This article was written by Rebekah Rupard, a student at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway who served as an office assistant at Camp Siloam this summer.
Camp Siloam is home to thousands of campers over nine weeks each summer. This year Camp Siloam was home to a special group of Christian South Korean students in the United States for a cultural immersion program. They attended summer camp and Camp Siloam’s Servant Core (S-Core) leadership program. This was a unique opportunity not only for them as campers to see and experience what camp is like, but this was an opportunity for our summer staff to learn about a different culture and how to share the Gospel when barriers are in the way. “One of the coolest moments from session four of S-Core was as I sat down with Woon and John, two of our young Korean students, and through a translation app on my phone, we had an amazing Gospel conversation,” stated Ethan York, 2021 S-Core Leader and summer staff attending Central Baptist College.
As the campers from South Korea arrived at Camp Siloam for Week 6 (July 5-9) of camp, our staff could see that they were shy and reserved compared to others around them. Their lack of involvement was understandable as they were in a place totally different from any place in their country, but their reservations didn’t last long.
As the week progressed and they began to learn who some staffers were and got closer to those around them, they began to open up socially. These students were breaking down walls, opening up to staff and building relationships that would be the foundation for many conversations in the weeks to come.
“All of our students appreciated Camp Siloam’s kindness and openness to make our students feel at home. Many of them commented and appreciated the dedication of staff; their willingness to serve the Lord was really an inspiration for our students,” said Dr. Young Kim, Director of the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship.
Camp Siloam is a place of eternal, global impact, where life change happens from the worship center to the water slide and anywhere in between. This summer 4,209 campers attended Camp Siloam from around the world, and of that 557 made life changing decisions. Of those life changing decisions 362 were salvations, 93 recommitments, 17 interested in ministry or missions, and 85 interested in baptism. Six baptisms and a salvation came among the 85 college students who came to serve on summer staff, many of them during staff orientation.
During the first three weeks, it felt like ol’ Camp Siloam again. Masks and social distancing during camp were optional for both staff and guests. However, during Week 5 (June 28th– July 2nd) the Delta Variant of the COVID-19 virus began to impact staff and campers. During Week 5 six staff members tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be quarantined for 10 days. Our servant-leadership program was sent home, leaving us with no dish washers. The staff pitched in, performed double duty, and came up with creative solutions to press on with the program. Eleven campers and counselors reported testing positive one week after camp.
The leadership challenge through the virus was balancing the tension between keeping people safe and keeping the ministry open. Camp Siloam chose the position that people had ample time to decide how they were to protect themselves (via isolation, social distancing, or the vaccine). Jason Wilkie, Executive Director, provided guests weekly information on how the virus was affecting staff and guests. Giving our guests the facts and finding ways to press on, gave churches and parents the opportunity to decide for themselves. Many were grateful for this tact in handling the surge of the Delta Variant.
The staff recovered in Week 6 (July 5-9), but the virus was present. After Week 6 there were 27 campers and counselors who reported testing positive. Week 7 (July 12-16) hit the camp staff hard again with three staff members on quarantine for positive tests and six on contact quarantine. The virus hit our kitchen crew hard, and our Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief Food Preparation teams responded by filling the gaps. The staff of Camp Siloam was so blessed by the Disaster Relief team that was willing to serve meals during the remaining weeks of Camp.
“Over the last two years we’ve called Randy Garrett, Disaster Relief Director for the Convention, and asked for help when we’ve been hit with hard times,” said Jason Wilkie, Executive Director at Camp Siloam. “Each time Randy and our Disaster Relief teams respond in incredible ways. Southern Baptists do Disaster Relief incredibly well and we are so grateful for them.”
While the COVID-19 chapter in Camp Siloam’s history has been a difficult one, we are confident our Father in Heaven wants Jesus’ ministry at Camp Siloam to continue in the future. We believe that we were here to see this ministry through difficult times, to follow Jesus’ steps as we navigate the ministry through uncertainty and obstacles. In 2023, Arkansas Baptists will celebrate 100 years of camp ministry in Siloam Springs. We are gearing up now for a celebration that will be memorable.