By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
WOODWORTH (LBM)–Sam White had planned on a long career in the Air Force but an Experiencing God class changed his path, eventually leading him to manage the Tall Timbers Baptist Conference Center.
Now, after 16 years as director of the Louisiana Baptist camp, White is stepping away for a new adventure, retirement, starting Dec. 1.
“I never saw a career in camping coming,” White told the Baptist Message. “I saw the Air Force as my career and planned to stay in a lot longer than I did, until God changed my direction. On a human level it didn’t make sense but we all know that isn’t how God works. Now, looking back on these years at Tall Timbers and another stop before that, we could see God’s hand at work in our lives.”
A native of Bienville, at the tender age of eight years old White humbled his heart and surrendered his life to Christ.
Although White planned to complete a 30-year career in the Air Force, God changed his plans.
After taking an Experiencing God class in February 1994 at Central Baptist Church in Clovis, N.M., Sam and his wife Kay believed God was telling them to give up the Air Force career and seek a new direction.
Months later, God used the testimony of a new church member – about parents who were Christian camp directors – to plant a seed in the Whites’ minds that they should pursue a career in camp ministry.
In November 1994, White sent out letters to every Baptist state convention, informing them of an interest in pursuing a career in that field.
By February 1995, White cut short his Air Force career at 21 years and headed with Kay to Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, Ala., to interview for a properties manager position. White worked there for the next 6.5 years, eventually becoming associate director in January 1999.
He and Kay enjoyed life at Shocco Springs, believing this would be their final stop. However, God changed their plans, again, and presented them with the opportunity of moving to Louisiana to lead Tall Timbers.
At first, White dismissed the possibility.
But as the days passed after an initial meeting with Louisiana Baptist Convention staff, he and Kay became convinced they should come to Louisiana to interview for the position. After much prayer, they accepted an employment offer and began their Tall Timbers journey Aug. 20, 2001, he as director and she as office manager.
During the early years, they hired additional office and kitchen staff, and, oversaw key upgrades, installing a new phone system and computer network and completing improvements to Lee Lodge and the cabins.
As time passed, White saw the need to improve other facilities, such as replacing the siding on Lee Lodge, constructing a maintenance shop, converting some existing buildings to cabins and building a home for use by a camp staff member, which currently houses Associate Director Josh Bumgardner and his family.
But perhaps his largest project was the construction of the Georgia Barnette Conference Center, which was dedicated in September 2016.
The new project took 14 months to complete, starting with fund raising by the LBC’s missions and ministry team, led by John Hebert, in early 2013. Hebert’s team also made hundreds of presentations to churches, Woman’s Missionary Union groups, individuals, mission education groups, various other audiences and at annual associational meetings.
The 8,400-square-foot facility was designed for flexibility, providing a 560-seat auditorium layout or the option to change the floor plan into six meeting rooms with a 280-seat general assembly space. The center is named after Georgia Barnette, the first elected and paid Woman’s Missionary Union executive director/treasurer in Louisiana. Every year Louisiana Baptists collect the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering in her honor.
White estimates several hundred volunteers, some who were not even Baptists, pitched in to help with construction.
“It was way more than most volunteer groups can take on,” White said. “But, without having the volunteer help, there is no way we could have done it. It was the largest volunteer project I have ever, or will ever, take on. Time will tell what impact the building will make, but it definitely gives us a capability we did not have and allows us to serve and reach more people.”
Looking back on his time at Tall Timbers, White emphasized the importance of having a supportive spouse and team.
“Kay has been a huge part in so many things during my time in the Air Force and at the two camps,” White said. “She led the Tall Timbers office staff that is so vital to making that good first impression and sets a positive tone for our guests for the entire time they are at Tall Timbers. The whole Tall Timbers staff is geared to serve others.
“Our job is to remove any distractions guests may have and provide an environment where they can accomplish their program and leave here with changed lives,” he said. “That’s what we are all about.”
“Looking back, it has been an honor and privilege to serve the many guests and campers who came through here these past 16-plus years. I would not have missed that for anything. I am also confident that Tall Timbers is being left in the very capable hands of Josh Bumgardner. The best is yet to come.”