RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–In 1929 when most of the country was dealing with the onset of the Great Depression, Southern Baptists nevertheless banded together to offer a new kind of ministry — Camp Ridgecrest.
The camp celebrates its 75th summer this year with a little pomp and circumstance, including an anniversary celebration weekend in late July sponsored by Camp Ridgecrest Alumni and Friends. More than 200 alumni are expected to attend.
“Camp Ridgecrest began operating in 1929 as a two-week trial session,” camp director Ron Springs said. “It was so successful that they immediately began planning for the 1930 season. Many of our camp families have made Camp Ridgecrest a family tradition, with second and third generations attending presently.”
That tradition is also true for Springs, who began working at the camp as a counselor 27 years ago. He spent his first summer at Camp Ridgecrest in Cabin 1, leading a group of boys that included Brad Johnson, now starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this year’s Super Bowl Champions.
“He was a 7-year-old in Cabin 1, where I was the counselor,” Springs said. “It’s great for me to see campers attending camp now whose fathers or mothers were campers at our camps when I first started here. We have even had campers whose grandparents were campers or on staff in the past.”
Chris Shirley, associate pastor at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, a former camper, staffer and associate director of the camp, knows the importance of the milestone anniversary.
“I was at the 50th and 60th anniversary celebrations, and I remember just listening to all the memories and experiences others share,” he said. “These folks were the doctors, lawyers, teachers, ministers and others who were shaping our generations. I remember thinking what an awesome privilege it was to be a part of a place where God was molding the lives of not only present generations, but those to come. I’m praying that God will allow me to be a part of the 100th celebration.”
Trey Davis, a former camper and staffer, now attending Wake Forest Divinity School, describes the 75th anniversary as a “big deal.”
“My grandfather was a camper there in the 1930s and ’40s, and my father was a staffer in the ’70s,” he said. “It’s the only place that each of the past three generations of my family has spent meaningful time. As I grow older and more removed from my parents, it’s so reassuring to have things that we can share. Ridgecrest fits with who I am. It helps define me.”
Camp Ridgecrest for Boys and its sister camp, Camp Crestridge for Girls, are designed to provide campers ages 7 to 16 with a safe and fun-filled atmosphere that glorifies Christ.
“Our goal is to show our campers that you can live a Christian life and have fun at the same time,” Springs said. “Our staff members are Christian role models for the boys and girls that attend.”
Approximately 1,200 campers participate in the camps each summer, most from the Southeast. Almost 40 percent of the campers come from Florida. Campers attend two- or four-week sessions and participate in a variety of activities, including horseback riding, archery, soccer, swimming, canoeing, weightlifting, rock climbing, mountain biking, basketball, softball and tennis.
While sports and fun may be part of the Camp Ridgecrest agenda, Springs said the staff’s foremost goal throughout the years has been to share the gospel.
“One striking moment for me in the last few years was when a camper from the 1930s came up to camp to look around,” he said. “He had not been to camp since then and shared with me how much camp had meant in his life.
“We went into the Lake Lodge, where all the camp pictures from the various years hang, and he found the one he was in,” Springs continued. “After 60-plus years, he still remembered the name of his counselor. It was an amazing moment, and one that reminded me what an impression we make on these children, and what a tremendous responsibility we have to share Christ’s love with each child that attends.”
Springs sees Camp Ridgecrest’s responsibility to share the gospel, along with its dedication to fun, extending far into the future.
“Kids are rushed around all year long in today’s world, and rarely have time to just be kids,” he said. “Camp Ridgecrest and Crestridge [for girls] offer campers the opportunity to just have fun and be a kid, without the stresses of school, home and a busy schedule. While our program is structured and we have many activities going on, we feel we offer a non-stressful, fun, exciting atmosphere.”
For Davis, those exciting days at Camp Ridgecrest won’t be soon forgotten. Besides attributing his ability to interact and work well with other people to his experiences at the summer camp, Davis also decided to ask Christ into his life while at Camp Ridgecrest.
“Ridgecrest is where I decided formally to become a Christian, when I was a camper in Cabin 9,” he said. “It had been a pretty shaky summer for me, but the words of the staff were so alive and so real that I felt them inside me for the first time. … In an age where families move around a lot and don’t have ties to a community or a church beyond the nuclear family, it’s nice to have a place like that.”
For more information about Camps Ridgecrest and Crestridge, go to www.ridgecrestcamps.com, or contact Camp Director Ron Springs at [email protected]. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: LIFE-CHANGING CAMP and 75-YEAR MINISTRY.