Early in the morning on Thursday, June 11, Jeff Eckart (’93) was awoken by a phone call about a fire at the Never the Same offices in Grand Rapids. “It seems like every year, coincidentally right around this time, something strange happens,” Eckart says in a video posted to the NTS Facebook page, as he stands in front of a broken window on a sidewalk strewn with charred debris. “Last year a tornado unexpectedly came through and curved right around our building, damaging much of our area, but we were left untouched.” The fire, which was started on the main floor, would have destroyed all of NTS’s summer resources, including sound and staging equipment, props and games, registration files, and all bookstore merchandise, a mere three days before the NTS summer kick off at Indiana Wesleyan. “Every year, we pack up on Thursday and leave on Friday,” says Jayson Brewer, NTS Production Designer. “But this year, for whatever reason, we decided to pack on Wednesday and leave on Thursday.” When the fire started on Thursday morning, all of this summer’s equipment was in a trailer, safe from the blaze.
Eckart is the founder and director of Never the Same, a “movement uniting middle school & high school students to love God and change the world in which they live through their faith in Jesus” that includes a series of camps every summer, a Bible engagement curriculum called Don’t Climb Alone, and a student-led prayer initiative called Claim Your Campus. Never the Same camps are designed for student transformation and youth ministry preparation, as a “catalyst and a support structure for the local church throughout the year.” Since 2000, NTS camps have allowed thousands of 6th through 12 graders to experience God in a corporate setting, away from the routines and distractions of their daily lives. On Monday, NTS will be hosting its first camp of the summer at Indiana Wesleyan, before moving on to Olivet Nazarene University in Chicago, Dordt College in Iowa, Houghton College in New York, Johnson University in Tennessee, and Hope International University in Los Angeles.
NTS has a special relationship with Indiana Wesleyan, as Eckart is an IWU alum and friend of youth ministry professor and summer team leader Charlie Alcock. Every summer, Alcock, along with a team of six students, travels with the NTS caravan to each of the camps, assisting with technical production as well as hands-on interaction with campers. This year’s NTS team includes Kim Matthews (’15), Brandon Rees (’15), Kyle Smith (’16), Caleb Carr (’18), and Rachel Rubadiri (’16). Rubadiri, who is on her third summer with NTS, knows how important the NTS props and equipment are for the production of the camp. “It takes about twelve hours to set all of this up,” she says, motioning to the stage in the Chapel Auditorium where steel lighting fixtures are being assembled before the campers arrive on Monday. “And only about two to tear down. I don’t know how that works!”
The fire in the Grand Rapids office will not deter this summer’s camps. Eckart plans to enter the summer schedule full-force: “Stuff like this happens, and it can be a distraction for us,” he says, “but we want to stay focused on the mission and the tasks God has for us, and that is to reach students and to show them the love of Jesus Christ.” While the NTS building is beyond repair, the only other damage was to a few hard drives in the basement, where smoke and water from the firefighters’ hoses seeped down. Brewer views this narrow escape as God’s provision, and has already been contacted by a member of his church about a warehouse in Grand Rapids that NTS can use for the rest of the summer. Eckart echoes this belief in God’s provision as he asks Facebook followers and friends to pray that this fire will not distract from NTS’s ministry to students.
“This is a reminder for all of us that the work that we do is a ministry and that we are completely dependent upon the Lord’s provision,” says Director of Alumni Relations, Rev. Rick Carder. Indiana Wesleyan has many students serving on Summer Ministry Teams that are traveling this summer spanning across the United States. There are thirty-three IWU students serving at camps. Carder reminds alumni and friends to daily pray for our students asking for the Lord’s protection and effectiveness in their many ministry assignments. One way to keep up with this and other opportunities to pray would be to join the university prayer newsletter. Sign up by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is written by Hannah Combs who is a student writer for the Alumni Office. She is a senior student of Writing and Humanities through the John Wesley Honors College.