CHILLICOTHE – On a beautiful fall day in October, camp managers and directors of missions from across Missouri drove to Grand Oaks Baptist Assembly in northern Missouri for a collaboration meeting. Around a table in the dining hall they networked and told their stories.
A common theme was how blessed they are to have young people from churches in their associations and regions come to their camps and retreat centers to find a connection with God.
So many young people get saved and discipled at association camps, it seemed fitting to try to work together to help the experiences be even better they said.
“Camps are one the greatest examples of churches serving together to advance the Kingdom,” said Preston Thompson, director of missions for Grand Crossings Baptist Association, Kingdom City. Thompson is the convener of the group, part of his duties as current president of the Missouri Directors of Missions Fellowship.
“The old adage of “together we can do more better’ is true with camps. Every year we see lives being transformed by hearing and seeing the Gospel lived out,” he added.
Thompson and several other directors of missions began meeting together a few years ago and have expanded the networking to the caretakers of the Baptist camps located in many parts of Missouri. They move the meetings around and the next one will be held at Baptist Hill, Mount Vernon on January 17th.
David Mifflin and Randy Festervand, DOM and camp caretaker of Baptist Ridge, operated by the Fellowship Baptist Association, Warsaw, agreed that their biggest challenge in running a camp is that something will always come up even though they have prepared extensively.
“A water system, an air conditioner, something will break,” said Festervand. He has operated camps most of his adult life, coming to Missouri from camp posts in Louisiana and Maryland/Delaware before that. He has learned to be prepared, but roll with whatever happens.
But even with the maintenance of aging facilities, they agreed that the scenic vistas and the quiet rural nature of campgrounds lead to opportunities tor children and teens to get to know God without all the distractions of life.
Steve Strauch, DOM for Laclede Baptist Association and manager of that association’s camp said he divides his time with associational ministry and camp facility management. “But I have a great team.” He estimates 95% of the maintenance and camp administration work is done by volunteers.”
“We have four camps for our association: a family camp, children’s camp, youth camp and an equestrian camp to teach horsemanship skills.” And of course all of these camps have a gospel evangelistic and disciplemaking component to them as well.
“The Missouri Campers on Mission group really helps us each year,” Strauch added. They do maintenance and they helped construct a new amphitheater this fall. The Laclede camp will accommodate about 150 students and staff. Generally they have about 75 to 100 onsite for a summer camp.
Since 2016, Brad Fields has been the manager of Grand Oaks Baptist Assembly in Chillicothe, working with his wife, Erin, who coordinates food service. They work with his father-in-law, Don Boyer who serves as assistant manager and helps with maintenance. The Fields family live on the camp, surrounded by campers for 10 weeks in the summer. While they value their privacy, being in the manager’s home in the center of the camp was a common thing for Erin Fields as she grew up there with her parents, Don and Jolette Boyer, previous managers. She said she dreamed as a teenage girl she would marry a man and they would come back to Grand Oaks to lead the camp.
Fields said he had the opportunities last year to see a young girl sitting by herself, alone after a chapel session had let out. She seemed upset and he approached her to ask if she was ok. They talked for a while and he was able to get some help from the camp staff for her. But he said the spiritual “connection” that was made in that setting was a powerful thing to experience.
Festervand said seeing the teenagers make decisions for Christ on the last night or the last morning of the camps warms his heart.
To get involved in the camping program of an association, Missouri Baptists could visit with their association’s director of mission to be put in touch with camp leaders. Volunteers are always needed with the camp programs as well as skilled and unskilled labor needed to help maintain the camp facilities.