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State Baptist camps seeing big attendance, ‘big life change’

Like many camps, Zona Camp, a ministry of Arizona Southern Baptists, has seen a rebound in attendance this summer. Provided photo

NASHVILLE (BP) – Campers from across the United States are more excited than ever to go to camp this summer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are returning to camp for the first time since 2019.

Summer camps hosted by state Baptist conventions continue to overcome challenges in order to share the Gospel with hundreds of kids each week.

“We had 26 total salvations, 17 life rededications, 17 calls to ministry for just campers alone, and 20 of what we call ‘other,’” said Chad Murrell, director of Zona Camp, an Arizona Southern Baptist Convention camp held the last week of June. “Other” includes sin issues or mental health issues that students brought to light at Zona Camp in hopes of getting godly counsel. “We saw some really big life change last week.” Murrell said.

Zona Camp’s 2022 theme was “Revive.” “We chose the theme based on God’s ability to revive and redeem,” Camp Director Chad Murrell said. “God can take anything and use it for His glory, purpose and kingdom, even when things are bad.”

Zona campers experienced several mission opportunities as well. “A new local church plant offered a soccer camp last week and the students served by helping set up and run the camp” Murrell said. Zona campers also raised $5,100 for Send Relief mission efforts.

The Zona Camp theme for 2022 was “Revive.” Murrell said he and his staff chose the theme in 2021 because there was much uncertainty, anxiety, hopelessness and fear coming out of the pandemic.

“We chose the theme based on God’s ability to revive and redeem,” he said. “God can take anything and use it for His glory, purpose and kingdom, even when things are bad.” 

Campers engaged with the curriculum through classes on evolution, pro-life issues, purity, ministry and evangelism and more. Campers were given the opportunity to ask the camp pastor anonymous questions in a Q&A session. They asked questions about dating and singleness, Bible translations, anxiety and how to talk to friends with different beliefs.

Murrell has heard of many camps closing due to struggles presented by COVID-19.

“I was worried about Zona Camp surviving COVID-19, but I’m not worried anymore after last week,” he said. “Churches that came this year were super excited. Camps are pivotal for our evangelism strategy as Southern Baptists. I am excited for the future of Zona Camp.”

Similarly, Crossings Camp in Kentucky has had its biggest summer yet, reaching more than 19,000 kids during its first month. Despite COVID-19 difficulties, Crossings, a ministry of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, is expanding by adding new locations and camp options.

Crossings Camps director Lance Howerton said the only challenges his team has faced are due to growth.

In addition to participating in worship and meaningful small-group discussions, campers get a little wild too. Crossings campers can enjoy all sorts of water activities. Photo from Flickr

“The level of receptivity to the Gospel is good and students are interested,” Howerton said. “So far, we report 424 Salvations as of 6/29/2022 and 408 calls to ministry as of 6/29/2022. Our campers also raised $60,000 so far for Eastern Kentucky missions. We are only about halfway through the camp season.”

Howerton said one of the highlights of the summer at Crossings has been staff building relationships with the students. “Life change happens best in the context of relationships,” he said. “Worship with all those kids in one room is very special.”

Another highlight was a chance to deal with hard issues the students are facing.

“I did some research on GenZ and how to reach them,” Howerton said. Based on his findings, he decided to set up a student/pastor Q&A time to give students an opportunity to ask the questions they frequently ponder.

“We are giving them the real, hard answers. They ask tough questions” he said, adding that some of the topics of interest included sexuality, abortion, race and apologetics.

“Overall, it’s been our best summer yet and all good news to report on our end” Howerton said.

Merrie Johnson, program director of BeDoTell weeks at Fort Caswell in Oak Island, N.C, told a similar story of students’ changed lives.

“Our summer has been a reflection of [campers’] searching to make a difference,” said Johnson, who has spent almost four decades studying and working with young people. “God is using our theme ‘Worth It’ to get them thinking about where they place value. As we walk through each day, the teenagers have begun to take inventory of where they place their trust, what they believe, who created their life and how to live with purpose in changing their world.”

So far this summer, BeDoTell, a ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, has seen 142 salvations, 413 life rededications and 182 calls to ministry. “We have four more weeks to go and can’t wait to see what God is going to do” Johnson said, adding that God is moving at Fort Caswell not only among campers, but also among staffers and church leaders.

“We’ve seen youth groups be drawn together and find unity through Christ,” she said. “We’ve seen adults surrender to ministry who said they had been ignoring God’s call for them to step out in faith and serve vocationally. We’ve seen youth groups make plans to go home and do one project to help strengthen their church and youth group. Many of them want to lead out in reaching their communities. They are tired of sitting and doing nothing.”

BeDoTell allows students to participate in hands-on ministry.

“Our students at camp pack meals to send to Jacmel, Haiti, through the House of Abraham,” Johnson said. “This year marks the 2,650,000th meal to be packaged and sent to Haiti. It has allowed these students to wake up and realize the potential they have in changing lives. It’s not just about coming to camp for fun and the beach. It’s so much more.”

Johnson urged Baptist church leaders to invest in students.

“We must continually train them to know how to share the Gospel, with gentleness and respect, as never before,” she said. “Remember, they are searching, just in the wrong places, for answers for their value and purpose.”

    About the Author

  • Madison Burnette