By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
TIOGA/PONCHATOULA – For three jam-packed, fun-filled weeks, 40 Korean children experienced a mixture of Louisiana hospitality, culture and outdoor fun during the 12th annual Camp USA. It made for a memorable time.
However, the biggest takeaway for 15 of these kids was their life-altering decision to follow Jesus Christ.
“Every year we have some decisions from the Korean children and it blesses my heart, whether we have a few or many,” said Tim Hisaw, pastor of Tioga First Baptist Church. “Seeing so many children come to Christ is one of the blessings we get to experience with Camp USA. Clearly, the camp fulfills the Great Commission and allows our church members to participate in an international mission trip without leaving their own backyard.”
A partnership of REACH Missions and the Korea Baptist Church Development Board, the camp involved more than 20 churches in Big Creek, Central and North Rapides associations and First Baptist Church in Ponchatoula.
During their first week, the children took part in Vacation Bible School at Tioga First Baptist Church while also participating in activities at other area churches.
After their time in Central Louisiana, the campers spent the remainder of their time in southeast Louisiana in the Ponchatoula area.
While there, the children practiced with American counterparts in a music day camp at First Baptist Church of Ponchatoula and took day trips to a retreat center in Ponchatoula, Camp Living Waters in Loranger and the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. Their final activity there was a musical with a combined choir of the Koreans and First Baptist Ponchatoula choir at the church.
“It’s always good to see the interaction between the Korean and American children,” said David Cranford, pastor of First Baptist Ponchatoula. “To see this come together is miraculous.
“What it does is increase people’s awareness of other cultures,” continued Cranford, who has been involved with Camp USA since its inception. “We live in a very connected world but this makes it personal. American families come in contact with someone 7,000 miles away. It makes Korean children realize there are other cultures out there and it forms a heartstring in people’s hearts for other cultures because it makes it personal.”
Hisaw said one of the highlights for the South Korean children is staying in host homes of Louisiana families.
“We live in a connected world, but much of the connections are superficial,” Hisaw said. “Camp USA makes relationships personal between families on the other side of the world.”
South Koreans thankful
For many of the South Korean children, the motivation for attending Camp USA is the opportunity to become immersed in the culture of Louisiana and brush up on speaking the English language among Americans.
Stella An enjoyed spending time with her host family, learning how a family from the U.S. interacts with one another.
“They care so much and take care of us,” said the third year camp participant. “When I know this camp is coming up, it gets me excited because I know I will stay with a host home. They become like another family and treat me like another member of them.”
For first year participant Jikyung Park, staying with a host home family was a highlight for him as well.
“They treat us very well,” Park said. “Camp USA gives me a chance to come and meet God. I hope I get to come back again and experience America next year.”
William Lee, a staff member with the KBCDB, said throughout the two weeks in Louisiana, he could sense God’s love through those Americans with who he interacted.
“That love is very important to the children,” Lee said. “It is really hard to say goodbye. Most of the church members and us are crying and weeping. They have touched my heart.
“This makes the fellowship and the future of the Korean and American Baptist united,” he continued. “I want to continue this program and the Baptists and Korean going to have a continued relationship.”
Though Camp USA is over, the missions opportunity this year with South Korea are still continuous. A trip to the country is planned for Oct. 18-31, with a deadline of Sept. 1. For more information, contact Cranford at 985.386.3075, 985.662.1616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.