When our IBSA executive staff recently pulled away for a couple of days of long-range planning, we chose to drive north to Streator Baptist Camp. Mike Young is doing a great job as camp manager there, and we arrived to see new roofs, new siding, new paddleboats on the lake, a newly furnished and equipped dining hall, new mattresses on the beds, and improvements to the grounds too numerous to mention.
Though the camp was bustling with workers making final preparations for the summer camp season, Mike and his staff hosted us graciously, serving delicious meals, and giving us a tour of the well-kept grounds. After dinner, he prepared a toasty campfire for us, complete with marshmallows and all the ingredients for s’mores.
I don’t attend as many camps these days as I once did. But something about the campfire, or the bunk bed, or perhaps the wooded setting made me think back to my first Royal Ambassador Camp at Lake Sallateeska, our other fine Baptist camp in southern Illinois. Believe it or not, this year marks Lake Sallateeska’s 75th year of service to Illinois Baptists!
That summer camp was one of the first times I can remember being away from my parents for more than a night. I can still feel the anticipation of packing up and leaving home with my friends, but then also the homesickness of bedtime, and laying there in the dark with only the sounds of the woods. I recall the fun of canoes and archery and crafts, then the seriousness of the lessons from the Bible and about missions.
Looking back, what made that first scary and wonderful week away from home OK was my trust in a guy named Ray, who was my RA counselor both at camp that week and at church every week. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, Ray had been investing in my young life for a long time, leading me down a road of Christian discipleship and leadership.
He probably knew he wouldn’t see me all the way down that road. A couple of years later another devoted Christian man led me, then when we moved on to another church, and another. For a while, it was week after week of RA’s followed by camp, and then it was week after week of youth group followed by a retreat. But always my church gave me a Christian man, and his weekly commitment and friendship, and an occasional week away from home when I could stretch my Christian commitment to a new level.
I know I’m not alone in this experience of disciple making and leadership development. Recently I was visiting with Evelyn Tully, IBSA’s retired Woman’s Missionary Union Director. She showed me a commemorative booklet from Illinois WMU’s 100th anniversary, and it was filled with pictures of Baptist women investing themselves into the lives of Baptist girls. One of those pictures was Evelyn with a young Sandy Wisdom-Martin, who is now the Executive Director of national WMU in Birmingham. Sometimes we do get to see down the road a little, to the fruit of our efforts in tomorrow’s leaders.
I don’t know where Ray is today or if he ever got to see much of the result of his investment in my life. But being at camp again last week reminded me of that investment, and the lasting difference it’s made in my life.
There’s an advertising slogan for Las Vegas that simply says, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But that’s not the case when it comes to investing in kids at a Christian camp. What happens there can last a lifetime—and spread all over the world.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.