RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–In 1979, Andy Anderson was recruited from his seminary studies in Texas to work as an outdoor education director at a summer camp being started by the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) of the Southern Baptist Convention.
That camp was Centrifuge, which has become LifeWay’s biggest summer camp for youth. That summer at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains helped lay the foundation for Anderson’s 16-year ministry as a pastor and as an SBC chaplain the past two years at Gulfside Regional Hospice in New Port Richey, Fla.
As Anderson returned to Ridgecrest in mid-July for LifeWay’s annual National Evangelism and Discipleship Conference, he knew Centrifuge would be going on at the same time. It brought back memories of a time that, to this day, remains close to his heart.
“I knew it [Centrifuge] would grow and be blessed by God,” Anderson reflected. “So when I came back, I made an effort to just go over there. I just felt I needed to meet the staff and just see where Centrifuge has come from the time that I served.”
The premise of Centrifuge -– with a fulltime staff that plans and leads Bible study, adventure recreation, worship and other camp elements -– has not changed since that first year. The only changes have been in the expanded number of locations -– from Ridgecrest and Glorieta (N.M.) conference centers in 1980 to other locations not just in the United States but internationally -– as well as an expansion to eight different types of camps.
“With our staff of 12, we had between 350-450 students each week and maybe we reached 500 some weeks,” Anderson recounted. “I was told they have 31 on staff now [at Ridgecrest] and there were more than 875 kids this week. They offer a lot more now in track times with specific skills they teach.”
Back in 1979, Anderson was in the middle of completing his master’s degree in religious education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when he was recruited by Don Mattingly (who now leads a Baylor University youth camp) as one of the first workers at the initial Centrifuge. It wasn’t a tough decision for Anderson, especially in choosing between the summer heat in Texas and North Carolina.
Anderson said he remembered the times he hiked up the mountains, pitched tents, cooked food and had fellowship around the campfire with the campers and staff.
“We’d tell different kinds of fun stories and sing fun songs. Then we’d move into the more spiritual time and sing songs of praise and testimony,” Anderson said. “It was like heaven came down. God really moved in the lives of the young people there and it really blessed me how God really spoke to the young people and how their lives changed.”
Anna Aaron, director of this year’s Centrifuge at Ridgecrest, said having Anderson visit was a blessing. “To see a face of someone who was here when it originally started…. He was a huge encouragement to all of us. To hear some of the memories he had, some of them are the same memories we’ll have from our summer.
“Obviously he communicated how a lot of things had changed … ,” Aaron added. “There is a connection, a relationship that exists, I think, among all of us who share the same experience over the last 29 or 30 years. We have a ministry that we enjoy that has so much influence on our lives. I hope it was cool for him to see staffers who carried on the same things that he did.”
Anderson said he hopes a reunion of the original staff will be planned to coincide with Centrifuge’s 30th anniversary next summer.
“Centrifuge is one of the greatest youth ministries I have ever been associated with,” he said. “I am amazed how God has used Centrifuge to touch the lives of about 1 million people since it started. There have been many decisions for Christ, and not only that but decisions for missions and other fulltime Christian service.”
Jerry Higgins is a freelance writer in Raleigh, N.C.