-camping support, and now have developed their team toward healthy leader-centered and gospel-centered camping. COW still is on-call to join in, but as countries have grown, more responsibility is being taken locally in each country.
Step 4: DESIGNING the Pilot
Going back to the planning stage: We moved forward, not really knowing what to build but knowing that we needed to act on something. We shared ideas with Skeet Tingle (Camp Manager at Wilderness Ranch) who made vital decisions, built the COW, packed it, and shipped it. Meanwhile, in Costa Rica we worked on the “urban day camp” or Mega-Club idea.
- The COW team would work in concert with the local area leaders, prepare a place, obtain the permits, and involve parents and former leaders.
- Leadership teams would invite their far-out friends and campaigner groups would join this effort as they reached out to their friends as well. The COW team was gathering volunteers to set up, run, and take down the “camp.”
- One version of COW would be this amazing day event with unique leader/kid events, hospitality, and closing with an evening club event. This also became a way to model and reinforce great “club” principles and proclamation to the local leaders.
Additionally, we made plans to send the COW to new country ministries with a team. This augments the substandard camp property with a camp-in-a-box set of resources. But even more importantly, brings COW-brought training, a camp speaker, and head counselor when needed. This allowed the receiving team’s leadership to focus on bringing their kids to camp and being the camp leaders.
Step 5: DELIVERING A Model
What came out was a "complementary" approach of truck/trailer and key "space" and "wow" components:
- Augment a rented property having basic services for traditional camp in new countries. This provides an excuse to send seasoned leaders to support the new work, do assigned team training, and model Christ-centered, leader-centered camping. It was a hit.
- Mega-Club set up in the center of cities, offering simple points of leader-kid connection like carnival games, inflatable climbing wall, wii, octoball, field hockey etc. This has supported area leadership right at home, within walking distance, and in plain view of where kids live: culminating in the verbal proclamation of the Gospel.
We are thankful to God for the creative and innovative way He has surprised us through COW and we are also very thankful for all the people who in one way or another support us, be it through prayers, volunteering or giving financially. This keeps us dreaming of reaching the next kid.