I was on stage with the men who laid the foundations of Camp Siloam from which we minister today. As these men told humorous and heartfelt stories, I realized there was a common thread God had woven into the leadership of Jesus’ ministry at Camp Siloam. Every one of these men were wired for camp ministry and they loved sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with children at camp.
As best I can tell, Camp Siloam didn’t have a true camp director until 1969. In the 1940s and 50s summer camp weeks were programmed by different divisions of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. The Missions Team programmed a week. The Sunday School department programmed a week, and so on until all the weeks of camp were covered. Around 1968 the teams expressed a desire to stop programming a week of camp. An appeal for someone to organize all the weeks of summer camp at Siloam went out to the staff.
Lawson Hatfield, the head of the Sunday School department, felt Siloam had so much potential that he jumped at the chance to spend more time at the camp each summer. However, he had some terms. Hatfield said he would lead the ministry if the Convention would give him the authority to make decisions about the facilities and the finances as well as the programming. When the decision making for those things came together, Siloam had its first true director. It was then the trajectory of the ministry changed. Facility and program improvements through fundraising efforts began for the first time. Hatfield oversaw construction of the bunkhouses we use today. Lawson was known for his fashion (a jumpsuit and cowboy boots), a bullwhip (which he never really used) and starting the famous camp rule “don’t chunk rocks.”
Lawson had three faithful partners in ministry during the years he served at Siloam. Don Cooper, Freddie Pike and Gene Devor were his team. When Hatfield retired, Pike took over as executive director in 1983. Pike loved spending his summers at Siloam. Sports tournaments, choral cantatas, and great speakers were the programming elements that drove Siloam to its pinnacle in the mid-1990s. Pike initiated the fundraising campaign to replace the old tabernacle and oversaw the construction of a new worship center in 1991. Pike’s team included Gene and Lila Devor and Larry Sherman.
In 1993, Larry Sherman followed Pike as executive director for a brief one-year term. Then Pat Batchelor was hired.
Batchelor was the first executive director to live on the property. Batchelor was also leading when Siloam moved from a ministry of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention to a separate agency of the convention. In 2006, Arkansas Baptist Assembly was incorporated as a separate non-profit entity. This was a move that proved to be essential to raising the funds necessary to sustain the ministry. Batchelor also initiated the programming change to diversify recreation from tournament driven programming to summer camp games and activities. Pat and his wife Patsey had faithful ministry partners in Scott and Linda Hodge who managed the grounds for many years.
In 2010 the Board of Trustees hired me, Jason Wilkie, the fifth executive director of Siloam in 50 years. On August 5th I sat on the stage at the Centennial Celebration and listened intently to the camp directors and managers who had served Jesus at Siloam. I truly felt those of us leading today are standing on their shoulders, ministering at new heights only because of the foundations they had laid and the sacrifices these men and their families had made.
In conversations over the centennial weekend, I realized the other common thread we share. All of us felt as if the best years of our lives were the ones we spent in ministry at Siloam.