God has used “the land of a million smiles” to change countless hearts for a century.
“It’s the centennial summer I had hoped it would be,” said Jason Wilkie, who came to serve at Camp Siloam as executive director with his family in 2010.
Camp Siloam has provided Arkansas Baptist churches an annual revival-like week of Christ centered worship, prayer and sermons for 100 years as of 2023.
“I really believe that prayer removes obstacles, knocks down doors, increases communication and helps organizations. I’ve learned to value prayer more,” Wilkie said.
When Wilkie began his “re-founding” work at the camp, known then as the Arkansas Baptist Assembly, it was thanks to the “hiding hand of God.” The Lord concealed the camp’s challenges and all the obstacles the Wilkie family would face over the next decade-plus of summers in order for them to cling to Him and submit to His will.
“It’s been harder than I thought it would be. It’s taken longer than I thought it would take,” Wilkie said.
His vision to ramp up registrations, embark on building a new dining hall and ultimately afford the camp more fiscal stability was no easy feat. He understood that only through the Lord’s provision would his dreams of restoring this camp, once flocked to by children on trains, would take place.
“The last couple of summers were hard,” Wilkie said.
The pandemic halted summer camps around the world including the home to many Arkansas kids’ favorite creek, and the future of Camp Siloam was uncertain. However, the Lord made a way to continue His saving work that takes place when buses drive through that beloved stone arch at the front of camp.
“When I was little, I looked forward to camp because I knew it was a fun place to be,” said Gracen Seabaugh, the daughter of Mike Seabaugh, who is a camp speaker and the pastor of Central Baptist Church in Magnolia. “I loved getting to swim at the pool and walking down to the Snack Shack to get a strawberry julep. But, as I’ve gotten older, the moments I treasure the most from the week that we are there are the invitations at the end of each service. It’s just incredible to sit in the room and realize eternities are changing from death to life.”
Gracen and the Seabaugh family were among many to return to Camp Siloam Aug. 4-6, for the “Centennial Celebration.” Mike, known as “Big O” to campers, was up to his normal tricks and dramatics as he emceed the main program, Saturday evening. He even came up with a new version of the Camp Siloam theme song by singing a parody to “Sweet Caroline.”
As Mike walked on the platform in the worship center, returnees threw up the “Big O,” which stands for “obedience” to God. The Seabaugh family knows firsthand how the “peace that passes all understanding” comes when believers choose to follow Christ in obedience. After the death of her sister, Shelby Seabaugh, Gracen wanted to follow in her sister’s footsteps and work at Camp Siloam.
“It was incredible to get to be a small part of what God did during the two summers I was a staffer. Through each and every hurdle that I faced as a staffer, I was reminded that my own strength could not sustain me. Ultimately, God was sustaining and equipping me to do His work. John 15:5 says, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ This was one of the theme verses that campers learned during my second summer, and when I hear it, I am still reminded of how important it is to rely on the Lord and His strength,” Gracen said.
The Seabaughs are just one of the countless families impacted by the ministry at Camp Siloam. Like them, others have found solace in service at this home away from home.
“When I say Siloam raised me, it raised me,” said Pastor Stephen Hatfield in his sermon Saturday.
Hatfield’s father, Lawson, was Camp Siloam’s first official director. Growing up running by the creek and volunteering in the summer, Hatfield spoke about the God-given experiences at camp that shaped him into the man he is today.
Former directors, Don Cooper, Freddie Pike and Larry Sherman, were also in attendance and sat on a panel with Wilkie as they talked about how camp has changed over the years. Several of them shared salvation stories of how God changed even the hearts of their own children while they were serving Him there.
Pike recalled the infamous Camp Siloam bell tower, which used to ring signaling a shift in schedule. He talked of the trouble students would get into for stuffing the bell with wet towels to mischievously silence it, especially from waking them up in the morning. Today, the bell rings when a camper calls on the Lord to be saved. The glorious clang of the bell echoes from one side of the creek to the other as campers cheer on their new brother or sister in Christ.
“That’s the sweetest bell,” Pike said.
Old camp staffers, attendees and patrons spent the entire weekend celebrating all that the Lord has done over the past century. Reliving their camp days, they even slept in sleeping bags on the bunks of the camp’s newest cabin. Saturday’s service was accompanied by a reunion and a full-length drama that campers viewed this past summer. The weekend kicked off on Friday evening with desserts and fellowship, as those who arrived talked and looked through camp memorabilia.
In honor of the centennial, the camp store opened Saturday morning after breakfast and a history presentation was given by Wilkie after lunch. After the night’s service, fireworks shimmered in celebration, lighting up the night sky. Campers enjoyed a famous “strawberry julep” sweet treat before the weekend’s final lights out. Then, they departed Sunday morning after breakfast and a devotional by Hatfield.
“It was so refreshing and humbling for my own heart to see the multiple generations of believers that God has used over the years to tend to His ministry here at Camp Siloam,” said Cody Stevens, who currently serves as the camp’s program manager.
In college, Stevens spent four summers serving on the recreational team at camp. As “spirit leader,” he also spurred campers to excitingly participate in traditions like “beat that big bad devil with a Bible verse.”
“As a sinner saved by grace myself, I am so lucky and grateful that the Lord allows me to be a steward of furthering His Kingdom through the place that is Camp Siloam,” Stevens said. “Striving to glorify and emulate Him in everything while loving others is the goal. That applies for every person I am around as well. Camp Siloam allows me to come in contact with thousands of other souls each year of all ages just like me, who Christ Jesus alone can only satisfy. How humbling it is that the Lord allows me to see Him work in people’s hearts in an environment like this.”
Over the years, Camp Siloam records indicate that 13,361 professions of faith have been made among over 220,000 campers. Nearly 10,000 campers have rededicated their lives, and close to 1,500 have been called to missions and/or ministry. These are just the decisions that have been recorded over the last five decades.
Olivia Treglown, who served six summers at Camp Siloam and worked on the “home team” for a year, is amazed by how God has worked in her own life through camp.
“Camp Siloam is my favorite place on earth and has always been there for me when I didn’t know what else to do or where else to go,” Treglown said.
Tyler Kornas also loved his summers at camp so much that now he is serving full-time.
“You learn a lot about…giving up your life for what Christ wants you to do,” Kornas said. “You have a vision for what your life is, but God’s plan for you can be something different than that.”
The Lord called Kornas to camp ministry, and he feels fulfilled by this “greater purpose” God has provided for him.
“There’s something about this place. It’s special to see how the Lord can work in anybody’s heart. My favorite part is just to see the life change that can take place and how anyone who walks through the gate has an opportunity to hear from the Lord,” said Camp Siloam Director of Retreats Josh Kimbrell.
Over the years, Arkansas Baptist State Convention Interim Executive Director Dr. Rex Horne has seen God’s faithfulness at Camp Siloam.
“Camp Siloam is a sacred place,” Horne said. “It has impacted a number that cannot be known. For 100 years, the Gospel has been witnessed and embraced. I left the celebration thinking of the old song we would sing when I was a teenager there. The song is still being sung at a new tempo and beat but same words! The message and ministry endures.”
This enduring treasure of a camp is beloved by Arkansas Baptists.
“Our biggest focus is that kids would love the church they’re in,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie and the staff at Camp Siloam are dedicated to advancing the Kingdom. They plan to do this by providing a modern-day week of revival for students across the state where churches bond together in unity. If students learn to love the church they are in, he believes The Church will grow stronger through the power of Christ.
Then, as the familiar camp song exclaims, “surely God and His great love” will capture hearts and change the world until eternity.
“It’s not this place; it’s the God of this place,” Pike said.
You can learn more about the history of Camp Siloam and give to further Gospel work for the next 100 years at www.campsiloam.com.