By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
WOODWORTH – A meeting room at Tall Timbers Conference Center was transformed to a karaoke hall for 14 people with special needs during the first ever Champions Camp in late June.
Some sang country tunes while others tried their best to mimic popular pop artists on stage as each participant enjoyed their moment in the spotlight. Among those was Amber Gillespie, who like many others savored her first camp experience.
“I got to sing and it was so much fun to be up there,” said an elated Gillespie, a member of Dixie Baptist Church in Sieper. “I would tell anyone who is thinking of coming to come because you will really have a fun time out here.”
The first-ever Louisiana Baptist summer camp for people with special needs matched participants with buddies who accompanied them during the event June 25-27 at Tall Timbers Conference Center in Woodworth. The camp featured games, activities, worship and Bible study designed for children and adults from ages 8 and up who have intellectual or development disabilities.
“Every one of them heard clearly how much they are loved by God and that He has a plan for their life,” said camp organizer David Anderson, children’s ministry strategist for Louisiana Baptists. “They also got to have a camp experience that they normally would not have access to. They were able to play bazooka ball, go pedal boating, do crafts, go swimming, worship and hang out with friends. Even the buddies who attended and helped the campers had a blessed and amazing time. Several of the campers have already asked if they can come to camp every year. We, of course, said yes.”
Loved by God
Jarrod Hawthorne, who served as camp pastor, said the event allowed each person to realize they are a champion and loved by God.
“It’s so important because special needs families need the body of Christ and the reality is the body of Christ needs special needs families,” Hawthorne said. “To see that connection this week in a real tangible way where they are loved on and focused on is really good. Sometimes serving special needs families is overwhelming because the need is so great. And to set aside time and resources and a place to really give them the attention they need and deserve is huge.”
IDEA BORN YEARS AGO
Anderson said he has always dreamed of bringing the camp to Louisiana so those people with special needs like his daughter, Chloe, could have a chance to experience camp like so many others.
“The dream for this camp was born in my heart years ago,” he said. “My own daughter has some special needs, but, all she wanted was to lead a ‘regular’ life. The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma does a special needs camp every year and my family has been involved with that for at least 10 years.
“For the last several years I have prayed and asked God to open a door to bring this experience to my home state here in Louisiana,” he continued. “This year was our initial adventure. However, we feel like it is only the beginning ripple of a move of God to share His love with special needs families and friends. I truly believe that special needs families are one of our large unreached people groups in Louisiana. So many special needs families feel like they do not fit in anywhere due to the care needed for their family member. Our hope is that this camp might be the spark for many of our churches to see the ministry opportunity directly in front of them with these amazing families.”
Champions Camp will return June 13-15, 2019 at Tall Timbers. For information or to be put on the mailing list e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or Jessica.email@example.com.