By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
No matter the season it’s not unusual to see RVs crisscrossing Alabama highways, but this summer expect to see a few more than normal.
Members of Alabama Campers on Mission (COM) will host the National Campers on Mission Rally at the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds in Dothan on June 20–22. The rally will bring hundreds of campers and their rigs to Alabama for a time of fellowship, training and fun.
“It’s a time to refresh and revive these volunteer missionaries to continue serving ‘as they go,’” said Jerry McGovern, who along with his wife, Renee, serves as a national coordinator of Campers on Mission.
The national organization has at least 24 chapters representing around 30 states. The groups share a common mission: to look for opportunities to share their faith and the love of Jesus through their participation in missions activities while camping. Hundreds of campers throughout the country spend weeks and even months at a time serving in projects all over the country, obeying the Great Commission in the way God has called them.
All COM members, regional representatives and coordinators are self-supporting volunteer missionaries. They receive no compensation for fuel, expenses or the labor they provide. Their reward is in the work, said Bill Foster, president of Alabama COM.
“It’s so fulfilling to be able to do something like this,” Foster said. “When we go to a location and help them, they often say, ‘what a blessing you all were to us.’ But the blessing is what we get — how blessed we are to help them so they can minister to the people God has called them to minister to.”
An added benefit is seeing and experiencing new places. Foster, a retired airline pilot, saw the country from 30,000 feet in the air for years. When he retired, he traded his wings for an RV. As a camping “newbie,” Foster had a lot to learn. Fortunately he had good friends who camped with him and his wife, Angela, and taught them the basics. They soon found a second family in COM.
“I probably have closer friends in COM than in my home community,” he said. “They are always there to help. We play together and we pray together.”
The missions projects COM undertakes might not sound like play to most people but campers enjoy the hard work and the camaraderie. They have worked on construction projects for the New Mexico Baptist Children’s Home in Portales, Oneida Baptist Institute in Kentucky, and at several camps and churches in Alabama, including Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega.
Buster Taylor, executive director of Shocco, said, “Campers on Mission teams have been partnering with Shocco Springs for almost 25 years, providing help with construction, campus upgrades and serving guests through various departments, but their most significant quality is the willingness to serve with a Christ-like spirit and missions focus evident in all they undertake.”
Taylor estimates that the hours COM volunteers have invested at Shocco would value more than $850,000 if it could be monetized and that’s a big part of the COM mission.
Many churches can afford materials but not labor. Alabama COM doesn’t have a funding source for materials but they have ready and able labor. It’s a win-win situation, Foster said.
Churches assist COM by setting up temporary campsites where electricity, water and sewer connections are available for campers. Those basic utilities are all campers need to keep their homes away from home comfortable. They are on-site and ready to work each day, a temporary yet welcome addition to the community, all in the name of Christ.
Everyone stays busy on a COM project. Those who don’t work on construction teams utilize their skills in sewing and missions support. Most recently, several COM ladies sewed 49 dresses and pants and packed 134 backpacks to send to Guatemala. They also made several dresses for missionaries going to Nicaragua.
In whatever activities they undertake, the gospel is always at the forefront, Foster said. One of the group’s major events every year is the National Peanut Festival held in Dothan each November. Alabama COM members help at the festival by taking up tickets and providing clowns and balloon artists.
“We attract folks with the fun and then we initiate conversations about the gospel,” Foster said. “This past year we set up doughnuts and coffee for the carnival workers and we were able to share the gospel with several of them.”
Variety of sessions
At the national COM rally, missions volunteers can attend seminars on evangelism, including classes on puppetry, jewelry making, clowning and ballooning. Other sessions will focus on construction tasks, including drywall installation, plumbing, carpentry and electrical work. There will be opportunities to learn about the RV life too with sessions to address full-time RVing, tax concerns for RVers and travel opportunities.
McGovern, who is a retired master plumber, said, “Many members are skilled professionals but training such as this equips the COM members so he or she will have more skills to help in future projects at churches and camps.”
However, if there’s one thing COM leaders want prospective members to know, it’s that no particular skills are required to serve. The most important requirements are a willingness to serve others and a love for the RV life.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Foster said. “We get to see the country, meet new people and we get to help our little bit in expanding the kingdom of God.”
For more information on Alabama Campers on Mission, including the national rally details, go to www.alabamacom.org.