By Nicholette Carlson
MILFORD — Following the COVID-19 outbreak pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders, Fellowship Missions in Warsaw decided to look at alternative options for the homeless living in its shelter. In February, the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions shared information about the possibility of partnering with local church camps to expand their ministry.
It was suggested that, while these camps are not being used, they could act as an alternative shelter. Eric Lane, executive director and founder of Fellowship Missions, tucked this information away.
As individuals at the shelter would present symptoms, they would have to be tested and the entire shelter would be forced to go into lockdown until test results came back. The Warsaw shelter experienced two lockdowns, one for three days and one for nine days. After these occurred, Lane, remembering the previous suggestion, began to think outside the box and reach out to local camps.
Camp Crosley in North Webster “met us with open arms,” Lane described. This allowed Fellowship Missions to move 90% of the residents to camp. Those who have jobs in Warsaw remain at the shelter there.
Camp Crosley offered plenty of space to social distance and isolate anyone who might show symptoms, as well as the ability to continue to bring in new residents as the need arose. However, as Camp Crosley began to attempt children’s summer camp activities, Fellowship Missions moved residents over to Camp Mack in Milford.
Residents do have certain meetings to attend each day, such as Bible study, devotions, recovery classes or self help classes. Between classes, however, they are able to explore the grounds.
Men are housed in Ulrich House, while women are housed in Sarah Major. Gene Hollenberg, Camp Alexander Mack executive director, stated, “With the lockdown, the residents would have been secluded to their rooms and that wouldn’t be healthy for them. Some of the residents are doing some light volunteer work, but mostly they are enjoying the out of doors, fishing and wandering the trails.”
This arrangement has also allowed Fellowship Missions to continue to accept new residents from within the county, though an isolation period is necessary. Lane explained the goal is to have everyone there “live as normal a life as possible.” A staff member, or a Camp Mack employee hired by Fellowship Missions, stay on the property with residents every night. Residents are also driven everywhere off-site, with only essential appointments being allowed at this time.
With many acres to explore, Lane has seen residents thrive and flourish in ways they had not at the shelter. He speculates many may have struggled with relapse and other mental health issues otherwise. As he explained, many of the residents are members of a vulnerable population, either in age or with underlying conditions.
Brian, a resident, said he is enjoying the awe and beauty of the outdoors, fishing, walking and trails. He described this as a beautiful experience. Tom confirmed these feelings, emphasizing he is thankful for the different activities. As he was raised and lived in the country, he feels more at home at Camp Mack. Teresa is enjoying the freedom Camp Mack offers and the chance to become a family with the other women. Jennifer S. loves the scenery and lake view from the women’s dorm and is grateful for the opportunity, which has brought her closer both to the other ladies and God.
While Fellowship Missions was unable to do any kind of celebration for its 10-year anniversary in June, Lane explained this arrangement is “one of the most unique but one of the best things that’s happened in the last 10 years.” It has caused Lane to begin rethinking how to minister to others.
Hollenberg mirrored these emotions, stating, “We are excited about their presence here because it allows us to continue our ministry while also providing work and income for our staff. They have truly been a blessing for us and we hope we have been a blessing to them. Our mission is to provide a sanctuary where people connect with God, experience creation and build Christian community. I believe this joint venture has been a full application of our mission.”
Residents will be at Camp Mack at least until July 3 and possibly through the end of July.