In 1987, Jim Varney brought us another comedy when he starred in “Ernest Goes to Camp”. He played a camp counselor who got stuck with a bunch of juvenile delinquents. As is par for the course, Ernest has all sorts of trouble – some of his own doing and some not. But, by the end of the movie, he warms your heart as all works out just fine.
Fast-forward 30 years. The setting is the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky – specifically, Camp Caleb in Flat Gap. And, this is not any ordinary camp. This is church camp. The Emmanuel Baptist Church in Salyersville, Kentucky sponsors this lovely weeklong adventure and we have learned to look forward to it all year.
This year, the camp had a new camper. This young fellow experienced hands-on what it’s like to be in church camp – what it’s like to basically live outside for a week – what it’s like to be truly cut off from the world for a few days. He had a blast. Our little camper is 17 months old and is a pistol, to say the least. But, he did as much as he could and his energy rubbed off on everybody else.
Titus and 14 others from our church in Northport packed up after church Sunday and drove over 8 hours to Salyersville. Who needs a motel room when you have a church willing to open their doors for us all to sleep? Cots…pews…sleeping bags…it didn’t matter. It was late and we were tired. Titus got his own cot and slept…well…like a baby. It was a tough trip to make on a Sunday afternoon, but it made Monday a little more laid back. We were able to hit up WalMart as we made our way a few more miles down the road to Flat Gap – a place that my iPhone doesn’t believe exists. Nevertheless, it’s there.
We arrived at Camp Caleb just after lunch on Monday, which gave us time to unpack and learn the layout of the camp. Three of us had been part of this before. But, Titus and the rest hadn’t. We found the main pavilion where the game room and snack shop is. We found the boys and girls area and Titus quickly found out there was no crossover between those areas. We found the basketball court, the volleyball court and the swimming pool. We found the rec fields. We found the lake and saw the blob! And, of course, we made sure we knew were the dining hall was. Other campers have been attending here for years – some their whole lives. At least now, our first year campers had some idea of the layout.
Official kickoff was dinner at 6:00 on Monday. I cannot think of a better way to kick off anything than a meal. And the meals all week were truly filling. I don’t think I ate one snack all week. Titus had his favorites – chicken fingers, pizza, corndogs, hamburgers, Jell-O, cookies and banana pudding. It was awesome. Surely these are all healthy at church camp, right?
Singing started at 7:00. I’d been asked to lead the singing portion of worship. What a grand opportunity to lead young folks to sing praises to the Savior. Brother Jason preached nightly – challenging messages that brought the children to the pages of Scripture and pointed them to Jesus as their only Hope for Heaven. The preaching was Biblically based and powerful – just what young kids need. This is church camp. And as Baptists, we’ve now eaten and worshipped – a pretty common pairing. The foundation for the week was laid.
Next on the agenda, teams were chosen. All week, four teams competed. We played volleyball, basketball and foursquare. We batted balloons across a field in a relay. We threw paper airplanes in a relay. We played capture the flag with a twist – we had weapons…water balloons. Being a team captain, I slowly and methodically explained our strategy. Half our team was going to guard our flag and half was going to attack. We weren’t going to waste balloons since we each had about 5 a piece. We were ready. The whistle blew and the truth immediately became clear – you cannot strategize with children when they are holding water balloons in their hands. Pandemonium broke out and balloons went to flying. In a moment of glory, I launched into the air while both dodging a balloon from Markie and knocking him out of the competition with a solid hit. But there wasn’t time to bask. Less than a minute later, my lovely bride knocked me out. As the game ended, she jumped on my back to celebrate her team’s victory over mine. She held on just long enough for the other folks to bring that 5-gallon bucket full of water. Great times.
After game-time daily, we headed to Holly Point for Bible trivia. But, this wasn’t random trivia. This was all based on the sermon from the night before. No dozing in church camp. Your team needs you. And let’s be honest, we all needed the sermon.
The morning is complete. Titus and his friends headed to lunch and the rest of us followed them there. Wet…dirty…sweaty…we all ate another great meal and prepared for the afternoon.
Next, the boys headed to the lake and the girls headed to the pool. After a couple of hours, they switched. Time to bathe, eat dinner and start the next 24-hour period. Think Titus was pooped? Absolutely he was and so were the rest of us. But we couldn’t stop. It was fun and encouraging and we made new friends that we knew we’d love the rest of our earthly lives…and into eternity.
I cannot say anything more positive about our experience than that this was a Bible centered 4 days mixed with some fun and fellowship. Every day began with a devotion by Brother Lonnie and ended with nightly worship.
Titus brought more energy to the camp than Ernest ever attempted to. We all left encouraged and touched. We saw our own kids interacting with other kids. This is the true test of our parenting right? Success! The kids were great and couldn’t have been more friendly and kind to the other campers.
Titus attended his first church camp 43 years earlier in life than I did. Oh, I’m certain he had no idea where he was and certainly didn’t get everything that happened. But as I looked around Camp Caleb, I saw kids that had been attending this camp since they were his age. I saw kids that God had been pleased to save. I saw kids that first camped in diapers who were now teachers and counselors. I saw kids that had “church camped” all their lives now bringing their own kids to church camp. I saw former kiddie campers sharing the same Gospel they’d been taught with a new generation of campers.
All I can say is that I hope to see Titus teaching other campers about Jesus one day. I hope Titus continues to bring his energy to camp and I pray God saves His soul through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the true goal of this particular camp. Emmanuel Baptist Church shares the same passion for Titus that we have.
Thanks again to Pastor Mark Campbell, his lovely wife Kimberly and Emmanuel Baptist Church for giving us another opportunity to attend Camp Caleb. Our calendars are marked for next year. Be prepared – Titus will be more able to take the camp by storm when he returns in 2018.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4
Todd Bryant is the Lead Pastor at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net