IBSA’s new camp managers moved to Illinois when many COVID-19 restrictions were still in place, limiting to a very small number the people they met in their first months at Lake Sallateeska and Streator. But they’ve used the last few months to prepare for a camp comeback this summer.
At Lake Sallateeska, Manager Brock Vandever and his wife, Polly, oversaw renovations to the camp’s chapel and many other improvements they hope will ease campers’ return to the Pinckneyville retreat. In Streator, Manager Jacob Kimbrough and his wife, Katie, led updates to the camp’s Lakeview Center sanctuary and Prairie Center lodge and conference center.
The Illinois Baptist spoke with both couples about their vision and prayer for the camps they manage.
‘Let us help you’
Brock and Polly Vandever view Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp as a tool to share Jesus with the outside world. In a season of little to no contact with others, they had to truly pivot to pursue their new neighbors.
Prior to managing Lake Sallateeska, IBSA’s camp facility located near Pinckneyville, the couple served as missionaries in sub-Saharan West Africa. They trained the local, national church in church planting and discipleship to reach semi-nomadic people in ways that the church had perhaps not utilized before. The Vandevers worked with the church year-round while offering specific trainings twice a year in discipleship.
“That experience speaks into our current life by preparing us to prepare a place for others,” Polly said. “A lot of our position now is getting ready for the next or current event that is hosted here. We remove distractions so that the people can grow and see Jesus.”
Their first year at Lake Sallateeska did not include the camps for children and students that IBSA hosts each summer. Instead, the Vandevers were able to really learn the campground and all it has to offer. They invested in relationships with the few people who have come, and with locals and churches that may not have known about Lake Sallateeska in the past. 2020 was a valuable time to cast the vision for the camp and encourage people to come back when they’re ready.
Brock is adamant that Lake Sallateeska become a place not only for children. “We’re really trying to help teams, churches, and groups see this property as a tool for Jesus for them,” he said. “We’re a part of their toolbox.”
Polly agreed. “We hope to host lots of things the camp hasn’t hosted in the past, because Brock’s got this vision to have this camp be a tool for people. If you’re wanting to reach businessmen and host a seminar, we’re here….Have a carnival, have whatever. Let us help you do that. Our plan is to simply be available and help people think outside the box to share Jesus.”
Living the pivot
Instead of finding a facility bustling with children, camp staff, and activities, Jacob and Katie Kimbrough found a serene retreat in a season of waiting when they arrived at Streator Baptist Camp in late 2020. In the months since, the Kimbroughs have built on Streator’s reputation as a valued getaway and place where God is at work among Illinois Baptists.
Both Kimbroughs have work experience in the secular world: Jacob in social work and Katie in teaching preschool. It is those experiences, along with years of volunteer youth ministry, work at the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, and theological education that allow the couple to cast a vision for Streator’s future in what is hopefully near the end of a socially-distant pandemic.
“We’ve spent our time connecting with pastors through pastor retreats, and [have strived to] emphasize stewarding to pastors themselves while they steward their congregations,” Jacob said. “We tried to live the pivot—ministry didn’t stop, we just pivoted to the ministry needed.”
Since so many pastors had to unexpectedly adjust their ministry like never before, they were stressed like never before. The Kimbroughs stepped into that gap, allowing pastors to come to the camp for respite, and to hopefully find peace and a new direction for ministry.
Katie, who graduated with her master’s degree in counseling from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2020, has dedicated her time to renovating common spaces at Streator to accommodate more men’s and women’s groups who may need a break more than before. Together, the couple envision a retreat away from the external pressures of our day-to-day lives for all stages of life.
“We want people to know we’re enjoying it and looking forward to camps coming this year,” Katie said. “June 5 is Opening Day—time for people to meet us and see updates!”