PARON, Ark. – Located just 25 miles west of Little Rock, Camp Paron is nestled in a beautiful valley at the edge of the Ouachita National Forest among 263 acres of forested hills and open grassy fields. Opened in 1964, Camp Paron was intentionally set apart as a place of ministry where churches of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) could go to recreate, to play, restore, renew focus and experience a fresh word. For more than 60 years, Paron has provided the backdrop for camps, conferences and retreats.
Beauty, tranquility, serenity and peacefulness are all words used to describe this incredible setting. And yet, somehow this ministry of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention has remained what many continue to call the best kept secret in the ABSC.
Kevin Alley serves as the camp director for Camp Paron. Beyond his normal duties of leading staff, and maintaining the grounds and facilities, Alley is a passionate advocate for the camp and for the life changing ministry that he has seen take place in the lives of so many participants.
Alley loves seeing people use all that Camp Paron has to offer to reach into the lives of students and adults and help connect them to their Creator. He says all of the groups are different and each group uses the grounds and facilities in unique and significant ways. Alley says it is a joy to watch and listen as God begins to move in people’s hearts. He gets to hear the small conversations around the dinner table, snack shack and swimming pool. He sees first-hand the impact that the environment and experiences play in people’s lives. He says there is a noticeable difference in perspective and attitude when people leave after their time at the camp.
Alley believes Camp Paron is a special place where amazing things happen. You have to literally cross a bridge to get into the camp. Alley says many people comment that something happens when they cross that bridge. He says the peace and quiet is just so restorative. “It’s like you can literally feel something different. You can sense the presence of God.”
According to Alley, Camp Paron may or may not be the best kept secret in the convention. It is however the most underused facility in the ABSC. He says the goal is not to compete with other camps and retreat centers. Instead, the goal is to simply partner with churches and work together with them in ministry. “Our job is to come alongside the local church to support and encourage them in what they do. We are your home away from home. We will help you do what you do and do it better,” Alley said.
A place for couples to retreat
Don Blackmore serves as Adult Discipleship pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro. Camp Paron has served as host for the church’s Art of Marriage couple’s retreats for over seven years. 20-25 couples from the church travel over 2 ½ hours twice each year to spend the weekend growing stronger in their faith and in their marriages.
“I love Camp Paron,” Blackmore said. “It fits the needs of our particular niche in ministry perfectly. During the weekend, the couples have time to spread out across the grounds to process through all they have heard. The grounds are beautiful, and couples can disconnect from the hecticness of life. The surroundings just rejuvenate them spiritually and relationally.”
Blackmore says the facilities are also ideal for a marriage retreat. The comfortable hotel-style rooms, the dining area and conference space are all located under one roof. The meals are prepared by the camp staff which Blackmore says helps eliminate the stress of having to plan and prepare food for everyone.
Blackmore says the cost and the staff are two more reasons why he keeps coming back. Paron is very affordable when compared to other camps and retreat centers and the staff does a great job of accommodating the needs of the group. Blackmore says that even with a 2 ½ hour drive, Camp Paron is still the closest conference center that meets their needs.
A place for camps and conferences
Julia Ketner has been involved in a variety of experiences at Camp Paron since 1970 when she first served as camp director for GA (Girls In Action) Camp. When she became the state Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) director, Ketner led a team of women to continue directing several weeks of camp for children and teenage girls.
Over the years, Ketner has led children’s camps, staff retreats, women’s conferences and more. She has served as speaker at numerous events and even served on the planning committee that helped to design the chapel. Ketner was recently recognized for her commitment to Camp Paron with the dedication of the new prayer garden that was named in her honor.
Ketner says her favorite part of the time spent at Camp Paron is seeing all of the lives that have been changed through the years. She has seen countless hearts moved as girls listened to and talked with, missionaries, camp pastors, and unit leaders. She has also seen young college students draw closer to the Lord as they served in leadership roles and took advantage of the opportunity to seek God’s will for their lives. While God gets the glory for all that has happened, Ketner credits the atmosphere at Camp Paron for helping to bring about change in students’ lives
“Camp Paron is such a unique setting for God to work. It is such a pretty place,” Ketner said. “It’s the perfect setting for what God wants to do in someone’s life when they are away from distractions and can focus on what He is teaching them. You are just able to listen better to what God is saying when you are here.”
Ketner has seen many improvements made to the camp since 1970. She remembers when the paved road was added around the camp and air conditioners were installed in the cabins. She has also seen many new buildings added, like the chapel, staff lodge, dining hall and more. Just recently an open-air pavilion was transformed into a conference room with a small kitchen attached.
All of the upgrades and changes, along with the addition of many new activities have helped to create a getaway with all of the options that groups would need for a successful camp or conference experience. Ketner encourages Arkansas churches to find a way to use Camp Paron, “I’ve had a lot of meaningful experiences there. Camp Paron offers the same meaningful experiences for others who will choose to use it.” Camp Paron is open and ready to serve the churches of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. This is your camp, and they are here for you. Whether it’s a staff retreat, marriage retreat, seminar, or conference, Camp Paron offers a place of rest and renewal away from everyday distractions. For more information or to schedule your next event go to www.campparon.com