August 5, 2021
I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to believe that summer is almost over. For all of us here in the United States, it has been a second unusual summer, yet encouraging from many perspectives. As I announced last month, we have paid off the mortgage on the office even while maintaining healthy cash reserves. Given the current trends, I’m convinced that we will have more than adequate reserves as we enter the time of year when our cash reserves are typically at their lowest level, which is just before the Feast of Trumpets. God has richly blessed us financially and in many other ways in the face of a most challenging time in recent world history.
Overall, the Church has done very well in regard to the coronavirus this summer; very few illnesses have been reported. We were ambitious earlier this year, scheduling 10 youth camps involving approximately 850 people. The first, Camp Lone Star here in Texas, gave us reason for concern when a number of people tested positive for COVID-19 within a few days after camp. But then we had five camps with no cases, followed by Camp Sequoia in California where, on the last day, we had two individuals test positive. Within a few days those two became four and the four became eight and so on. The week after Sequoia, we held our largest camp, in Tennessee, with almost 100 campers. As of this writing, no cases of the virus have been reported. We are still waiting on our final two camps of the summer—Camp Arrowhead in Ohio and Camp Heritage in Pennsylvania.
We did cancel one teen camp at the last minute. Camp Athens faced difficulties even before it was to start, since, because of the pandemic, school districts in Texas scheduled the start of the school year two weeks earlier than normal. Some districts began classes on Aug. 2 with the rest to follow on Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. Camp Athens was scheduled in the middle of these school dates (Aug. 1-8), causing many of its regular campers to choose another camp or to not go at all this year. Under the best of circumstances, this would have meant an all-time low attendance of 38 campers. When we received information on the number of COVID cases coming from Camp Sequoia, out of an abundance of caution, we thought it best to cancel the Texas teen camp. The Church will refund all tuition payments and reimburse anyone who had nonrefundable travel costs for the camp.
The final two camps scheduled for this summer are a four-day preteen camp in Ohio at Camp Arrowhead, Aug. 1-4, and a weeklong teen camp in Pennsylvania at Camp Heritage, Aug. 8-15. Please join us in praying for the success and safety of these camps. If these two camps can conclude without any COVID cases, we will have completed nine out of 10 camps for this summer and provided a camp experience for 850 young people and staff. What a change from last year when all camps were canceled!
In between the final two camps, we will have our ninth graduating class of Foundation Institute. When we began Foundation Institute in the fall of 2012, we didn’t know if there would be enough students even for one year. Now here we are almost 10 years later and still going strong with 154 having graduated from the program. In addition to our graduates, we have 4,962 registered for FI Online classes. This has been one of our most successful programs since we began FI back in the fall of 2012. It is my personal belief that the doctrinal stability we have seen in COGWA can be attributed, in part, to the outstanding classes we have offered over the past nine years. We now have an entire library filled with biblical classes from Foundation Institute that are freely available online.
After FI graduation, we will focus our attention on another major Church event—the International Ministerial Conference, scheduled to begin Sunday, Aug. 22. We have 284 registered and anticipate that our attendance will be over 300, slightly down from two years ago when we dedicated the new office building, but a very good turnout given the conditions under which we live. Most of our missing attendance this year will be from areas outside the U.S. that are currently under strict travel regulations.
Less than two weeks after the Ministerial Conference we will observe the Feast of Trumpets. This year marks one of the earliest dates for that festival (Sept. 7), which means that we will observe all the final holy days of this year before the first of October. This should provide for nice weather in virtually all our U.S. sites, especially in our far northern sites of Anchorage and Rapid City.
Sharron and I have an ambitious travel schedule for the holy days. We plan to be in Boston, Massachusetts, for the Feast of Trumpets and St. Petersburg, Florida, for the Day of Atonement. For the Feast of Tabernacles, we will open the Feast in Fort Myers, Florida, travel to Tucson, Arizona, for the middle portion and then to El Salvador for the final few days. It has been quite a while since we traveled for all four of the fall holy days, but given the reduced travel last year and much of this year, we are eager to get back on the road again!
Let me conclude this letter with some words of encouragement taken from 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 and Mark 11:22. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes: “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Christ gave similar advice to His disciples in the Gospel of Mark: “So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Have faith in God.’”
There is nothing new in these two sections of Scripture; they are simply reminders that the focus of our faith must be on God and not man. In this regard, Paul cautioned us not to judge the faith of others: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). To be clear, when we take physical steps to reduce our risk of illness or to reduce the risk to others, it is not a lack of faith. In spite of the ongoing pandemic, our goal is to do all we reasonably can to be together with the children of God, our fellow saints, all the while acknowledging the only complete source of protection and safety, Almighty God!
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,