Camp Tanako Is a Blessing to Children’s Ministry

Camp Tanako Is a Blessing to Children’s Ministry

camp tanako

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

Where did Jesus teach his disciples? The majority of Jesus’ teachings were outside. Along the lake, on a hilltop, on a dirt trail were the locations of ministry that Jesus chose. Still today, the Holy Spirit works best outside and in nature. Camping ministry is the corner foundation for faith formation in children. It allows a child to be away from the everyday life distractions and places them in peaceful locations surrounded by new friends, beautiful worship, silly songs, caring young adults, outdoor adventures, Bible study, and a small taste of independence.

Camp Tanako is a blessing to the Children’s Ministry in Arkansas because they specialize in elementary-age camping ministry most of the summer. Don’t get me wrong, they have some excellent MAD camp, junior high and high school theme weeks for older kids, but most weeks are designed with your child in mind. The camp also has a short three-night Discovery Camp for first-time kids that are not sure they are ready for a whole week away from home. Tanako is nestled right in Hot Springs, which has plenty of fun things for parents to do if they stay in town while their children try out the three-night option.

tanako overnight

Kayla Hardage is the new camp director, and “Thanks to COVID-19,” she has had an entire year to plan and prepare for your child to come for a week of camp. There are new boats in the lake, 9 square, GaGa ball pits, a renewed mini-golf course, great creative art spaces, mountain bike trails, a well-staffed swimming pool, and a ropes course for those up for a sky-high adventure. There is also a new education director, Matthew Gwinner, who has years of camping ministry experience to share around a s’mores-filled campfire. Kayla and Matthew will be training their staff not only for their summer ministry positions but also for controlling the spread of COVID-19. They have several layers of precautions in place, including mask-wearing and spaced-out bunk beds in large cabins. They will follow all CDC guidelines for a safe summer camping experience.

It is not too late to plan a fun-filled faith formation week for your child. Click on the link to check out their new, updated website and the weeks of camps available. Please also check with your church administration; many times, funds are left by members to finance a child’s experience at camp. If your church doesn’t have a camping scholarship fund, talk to Kayla today, by emailing her at, on the ways you can quickly create a camping scholarship fund.

Q&A w/ Kayla HardageExecutive Director of Camp Tanako

Q&A w/ Kayla Hardage
Executive Director of Camp Tanako

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Kayla Hardage is the new Executive Director at Camp Tanako in Hot Springs. Hardage, who grew up in White Hall now lives and works at Camp Tanako full-time. In the last 10 years, she has worked for the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. She took some time this week to answer a few questions about her life and her new role at Tanako.

Why did you decide to apply for the Director position at Tanako?

Funny story…My Mom and I were headed to Prescott to visit my grandparents and we were passing exit 97 on I-30 (the Tanako exit) and I told her that I wanted to work at Tanako again, like volunteering for work days or events. We continued talking about camp memories, as we had both worked on college staff. That evening, Kim Carter put on Facebook that she was leaving as Executive Director. I was not looking for a job, but my gut told me to apply, so I did!

What does a typical day as Director look like for you?

One thing that I love about this job is that there is no telling what the day will bring! Sometimes it’s good news, or sometimes there is a tree over the road, but whatever it is, we all have a good laugh. We have to work as a team, and teamwork is what makes camp a great place to work.

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to hold in-person camp this summer, what kinds of programs and activities is Tanako planning to help people stay connected?

We are launching a new program called TANAKO TALES, where we will take a few minutes each week through our social outlets, to reminisce on memories of camp, sing camp songs and share the good news of Jesus Christ!

What is something good that you can see coming out of this pandemic?

We feel that people will be hungry for fellowship with their community, and as a place for rest and renewal, we are hoping to offer retreats this fall. Tanako is known for the wonderful camps over the last 72 summers. Our hope is that we can grow into a year-round facility for groups, retreats, and conferences. We want to engage the local community and let them know we are here for them, too!

What is your favorite thing about Camp Tanako?

Being present in this place! There is nothing better than watching a sunrise over the lake, or a night at the fire pit with the sounds of nature and camp tunes on a guitar.

Who is someone that has influenced your life in a major way and why?

My greatest influences growing up were my four great grandmothers. I was lucky enough to have a relationship with all four women. Three were United Methodists, and I grew up going to church with all of them on the weekends and we had bunkin parties. I did not realize until later in my 20s that this was truly a gift. I knew six of my eight great grandparents and all four of my grandparents and had a relationship with all of them. These four women laid the foundation for who I am today!

Do you have any big plans for Tanako’s future that you can share?

As I walk through the grounds, I dream of the possibilities of this special place. In my brief time here, I have looked into similar camps, both Methodist and not, and have decided I want to work on a 10-year plan. This plan includes a lodge and conference center, bike trails, partnerships with local businesses for experience trips for our campers, but above all, stay true to our mission of being a place set apart from the busy lives we live. Our foundation is summer camp, and I want that to stay the same.

Summer Event Cancellations in the ARUMC

Summer Event Cancellations in the ARUMC

As uncertainty about when the COVID-19 pandemic will subside persists, organizations and ministries from around the Arkansas Conference have made announcements that their summer activities have been canceled or postponed.

You can find a list of cancellations, along with official announcements from each organization, in the list below.

ACCYM Choir Tour, Jr & Sr High Assemblies

The ACCYM Choir Tour and Assembly task force’s met this past week and decided, based on recommendations from the local and national government and for the health of our participants. In the interest of keeping everyone safe and healthy, and loving one another the best we can, we sadly announce that Choir Tour and both Junior High and Senior High Assembly is canceled for the summer of 2020. This decision was made by the ARUMC with the health of all of our students and churches in mind.

A big shout to our task forces as they are still looking into options of providing an alternative virtual experience that would be free of charge for all participants. Please continue to watch your e-mail for updates on this virtual offering. Stay safe and healthy as we are all in this together!

Camp Tanako

Dear Tanako Family,

The Camp Tanako Board of Trustees has decided to cancel Overnight summer camp for the 2020 season. At this time, we are also canceling Day Camp in June. The Board will announce June 1 if Day Camp will open in July.

The decision to cancel came after prayerful consideration and in an effort to follow recommendations from the Governor and state health officials. Ultimately the safety of our campers and staff are what is most important. We will work with parents to refund deposits made for summer camp.

We hope to offer some type of programming in late summer. We are looking at hosting retreats for churches, children’s ministries, and youth groups as we feel community will be needed when we can gather again.

In May, we will begin Tanako Tales, a program that will bring all who love Tanako together once a week to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to reminisce on fond memories of camp.

Due to the camps being canceled, Tanako needs your support more than ever. We ask that all who are able, consider donating a onetime gift or becoming a sustaining donor. You may do so by visiting

Until we meet again,

Kayla Hardage,
Executive Director

Mission U

From the Mission u National Office:

We are sorry to inform you that, due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our virtual Mission u training (planned for April 30-May 3 and May 27-30) and we are urging that every conference also cancel their own Mission u events.

After much prayer and discussion, the Mission u team and United Methodist Women senior leadership team agreed that it is too great a risk to gather in person this summer.

Ozark Mission Project

To the OMP family of volunteers and supporters,

We pray you and yours are safe and are successfully coping in these trying times.

(OMP) has been in mission for over 33 years in Arkansas transforming lives through worship, fellowship, and hands-on mission. It is more important than ever for OMP to serve our youth, college students, and neighbors during this time.

The COVID-19 crisis is continuing to evolve quickly, and we are making decisions that prioritize the health and safety of all our participants.

At this time, based on recommendations from local and national health officials and in consideration of the population we serve, the OMP Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to cancel our 2020 in-person summer camps.

We will be refunding all summer 2020 camper fees in full back to the participating churches and individual families as part of this decision.

We are heartbroken that we will not be working together side-by-side this summer, but we won’t let this virus stand in our way of spiritual growth. In efforts to continue supporting our youth at this time, a task force has been formed to reimagine how OMP can still be involved in transforming lives with our neighbors, campers, and volunteers this summer – just in a new way.

The task force and OMP staff are planning to provide a virtual alternative camp option during the normal weeks OMP would have taken place during the summer of 2020. The experience will be free of charge to all Y.OUth who have completed 4th through 12th grades. The weeks that will be offered are as follows:

Week 1: June 8-12

Week 2: June 22-26

Week 3: July 13-17

We will be putting an agenda and activities together between now and May 15, 2020 and will have more information to share with you soon. If you would like to be a part of this new vision for this summer, please contact Hanna French, Director of Programs and Communications, at

We, as a ministry, are leading by faith and not by fear. This faith is what has led us to offer an alternative camp for free this summer, because we believe so strongly in the need for connection.

At this point our plan is to seek grants and use our existing reserves to pay for these camps. However, if you or your church would like to help by donating to the camps, that would be much appreciated. Please visit our website to make your contribution.

OMP is known for building wheelchair ramps-but the relationships that we build with one another is what keeps this ministry strong. Our organization has a history of demonstrating our flexibility and adaptability in implementing large changes for the benefit of all involved. We are confident, with God’s hands on this ministry, that we will continue to transform lives this summer.

We are grateful for what you have done and will do to make OMP thrive. While we cannot be in hands-on ministry this summer, we look forward to continuing to build relationships and can’t wait to work side-by­side with you to transform lives once again.

Peace in Christ,

Bailey Faulkner

Camp Tanako Summer 2019 Schedule

Camp Tanako provides a time and place for children and youth to retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, reconnect with old friends, make new friends, open themselves to God in new ways through community with nature and others, and have the time of their lives. We emphasize extending Christian hospitality to each other and practice living in accordance with the Fruits of the Spirit. This year, Peace Works is the theme for each week. We worship and discuss in small groups around this topic, but we also look for teachable moments throughout the day to incorporate lessons learned from stories in the theme.

Peace Works

Peace Works is about welcoming campers in the hospitable spirit of aloha and invites them to find their place at the table of the parable of the Great Banquet. Then we celebrate our covenant community by exploring ubuntu and what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.

As the community grows closer, they will name the reality of conflict, as stories of Jacob and Esau remind us of our ability to contribute both to conflict and peacemaking. Shalom calls us out of conflict, to find peace with God and each other. Jesus shows us what God’s agape love looks like and how it reconciles us to God, even when we are unaware or do not fully understand. We try to model the vulnerable love and humble service of Jesus, demonstrated in washing the disciples’ feet, as we seek peace with others.

The Japanese concept of heiwa invites us to also look within as we work for peace, putting harmony over competition to find peace within our own hearts. Balancing our love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self is not easy, but it is at the core of Christian living. As we prepare to leave camp, we revisit the concept of aloha, and receive Jesus’ benediction and promise of peace that will remain with us always. We remember that the same Spirit that welcomed us, has dwelt with us, and now sends and accompanies us in our peace works at home.

Mini Camp

Mini camp is a perfect chance for young elementary campers to try their first overnight experience. This 2-night / 3-day camp is designed for rising 1st-3rd graders. From the time they arrive until they are picked up, there is a whirlwind of camp activities, fun, and new things to try that help them develop and build self-confidence. And most importantly, camp gives children time to experience God through nature, worship together, and practice living in Christian community.

Adventure Camp

Arkansas is an amazingly beautiful place. Adventure camp serves to showcase some spectacular chapters of creation while giving campers an opportunity to be adventurous and try something new and challenging.
This year, we will be going on a Wild Cave tour at Blanchard Springs Cavern near Mountain View. The cave tour lasts about 3-4 hours and is fairly strenuous, but amazing cave formations and other wonders make it worthwhile. When we’re above ground, we’ll camp in the park, hike some of the trails, and fish for trout in Mirror Lake. This camp is for 7th-9th graders.

Discovery Camp

Discovery camp is a 3 day/4 night camp designed for campers going into 1st-4th grades. It’s perfect for younger campers who are ready to spend an extra night at camp, but also for campers old enough for elementary camp who may not be ready to spend a week away from home. Each day campers will participate in worship, games, family group activities like daily Bible studies, archery, kayaking, nature hikes, and more.

Jr. High

Jr. High camp is a 6 day/5 night camp for raising 7th-9th graders. Jr. High camp is structured similarly to Elementary, but with a few different challenging, age-appropriate activities. Jr. High also has the option for Outpost and horseback riding.

Sr. High

Hammett Evans from Monticello is writing the curriculum for Sr. High camp themed around Stranger Things.

MAD Camp

This is a camp designed for campers interested in music, theater, and the arts. Campers will work all week putting together an original production, building sets, and performing for parents and staff at the end of the camp session.

Fishing Camp

We fish most weeks during the summer, but this weekend camp is all about fishing. The Arkansas Game and Fish stocks hundreds of catchable catfish into an enclosed area on our part of Lake Catherine. Campers will need to bring a quality fishing pole and reel, tackle and bait will be provided. After fishing camp, the catfish are released into Lake Catherine.

Elementary Camp

Elementary Camp is a 6 day/5 night camp for raising 3rd – 6th graders. Campers spend the week in family groups worshiping, doing daily Bible studies, and participating in all the favorite games and activities. Elementary campers also have the options to cook dinner over a campfire and sleep in a hammock for one night at Outpost and/or go horseback riding one afternoon. The emphasis remains on experiencing God through nature and community while practicing faithful living.

Camp Tanako offers three days of learning during Confirmation Camp weekendsFebruary and April dates set for United Methodist confirmands

Camp Tanako offers three days of learning during Confirmation Camp weekends
February and April dates set for United Methodist confirmands

Confirmation is an important step in the spiritual journey of United Methodists, and Camp Tanako is hoping to give more young adults the opportunity to go through confirmation thanks to their Confirmation Camp weekends.

“Confirmation Camp began as a response to conversations that I was having with pastors throughout the Arkansas Conference who were having trouble doing confirmation at their churches,” said Kim Carter, Director of Camp Tanako.

The weekend camp came about in 2016 as a resource for small membership churches who didn’t have the time, resources or enough people to undergo confirmations at their churches.

The three-day experience will take place twice in early 2019. The first camp is Feb. 8 – 10 and the second camp is April 5 – 7.

The age in which a young adult goes through confirmation varies from congregation to congregation, but typically kids will go through the process somewhere between the 5th and 7th grade.

Confirmation classes focus on understanding the Trinity and what it means to be a United Methodist. The process of confirmation is closely linked to baptism in the church, and although confirmation is not a sacrament in the United Methodist Church, it is an essential step in a church members’ spiritual journey after baptism.

During the Confirmation Camp weekend, campers will experience a variety of sessions that cover every aspect of confirmation in the United Methodist Church. Topics covered include: “What is Confirmation,” God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit/Trinity, John Wesley, sacraments, and vows.

Various Arkansas Conference employees will lead sessions. So far, that list of leaders includes Youth and Young Adult Ministries Coordinator Michelle Moore, Lead Equipper for the Center for Vitality Michelle Morris, Children’s Ministry Coordinator Melinda Shunk, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministry Jim Polk, and Conway First UMC Pastor Zack Schrick.

“As an extension of the Conference, the Camping/Retreat Ministries goal is to help local churches meet the trajectory set forth by the Conference, and confirmation is a vital part of what it means to be a United Methodist,” Carter said.

After the weekend is over, confirmands will be sent home with lessons to discuss with parents and local pastors. The take-home lessons cover topics beyond confirmation, such as creeds, the Bible, prayer, service/mission outreach, and heritage and history of the church.

Campers will also get a chance to worship together each evening before heading back to their cabins.

Rod Hocott – director of the MIDphyouth ministry at Pulaski Heights UMC and developer of the confirmation camp curriculum – sees the lasting value of confirmation camp for every United Methodist youth.

“To prepare our young people to become United Methodist Christians is one of the most daunting, yet highly rewarding responsibilities we undertake in the area of youth ministry,” Hocott said. “When asked to help develop curriculum for a conference-wide confirmation camp, along with Dee Ann Daniel and Laura Stinnett, I thought what a wonderful idea to make confirmation training available to churches of any size, regardless of the number of confirmands available in any given local church.”

For Carter, there’s nothing else quite like Confirmation Camp.

“The United Methodist Church, at its heart, is connectional, and through camp, we’re able to bring young people and their mentors together from across the state. Confirmation is a coming of age experience that occurs at the right time to instruct young adults before they join the church. It’s a vital part of the life of a local United Methodist Church.”

For more information on Confirmation Camp, visit Camp Tanako’s website. You’ll also find links to register for the April 2019 Confirmation Camp.