Mt. Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center has been making a spiritual impact in the lives of campers for nearly seventy-five years. But this year’s summer camp season has been unlike any previous year in Mt. Lebanon’s history.
In a typical summer, Mt. Lebanon hosts ten weeks of camp with a total of about 8,500 campers on the five-hundred-acre campground near Cedar Hill, Texas. By contrast, “because of the worsening COVID-19 numbers, we only held two weeks of summer camp this year with a combined attendance of only 847,” said Camp Director Roger Jackson.
The greatest challenge caused by this year’s drastically reduced numbers is what Jackson describes as “opportunity costs.”
“For many children and youth, this may have been their only chance to attend a Christian summer camp,” he said. “The group or cohort they would have been a part of will definitely change.
“It’s a real financial crisis for all of our Texas camps,” he added. “We’ll have to depend on reserve funds and unrestricted accounts just to continue to stay open.”
While many “life-changing, life-altering Spirit-led moments in a Christian camp environment were greatly missed this summer,” Jackson said there are still significant bright spots as Mt. Lebanon prepares to mark its seventy-fifth anniversary this fall.
Most notably, the campers who did attend camp this summer were able to experience the personal spiritual growth, training, and fellowship that has been at the heart of Mt. Lebanon’s ministry over the decades.
“We are glad that camp still happened this year and so grateful for everyone who worked so hard to make it happen,” said Shera Clowdus of First Baptist Church of Benbrook, Texas. “Even with the COVID changes, our kids still had a great time. Our church is so thankful for this camp and for the staff who put their heart and soul into giving them the best experience possible!”
“This is a gift to our kids this year. It’s such a blessing,” agreed Melva Shubert of First Baptist Church of Round Rock, Texas. “We knew if any camp could make this happen, Mt. Lebanon would jump through the hoops to make this week possible.”
WMU Leaders Leave Living Legacy
Throughout Mt. Lebanon’s history, the camp has stood as a living tribute to the vision and generosity of dedicated Baptist leaders from the 1940s.
Chief among those Baptist visionaries were Gladys Moore, who served at the time as Woman’s Missionary Union president for Dallas Baptist Association, and Tom and Pauline Patton, members of Calvary Baptist Church of Oak Cliff, Texas.
“It’s an interesting story how Gladys Moore approached the Pattons about giving land for the expanding camping ministry of the boys and girls missions in the Dallas Baptist Association and Tom was receptive to the idea,” noted Jackson, who has served as camp director since 2004.
“I feel like God had already shaped his heart to give to this,” Jackson said. “He just needed the opportunity and the WMU leadership presented him the opportunity to give this land to the work. Almost immediately, Tom felt called to do this.”
Following Mrs. Moore’s visit to the Pattons in August of 1945, Dallas Baptist Association leaders voted three months later to accept the gift of approximately five hundred acres of land to be developed into an associational camp for children and youth. By the summer of 1948, the first WMU-related camps were held on the property with 850 campers registered.
Years later, Patton told Mrs. Moore, “Of all the things I have done, the land given for Mt. Lebanon is the greatest blessing. I know thousands of lives have been changed because of it.”
“There’s no question that the WMU made a significant effort to get the land for Mt. Lebanon,” Jackson reflected. “Without their persistent efforts, this may not have happened. We’ve continued a relationship with WMU through all these years. They continue to have missions camp even to this day.”
Mt. Lebanon’s Mission Unchanged
Over the years, Mt. Lebanon has grown into one of the largest Christian camp facilities in Texas. Jackson, who joined the camp staff in 1982, said Mt. Lebanon typically hosts about thirty thousand people a year for summer camps and retreats and conferences throughout the year.
Today’s facilities include a large worship center, dining hall, motel, fifteen lodges, nine bunkhouses, and a variety of recreational facilities ranging from high and low ropes courses to swimming pools and volleyball courts.
Amid this year’s financial setbacks, the Texas Baptist Missions Foundation came alongside Mt. Lebanon and the twenty-six other Texas Baptist camps to help raise much-needed financial support. The foundation launched a Camp Relief Fund campaign and matching fund to help camps stay open and continue to reach children and youth for Christ. Camp leaders also are inviting area churches and individuals to contribute to support the camp during this challenging time.
Despite the overwhelming impact of a global pandemic, Jackson said summer camp remains “a special kind of venue that’s of interest to a lot of people.” Affirming that Mt. Lebanon’s primary mission remains unchanged, he concluded, “We have five hundred beautiful wooded acres here so everyone that comes here can have a sense of being away, getting quiet, and have a place to draw close to God. . . . It’s a time where young adults and children can make professions of faith and grow in their spiritual walk.”