By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
EUNICE – Standing before a room full of 400 students inside the Acadian Baptist Center gymnasium, Brad Lewter issued a challenge during the final moments of Camp Fuego to shine a light in their hometown and school.
“Things that make you more like Jesus, give yourself over to those things,” said Lewter, camp pastor for the week. “What will flow out of that is a love for your neighbor, for your classmates. Find that person who doesn’t have a lot of friends and be that light.”
Lewter’s message during Middle School Week at Acadian Baptist Center came on the heels of a six-week run there for Camp Fuego. Camp director Jeff Luce estimates about 2,500 middle and high school students attended one of five camps and another 200 came to the children’s camp.
Since the camp, now in its 20th year, moved to Acadian Baptist Center in 2011, it has grown by leaps and bounds from its first year, when 250 students attended.
This year, 80 campers made a first-time decision to follow Christ, 70 rededicated their life to Christ and 62 surrendered to Christian ministry.
Luce said the investment by the massive volunteer staff helps build an atmosphere where campers are willing to open up to them about their personal struggles, which many times leads to a spiritual decision. Additionally, the money saved by not having a paid staff helps keep the camp affordable.
“Every single week we hear incredibly tragic stories of kids who are dealing with self-harm, or are considering suicide or even have been abused in the family home,” Luce said. “This may be the very first time they have told anyone about these situations. As tragic as those are, we know that when we have an opportunity to just get them out of that situation and spend five days with them, that they tell the story for the first time and it’s the first step they take in recovering from those. It’s truly been incredible just to see what’s happened in the past 20 years with some of those students.”
Bell Mayeux, a member of Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, said spending time with her friends and making new ones created an environment conducive to growing closer to the Lord.
“It’s so much fun being able to connect with people and being able to learn more about God through worship and service and being around your friends,” Mayeux said. “You get to play games and get to know God. What’s not to like about that?”
Lewter said seeing so many students make decisions for Christ refueled the spiritual fire in his own soul.
“It was a great opportunity to get with students, let them disconnect for a little while from outside distractions so they could hear the Gospel and be reminded of who Jesus is before we send them off and hopefully they’ll live out their faith,” Lewter said. “The coolest part is worship – watching sixth, seventh and eighth grade students worship Jesus and raise their hands. It certainly gives us hope for the next generation with camps like Fuego.”