Both conference centers, in lieu of their normal summer programs, opened their properties for vacations and camping opportunities for individuals and families. White Sulphur Springs set up the property for those interested in camping, while still offering horse rides and other outdoor activities and keeping the kitchen open for those staying on the property.
Spring Canyon adopted a similar strategy and opened up their facilities for private bookings. Hawthorne says they found themselves blessed with a significant number of first-time guests who came with their families to enjoy the Spring Canyon experience for a week, even while still obeying social-distancing guidelines.
Donations helped alleviate the financial pressures created by the lost revenue from the cancellation of the original summer plans. “Seeing how God has provided through donations has been amazing,” said Hawthorne, who added that this past year has been one of the best years for donations that Spring Canyon has ever had.
White Sulphur Springs experienced a similar increase in donations. “It was such an encouragement to see how the Lord sustained us through that,” said LTC Paul Robyn, USA (Ret.), the Center Director at White Sulphur Springs. When revenue from guests came down, giving went up, and the financial losses turned out to be just a fraction of what they could have been.
The downtime from the normally scheduled summer programs has also provided the opportunity for the conference centers to get around to projects their staffs typically wouldn’t have the opportunity to address.
“We want a lot of people here,” Hawthorne said, “but if guests can’t be here because of COVID, then we’re going to turn a little bit of lemon into lemonade.”
These extra “projects” have also included increased family and vacation time for the staff, who usually don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the seasonal holidays and breaks the same way the guests do.
The shutdowns also expanded the outreach of some of the conference centers’ ministry efforts.
“Most military innovation comes when you’re at a period of greatest conflict,” Fisher said. “In the same way, at this time of conflict, it forces you to think outside of a box that you normally would think in.”
For example, the conference centers recorded many of the scheduled speakers and posted those videos to the OCF website and both centers’ websites, where they could reach individuals who hadn’t planned on visiting either place before programs were cancelled.
With summer sessions about to start, both conference centers have begun to increase their operations as restrictions loosen. Spring Canyon is looking at bringing in close to its normal capacity for guests this summer, as is White Sulphur Springs. Both Hawthorne and Robyn encourage people to come to the conference centers and enjoy the experience that is waiting for them there.
“The doors are open, and our staff are standing by wanting to serve. So please come,” Fisher said. “The best thing that the members can do is come and be in fellowship with one another. So come, allow us to love on you. Come, allow us to minister to you—to serve you.”