For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under the sun. Ecclesiastes 3:1
I had the chance to visit Camp Victor at Ocean Springs, Mississippi, twice in the last three months and was deeply moved by its leaders and the ministry each time. Camp Victor in its current location was started by Christus Victor Lutheran Church in 2006 as the continuation of its disaster recovery ministry for communities affected by Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Not only has it been a sizable hospitality center, housing volunteers engaged in disaster recovery work, it has also been a service center providing case management and construction management for those deeply affected by the disasters. Here are some facts about Camp Victor:
- It is housed in a county-owned 50,000 square foot box-shape building located in the middle of the tourist district of Ocean Springs, MS. It formerly belonged to the Swinger Garment Factory.
- It has dormitories and beddings for up to 250 volunteers.
- Through the years, it has received 50,000 volunteers from 50 states and 20 countries.
- Together, volunteers have provided 1 million service hours on more than 2,000 homes, translating into $19.5 million worth of labor.
Walking into Camp Victor, one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the wall to wall murals, signatures, drawings and artwork left behind by the thousands of volunteers, with many of them returning to the camp multiple times. Camp Victor is much more than a dormitory; it is a place of rest for those who labor to give of themselves for strangers. It is a place for gathering and connecting. Most importantly, it is a place where God’s love is shared, received and channeled.
Currently, Camp Victor is undergoing metamorphosis. With large scale post-Katrina recovery work winding down and funding drying up, Camp Victor no longer has the volunteer base to sustain itself. It will receive its last group of volunteers by the end of March and will vacate from the current 50,000 square feet warehouse by the end of May.
Afterwards, the Camp Victor ministry will move back to the Christus Victor Lutheran Church, and become a fully volunteer-run ministry. It still has three tool trailers that are stocked and ready to be hauled to disaster affected areas with a moment’s notice. In addition, all useful equipment and materials will be stored in a container for future use. With the strong support of its Board of Directors, made up of leaders from Lutheran congregations in the area, Camp Victor will re-channel its focus to work with local congregations and community organizations along the Gulf Coast to step up their disaster preparedness. It will continue to be an important part of the ELCA Southeastern Synod’s disaster response ministry.
We want to express our deep appreciation to Suzie Harvey, Executive Director, and Jon Biggs, Director of Disaster Response, of Camp Victor as well as the many staff, volunteers and board members who have devoted their time and talents to make Camp Victor an extraordinary ministry throughout the years. Most of all, we want to thank God for this great ministry. May God continue to guide the camp’s leaders as they discern its future directions.