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“Go Out Into the Streets and Lanes of the Town,” the Master Said (Lk.14:25)

And They Really Do!
In Knoxville, that is, and the number of community youth, many of them without a church home, who receive a week of camp at one of NovusWay Ministries’ sites, grows larger each year. “Come to the Water sprang from a Chicago board meeting of the ELCA’s Lutheran Men in Mission”, notes Larry Moeller, a participant in that meeting. “We challenged men’s groups in congregations around the country to host local fundraisers to help Christian camps weather the deep 2008 recession.” Maryville, TN’s Men in Mission of St. Paul Lutheran Church was the first to host such a fundraiser in 2013. “In time,” James McMillion, the Maryville group’s then president, added, “the focus shifted – to raise money to send kids to camp – kids who would never otherwise have the chance to experience a week of Christian camp.”
Connor is one of the many youth blessed because of these volunteers – folks who actually go into the community to find kids who will be changed by a week of camp. He was among Come to the Water’s 2021 group at Lutherock. It had a profound effect upon him. His last night there, Connor wrote a note on a scrap of paper because, he said, he couldn’t speak the words without crying. So he just passed it around for his camper group to read. “This is the first group of people to accept me for who I am, and I’ll probably never see them again. It hurts me that I might never meet people like this again. It took 15 years (my whole life) to find people like this.” He will be back; he’ll see these kinds of people again. Lutherock and Come to the Water are partnering in 2022 to provide the scholarship support needed for his return!
The Knoxville chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters re-nominated Connor for a Come to the Water scholarship because they have seen the impact of several years of camp on him, and affirm it. “Connor,” wrote Adrienne, a BBBS match specialist, “is full of love. He loves others fiercely, and he is learning to love himself as well. Attending Come to the Water has helped him realize he is worthy of love, which allows him to love others that much more. Having love for himself is something Connor has struggled with in the past. It is a blessing to watch him learn he is worthy and grow from it.” Don’t you think that’s the goal Jesus had in mind with his parable about going out into the town to find and invite in those who never saw themselves worthy of coming to the “Great Dinner”?
The focus across greater Knoxville is sending middle school community youth to camp – kids whose life circumstance would otherwise not make camp possible. Campers are nominated by school counselors or community organizations – organizations like Knoxville’s Family Justice Center, Family Promise, Centro de Hispano, or area food pantries. Through this partnership, Come to the Water sent 7 kids to camp in 2017; 14 to camp in 2018; 36 in 2019. Covid cancelled 2020 summer camp, but this group was ready in 2021 when NovusWay camps reopened and warmly welcomed 50 youth from Blount and Knox counties for a life-changing week. “With the generous help of many,” Moeller continued, “we intend to send 100 to 200 middle schoolers annually in the years ahead.”
A week of camp, depending on the program and site, costs $500-$600 per camper. CTTW asks parents or guardians to help, if they can, by providing $50 to defray the bus transportation costs. The balance of funding comes from gifts and contributions. Come to the Water is an all-volunteer effort so 100% of all gifts go for scholarships.
They plan to identify, scholarship and send 75 Knoxville area youth to camp this summer, so their 2022 fund-raising goal is $42,000. They have already raised $39,444 from carry overs, through-the-year solicitations, and an annual Banquet/Fundraiser hosted a few weeks ago. About 135 people were present, including donors, camper parents, camper/servers and a volunteer kitchen crew. Connor shared his camp story. Amanda Hara, Evening Anchor for Knoxville’s WVLT, was the keynote speaker. She commended Come to the Water volunteers for providing a life-changing experience for community youth. Citing American Camp Association reports, she noted the impact of church camp on all children, whether grounded in faith or not. Sharing a very personal experience, Ms. Hara pointed to the importance of this life-changing partnership between donors and volunteers “to provide children and youth from our area a special place where they find and make friends and build relationships, some for a lifetime.”
Why do they do this in Knoxville? Because, they say, the Master told us to do this. CTTW board member Keira Wyatt’s sentiment speaks for all the volunteers: “It’s not a job; it’s a passion. Today more than ever, kids need the life-changing experience of a week away in a Christian camp setting. Our focus is on middle school youth for whom, because of life circumstance, a week of camp would never be possible.” Adds Moeller, “While many mainline congregations yearn for a return to the days of vibrant youth ministry, through efforts like Come to the Water some are rediscovering a new way to work together with nearby churches of other traditions to infuse hope in the youth of their community. Thanks be to God for the work of the Spirit! And thanks be to God for the dedicated staff called to outdoor ministry under the NovusWay banner.”
To learn even more about this exciting community outreach effort, or to explore how this might happen where you are, contact the Come to the Watercoordinator, Larry Moeller, at coordinator@cometothewater.us or visit https://ComeToTheWater.us. If camper scholarships for God’s people of all ages is your passion, contact Pastor Jan Setzler at jsetzler@novusway.org or visit NovusWay at https://novusway.org.