HANNIBAL, Mo. (BP)–The recreation field is eerily silent. Colorful flags flutter in the breeze over piles of balls, buckets and sponges. Suddenly the quiet is pierced by a shout and a group rounds the corner, their faces smeared with paint. They are pursued by a blue-faced man with a can of shaving cream.
Such is a normal afternoon at Centri-Kid at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Hannibal, Mo. It’s every child’s dream -– Organized Mass Chaos, or OMC for short. Blue-faced Buck Buchanan –- actually the leader of this group of boys –- pauses to grab a water balloon and grins. “This is awesome,” he shouts as he continues his pursuit.
Heading into its fifth summer, Centri-Kid, a camp sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention for third- through sixth-graders, has grown from 3,500 campers in 2001 to more than 17,000 expected in 2005. The staff size has quadrupled to nearly 200, allowing Centri-Kid to choose “the best of the best.”
“We interview more than 1,000 applicants for around 200 positions,” said Amber Hill, the camp director at Hannibal-LaGrange, one of the 10 Centri-Kid teams. “We’re staffed by college students, seminary students and young adults who are passionate about children. That is essential since each team will come into contact with thousands of children over the 10 weeks of camp.”
This year’s Centri-Kid theme has been “The Extra Mile,” with students learning from Jesus’ example about how to serve others, serve their families and tell them about Jesus.
Everything about camp, from worship to recreation, focused on the theme. “I think that’s one of the things that Centri-Kid does really well,” said Josh Wiggins, a staffer from Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga. “We not only make everything very kid-friendly but we also focus everything on the theme. Whether we are playing games on the rec field or eating lunch in the cafeteria, we are doing our best to teach these kids about serving God and going the extra mile.”
The teaching goes beyond Bible studies and evening sermons. Centri-Kid staffers seemingly have boundless energy to spend every moment possible engaging with the campers and investing in their lives.
“Centri-Kid is relationship-based,” Hill said. “We offer tons of fun programs, but it all boils down to the relationships. We feel that by building relationships with these kids we are equipping them to build relationships when they return home. We strive to be positive role models in everything that we do.”
This pursuit did not go unnoticed. Various church leaders commented that they were most impressed not with the elaborate stage or excellent multi-media but with the care that the staff showed their children.
“The staff here is awesome,” said Mary Walker, who has brought her group from First Baptist Church in Bethalto, Ill., since 2001. “They interact with the kids, love on the kids and hang out with them. They’ve stepped up to every challenge every year, and it’s why we keep coming back.”
Another reason groups keep coming back is because of Centri-Kid’s desire to present the message of Christ in a way that strikes the balance between being kid-friendly yet remaining faithful to the Gospel. Silly songs are tempered with praise music. A seven-foot roadrunner mascot named Roadie darts across the stage in the morning, and the camp pastor tells of Jesus’ death and resurrection from the same stage that evening.
“We offer a program that is different than your typical children’s program,” Hill said. “We try to think outside of the box and teach children that being a Christian is not just an adult thing.”
Another goal of Centri-Kid is to send church group leaders home with new resources and ideas.
“We are very aware of the fact that we need to intensely serve these kids for a week, and through that we need to empower the adult leaders to serve when they go home,” said Casey Guimbellot, a student at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who served as the team’s recreation leader. “We try to serve the leaders and partner alongside them and share as many resources as possible with them.”