SALEM – A full-capacity crowd of young campers packed their bags and were shuttled to the nearby Dent County Baptist Association campground for a week of fun and gospel-learning during “Camp Joy,” June 17-21. Since 2012, the First Baptist Church here has tailored this camp experience to reach out to children throughout the community, and partly as a result the church’s children’s ministry is flourishing.
The 180 overnight campers who attended Camp Joy this year were joined each day by another 20 day-campers, who were unable to stay overnight at the campground.
But, according to FBC Salem Children’s Minister Paula Lamb, the camp experience offers more than just a fun time, but also an escape from hardships at home.
“We have kids remark that camp is a safe place,” Lamb told The Pathway. The town of Salem and other areas in south-central Missouri are plagued by poverty and drug problems. So, when children come to camp, they find reprieve from problems they may be facing at home, and some are surprised to find they get three meals a day during the week.
“We want to reach out to kids in our community and give them an environment where they can learn about the love of Christ, be loved by people in our church and just have fun,” FBC Salem Pastor Michael York said.
Indeed, children at the campground find both fun and safety at Camp Joy – largely because of the faithfulness of volunteers from the church who serve throughout the week.
“Everybody in our church is involved in this, directly or indirectly. The reason we are able to put this on is because of the faithful giving, week-in and week-out, of our people,” York said. But beyond this, many church members use vacation time to serve at Camp Joy. Others work all day and then come to the camp to serve each evening.
“I think one of the things these kids appreciate so much is seeing the volunteers sacrifice so much to say that they care,” York said. “It really says, ‘We want to love you like Christ loves you.’”
Lamb added, “You couldn’t ask for better volunteers. Almost all of them come back every year.”
Alongside the adult volunteers who serve at Camp Joy, 20 youth from the church also serve throughout the week, leading Bible studies and interacting with the children. According to Lamb, these youth begin training roughly three or four months before camp.
“Not only are we pouring into our kids,” York said, “but it’s also a time of leadership development for our youth.”
Partly because of Camp Joy, FBC Salem has made inroads into its community; the local school, for example, asks the church to provide registration forms and information that they can give to parents who ask about the camp.
Camp Joy also has helped to maintain the church’s strong children’s ministry. Though FBC Salem has an attendance of roughly 250-300 in Sunday services each week, the church welcomes nearly 150 children on a regular basis to its various services and events, and nearly 90 children have joined the FBC Salem’s children’s choir.