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On mission Christians span generations at Jenness Park

JENNESS PARK, Calif. (BP)–For most senior adults, serving more than 450 screaming teenagers is not part of their retirement plan, but for these senior citizens, it is part of their everyday life. At Jenness Park, the California Southern Baptist Convention’s assembly grounds, a number of retired Southern Baptists volunteer their summers to minister to campers.

Traveling around and living out of their RVs, they have turned their lives upside down to answer God’s call.

Roberta Kelly, a California native who has volunteered at Jenness Park for four years, serves on the camp’s food service staff. As a baker, Kelly is in charge of making sure desserts and rolls are ready for lunch and dinner, as well as such specialty breakfast items as cinnamon rolls.

She wakes at 5 a.m. and stays in the kitchen until everyone is served — all three meals, seven days a week, an average of 450 people per meal.

Having seven kids, Kelly said she knows what it’s like to have a bunch of hungry mouths to feed.

While living in California, Kelly brought her children to Jenness Park for camp and fell in love. With her firefighter husband having summers off, they volunteered their time at Jenness Park. Then, after moving to Iowa, and with her kids all grown up and living in California, Kelly and her husband felt they were just too far away. They sold their two-story house and bought the RV that they would be living out of for the next four years.

“God works wonders,” Kelly said of her Jenness Park service. “To see kids lives change and adults lives change is incredible.”

This year, however, is Kelly’s last at Jenness Park because she feels she should be with her husband who has begun to have health problems.

“Jenness Park helps others’ lives change, but our lives have changed also,” Kelly said.

Ken Widney, one of the main cooks in the cafeteria, calls Jenness Park his home, having always felt called to ministering at summer camps.

While looking for a place to work, he learned about Jenness Park from a Baptist newspaper 13 years ago and was instantly drawn to its ministry and its unique environment. When he called about possible openings, they said they only had a secretary position for his wife. He later was given a housekeeping job, which stretched into much of the camp’s maintenance work. He later took a position in the kitchen.

“The best part about Jenness Park are the people interacting with other people,” Widney reflected of the relationships built with the campers and fellow workers.

“We may gripe a lot, but we’re just joking around,” he said.

“Working at Jenness Park makes people bond together and become like a family,” Kelly added.

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