Living with the reality of ongoing racial tensions, a Southern Californian ministry upholds its purpose of promoting greater diversity and unity within the local church body by taking kids to camp. For one week each June, Camp Dunamis brings together over one hundred children from different churches, backgrounds, and ethnicities to experience God together.
Founded in 1988 through the work of Classis Greater Los Angeles and Classis California South (regional groups of Christian Reformed congregations), Camp Dunamis continues to run annually. The late 1980s in California were characterized by high racial tension. Despite Southern California’s diverse ethnic representation, churches were formed and met in segregated groups, furthering the divide. Hoping to repair such segregation, the classes created a race relations committee, chaired at the time by Stan VerHuel, then pastor of Los Angeles Community CRC. Together they dreamed of a camp that would bring children from these various churches together for one week. With that, Camp Dunamis was born, a place for young people to eat, sleep, play, and worship together, to develop friendships and transcend racial divides.
Camp is held in Idyllwild, Calif., on the grounds of Camp Maranatha. Seven to ten participants stay in cabins with two staff members. True to the camp’s purpose, each cabin is organized to include children from different churches and ethnicities. After that, it’s just camp. “A typical day consists of breakfast, morning chapel, a fun cabin activity, lunch, games, free time, dinner, an all-camp game, evening chapel, cabin devotions, and lights out,” said director Denise Tamminga. A Camp Olympics is held on Thursday as a celebration of participants’ time spent together. Besides making sure kids have fun, Tamminga said the two-fold vision of Dunamis is to “help kids grow in their relationship with God and in racial reconciliation.”
Camp Dunamis is funded by the churches in the two classes and by camper fees, individual donations, and salary support raised by counselors. Tamminga said the churches continue the funding because the camp has had an “eternal impact in the lives of so many.” In 2018, she said, 35 campers made first-time commitments to Christ and 88 campers expressed a desire to recommit. There were campers of Anglo, Latino, African-American, Korean, Zuni, Navajo, Chinese, and Filipino descent.
Former leader and camper Austin Geelhoed, now 22, said that campers who were victims of racial bullying were able to “be themselves” at Dunamis. Another former leader, Saul Miranda, now 20, said Dunamis helped erase stigmas that developed in him because of a previous lack of exposure to diversity. Miranda recalled how Dunamis “not only accepts diversity but encourages a reconciliation, breaking barriers that society has long built.”
In 2019, Camp Dunamis will take place from June 16-21.
[Editor's note: This story first appeared online April 2, 2019. On May 22, 2019 it was updated to clarify the groups (and not individuals) behind the founding of Camp Dunamis.]