McALESTER, Okla. (BP)–Hike down any of the trails at Camp Hudgens, a Baptist boys’ camp on the southern shore of Oklahoma’s Lake McAlester, and you quickly come to a trailhead marked with a simple, engraved wood sign that reads, “John Hoskins Memorial Trail.” Ask any of the campers attending the summer camp who John Hoskins is, and they will solemnly tell you the story of the young camp staff member who died in a boating accident on the lake in the summer of 1985.
It is a story passed down from staff member to camper every summer as they hike along the nature trails.
This summer, however, the story has a new chapter. For the first time, Alvin Hoskins, John’s father, came to Camp Hudgens as a counselor. And he is using John’s story to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the young boys at camp.
Hoskins, a deacon at First Baptist Church, Yukon, Okla., recounted John was a solid Christian who was an active member of the youth group there.
“Anything that went on at the church, he was in it,” Hoskins said. “He went on all the trips the church took. Of course, he was only 16, so anything a 16-year-old was in, he was in it. He probably put more into his 16 years than a lot of people put in a lifetime.”
About to begin his senior year, John was a member of the diving team and had played soccer every season, and both John and his father were involved in Boy Scouts.
“He had just made his Eagle Scout in February of 1985,” Hoskins said.
It was four months later that John went to Camp Hudgens as a member of the waterfront staff.
Early on a Thursday morning, John and some friends boarded a sailboat in the cove. The trouble began when the winds turned the wrong direction and began blowing them up the cove instead of out onto the lake. The boat drifted toward some electric lines that, at the time, hung low over the corner of the cove.
When the crew saw that the mast was going to touch the lines, they jumped into the lake and began swimming for shore. The boat, however, only touched the neutral line.
When they saw that nothing had happened, several of the boys began swimming back to the boat. John was the first to reach it, just as the mast touched the power line. He was killed instantly. Several of his friends were taken to the hospital, one unconscious for several hours.
“I brought John to Camp Hudgens that year,” Hoskins said. “The last time I saw him was Father’s Day that year.”
John’s death brought many difficult changes to his father, his mother, Emmelita, and his sister, Rebel Courtney, 19.
“We were missing part of the family,” Hoskins said. “You know, things like that are just hard to adjust to.
“We didn’t get to see him at his graduation. His friends are having children of their own now, and that’s hard. One of his good friends, probably his best friend, just graduated from Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy school. We went to (the graduation). It was hard. It’s hard to take something like that.”
Hoskins said he had to rely on the Lord, on the church and on friends to get through such a difficult time in his life.
“One thing that I can’t figure out is how anybody makes it without the Lord,” Hoskins said. “We couldn’t have made it without the church. Without our friends, we couldn’t have gone through it.”
A close friend and fellow deacon helped Hoskins turn his experience into a ministry.
Don Copeland came up with the idea of creating a system of nature trails that would associate Camp Hudgens with John. He presented the idea at a boys’ Royal Ambassador Congress, and the trail was dedicated in October 1994. Since then, Hoskins and Copeland have traveled to Hudgens several times a year to maintain and create new trails.
As a part of their ministry, Hoskins and Copeland also established an outstanding camper award in John’s memory. Campers are chosen from each of the cabins, then staff members vote on the one boy who most exemplifies the Christian model.
It was this summer, however, that Hoskins made his ministry even more personal, coming to Camp Hudgens as a counselor with a group of boys from Yukon.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been down here as a counselor,” Hoskins said. “I’ve been wanting to bring a group of boys and I didn’t know how I’d react to it. But I feel good down here. I really do.”
Hoskins said being at Camp Hudgens has brought some closure to John’s story.
Hoskins tells boys they shouldn’t take tomorrow for granted. “I’ve told several of the boys, ‘You’re here right now, and you may not have a tomorrow. If you haven’t accepted Christ now, you need to,'” Hoskins said. “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to two boys this week, and one of them accepted Christ. I’m still working on the other. But you can’t say, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’ There may not be one.
“You can’t say, ‘Nothing will happen.’ Because it can. We didn’t expect that to happen — never in a million years — but it did. But the Lord had a reason. We believe that.”
Peters is a correspondent with the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger newsjournal.