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Alabama Baptists work to build camp in Alaska

The land in Alaska where the camp would be built rests beside a lake. Photo courtesy of Robert Rhodes

CRAIG, Alaska – There’s a piece of land nestled next to a lake in Alaska, and Tommy Bishop said when he’s there, he thinks of somewhere else.

He thinks about Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center back home in Alabama, which has hosted camps and retreats for 75 years, and he reflects on the camp’s legacy.

“In just about every church that I know, I know somebody who went to Shocco Springs, and they either got saved there or were discipled or maybe even were called to the ministry,” he said.

Similar legacy

Tommy Bishop, president of Chilton Baptist Builders and a member of Liberty Hill Baptist Church in Clanton, walks through the site where the new camp would be built. Photo courtesy of Tommy Bishop

Bishop believes the land in Alaska could have a similar legacy.

“I think about how many people’s lives could be impacted until the day the Lord comes back — children, youth, adults, married couples,” said Bishop, president of Chilton Baptist Builders and a member of Liberty Hill Baptist Church in Clanton, Alabama. “It’s amazing.”

The vision started simply because Cody Schwegel, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Craig, Alaska, wanted a place to pitch a few tents.

His church is far away from the nearest Baptist camp, so for years it has cost more than $1,000 per student to send a group there.

“If you could imagine loading your kids on an airplane in Birmingham and flying them to North Dakota to go to camp, that’s what it’s like going from the southeast part of Alaska to the camp in Anchorage,” Schwegel said.

His congregation of 25 used to raise around $30,000 to send 30 students. But that wasn’t sustainable, he said.

“For a church that small, that is very difficult to do,” he said. “Raising that much money took a lot of our time, so we decided we had to become more efficient at our ministry. Our adults, instead of raising funds, were able to use that time to minister to our students in a way that was more impactful.”

Seeing God work

But Schwegel said he still knew the camp experience was important. In the past two years, he’s seen God work in a big way at Liberty Baptist, much of which was “in direct response to the partnership” that Alabama Baptists have had with Alaska Baptists since 2021.

“We see Alaska as the forgotten frontier because there’s not a lot of resources for churches to be successful in some of the things that we do,” Schwegel said. “The partnership with Alabama has been so amazing, because we’ve seen Alabamians come in and support and hundreds of people traveling to help with VBS and kids camp and retreats — you name it — and it’s made a huge impact.”

After seven years without a baptism, the church baptized nine people in 2023.

And as Liberty Baptist has grown, so has the youth group, which is “phenomenal to see” – and they all want to go to camp, Schwegel said. “So I called the state mental health trust, a large landowner in the state of Alaska, and said, ‘Hey, do you guys have some land that I can pitch a couple of tents on to start a camp that I can take kids to once a year?’”

One thing led to another, and through what Schwegel said is totally God’s provision, they ended up offering him a 33-acre plot of land for a fraction of what it’s worth.

“It’s in one of the most picturesque places you could imagine,” he said. “It’s on the edge of a lake, and you’ve got these snow-covered mountains in the background. On a nice sunny day you can sit on the edge of the land and see untouched God’s country for miles.”

A donor covered the cost of the property, and now Bishop’s church is heading up the effort to build the camp.

Potential impact

Bishop said it’s so exciting because he can see the potential for impacting lives as they build Alaska a “Shocco Springs.” The vision is to reach the 6,000 students who live within $100 worth of travel expenses from the camp.

They also want to use it for a variety of retreats and conferences for men, women and couples.

“We hope by early summer we will start,” said Bishop, who plans to essentially relocate to Alaska for the next two years to oversee the volunteer teams who are doing the construction work.

Schwegel said they need people who will pray for God’s providence – they’ve “seen miracles on a day-to-day basis” as God has guided them step by step, and he asked for prayer for that to continue.

“God has provided exactly what we’ve needed,” he said. “It’s been pretty phenomenal.”

For information about how to get involved with the camp project, contact Bishop at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist.

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