By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
[img_assist|nid=7500|title=Camp leaders|desc=Camp USA leaders, such as Min-Joo Kim (in stripes) safeguarded the campers’ “pocket money” and doled it out as needed.|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=480]PINEVILLE/PONTCHATOULA – A Korea-born woman recently traveled from her Chicago home to meet the grandchild she had never seen.
That grandchild was one of 53 Camp USA participants this year.
It’s the first such “reverse” connection for Camp USA, which is a three-week American culture immersion excursion for middle school-age students from South Korea. Camp USA is part of an informal partnership between Louisiana Southern Baptists and the Korea Baptist Convention’s Church Development Board (equivalent to the SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources.)
“They [Korean and American children] make friends right away; I witness this,” said Sang Dae Lee, retired in 2008 from his 20-year position as president of the Korea Baptist Church Development Board; he’s the equivalent of LifeWay’s President Thom Rainer.
Though he had heard reports about Camp USA every year, this was his first year to participate, Lee said. “Even if language barrier, when they first meet and get to know each other, they make friends right away. This surprise me.
“I am happy to be here,” Lee continued. “To cooperate together with the great people of Louisiana is good, a surprising venture with much success.”
The purpose of Camp USA is evangelistic as well as educational, said Susan Duke, Camp USA coordinator and a member of Tioga First Baptist Church in Pineville. Week One mornings this year involved Vacation Bible School at Pineville Park and Holloway churches in Central Louisiana; Week Two, music camp at First Pontchatoua in the Northshore. Afternoons both weeks are spent first in English and culture classes, and then a fun activity.
The third week of Camp USA is “just for fun,” in an American tourist location, such as Disney World, Knotts Berry Farm or, this year, NASA in Houston.
“We’re excited to have this opportunity to share God’s love with Korean students and their leaders,” Duke said. “They stay in host homes, getting a real feel for what life is like in America – or at least, Louisiana – and for the hosts, it’s like foreign missions at home. They don’t know if their guests are Christian, so each host makes sure to provide a gospel witness.”
Staying in host homes reduces the cost of the trip for participants, and it gives the Koreans insights to America they wouldn’t have if they stayed in hotels or even churches, Duke said.
The students’ parents sacrifice to be able to pay the approximate $3,500 cost for each child’s travel expenses, said Yong Seong “Abraham” Kim.
“They are glad to give them this opportunity to see America, though it is hard for them to be separate from their child for three weeks,” Kim said. “The parents place great trust in us.”
[img_assist|nid=7501|title=Cultural concert|desc=Camp USA participants this year presented at Kingsville Pineville a Korea Cultual concert – which included music as well as traditional Korea dances such as the above, where the fans were in constant motion – plus two types of Korean martial arts.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=480]Relationships grow quickly, despite language barriers, when Koreans and Americans live in the same house. As the Koreans left from the Baptist Missions Center in Pineville for Pontchatoula July 25, copious tears flowed inside and outside the bus.
In all, 23 churches from the three associations led by Robert Daniel participated in Camp USA by providing hosts, activities, meals and more.
“I have spent several days reflecting on the pure joy of watching so many churches and people join together in a cooperative effort,” Duke emailed. “It took everyone doing their part and encouraging each other to provide a truly unforgettable experience for the campers.”
Camp USA is part of REACH Missions Partnerships, which itself is an outgrowth of a partnership that began more than 40 years ago between the Korea Baptist Convention’s Home Mission Board and the Louisiana Baptist Convention. That’s when Louisiana Baptists began going to South Korea on evangelistic crusades each fall, an endeavor that continues.
This year’s dates are Oct. 23 through Nov. 4. Contact David Cranford, REACH Missions Partnerships coordinator, at 985.386.3075 or www.reachmissions.com for more information.
“Camp USA provides an excellent, personal, up-close view of the unifying power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Cranford said. “In no name other than Jesus could people separated by such geography, culture, language, and race come together in such a loving manner for such a wonderful experience!”
In 1983, retired President Lee said, Charles and Carolyn Lowery (now of Tampa, Fla., and then of First Pineville), led a group of 12 teachers to Korea for Sunday School teacher training.
“We take their materials and cut and paste them onto [layout] boards, and the Koreans write the Bible stories,” Lee said. “This is how we develop our first materials.” At that time, he was one of five employees who designed and printed attendance report forms for Korea Baptist churches.
The people from Louisiana returned the next two years to repeat the process, Lee said. The fourth year, they led a nationwide Korean Baptist teachers conference that drew more than 2,000 teachers from across the nation that is about the size of Louisiana.
“At night, revival meeting for teachers,” Lee said. “Daytime, divide to [classes for people who teach] different ages. For five days, Louisiana teach ‘What is teacher’ and how to use materials.”
Ever since, the Korea Baptist Church Development Board has been on its own, Lee said. Today the organization has about 60 employees, including those at their three Christian stores, which are located in Seoul, Daejon and Busan. “We are together in our heart,” Lee said of the relationship between South Korea and Louisiana. “It is good to be in partnership.”