Witcherville, Arkansas sits about 26-miles southeast of Fort Smith. With an approximate population of 165 people, you wouldn’t expect some place like this to pop up on your newsfeed. Especially not small Baptist church by the name of Fellowship Baptist.
However, Fellowship does something unique every summer and has for the last 17-plus years.
Sports camps are nothing new to most of us, but the story of how Fellowship began their sports camp journey is an interesting one.
Gary Martin, Pastor at Fellowship, explained that it all started about 17 years ago.
“It all started out as a hint of a mistake really,” Martin said. “We were doing a mission trip to Coatesville, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philly. We were there on a Sunday afternoon, getting ready to do a traditional Vacation Bible School (VBS) on Monday afternoon through Thursday. We had a mission team from Georgia call us.They were stranded on the highway and were supposed to do a sports camp on Monday morning. They weren’t going to make it for that session so they asked us if there was any chance we could go over and fill-in. So, I told them we would, and he asked if we knew how to do a sports camp and I said ‘Yeah.’ We got all the information and hung up. And I looked at everyone on my team and said, ‘Does anyone know how to do a sports camp?’”
The next morning, the team woke up and proceeded to the park where they did their own version of what they thought a sports camp was. Everything they needed, plus volunteers from the host church, were there as the Georgia church instructed they would be.
“So that day we held the sports camp and put the kids in groups based on their age. About 90 kids showed up. We just moved them from one sport to the next, with a new group going into the Bible study spot each hour. It was a tremendous success! Eleven or 12 kids prayed to receive Christ that morning. It was really just fun,” Martin said.
“We found out later that we didn’t technically do it right – we were supposed to teach them how to play the sports, and we had just simply played games with them. They called us on Tuesday to ask us what we did, because the kids wanted the other group back.”
The group went on their way when the original team arrived and continued on with their original mission trip. However, Martin said on the way home that week, the team couldn’t shake what they had experienced that Monday.
“We kept going on and on about how much fun that sports camp was, and finally one of us said, ‘Why don’t we do that instead of VBS, and just do it every day?’ and now it’s just grown in such a way and changed over the years,” Martin said.
At Fellowship’s sports camp, they do about 15 or so sports or games. They rotate stations every 30 minutes or so making sure every group rotates through the Bible story section as they play. Most of the sports the kids know, but there are some games that the church has made up over the years.
“At our camp, we bring in bass boats with hookless lures and we set out plastic fish that have a slot in it that they try to ‘fish’ for. Our cowboys bring horses one night, just a hundred things like it. Anything new that we think we can do, we do it,” Martin said.
What is truly a blessing from God, though, is the amount of success this little church has had by this simple process.
The town of Witcherville has a population of approximately 165 people. There were 190 kids who came to their sports camp this summer. They recorded 26 salvations. Martin says it is like this everywhere they go.
The church started getting calls from other churches around the state, and nation, wanting to know what they were doing to see God’s blessing on them. The answer was simple. Sports camps—but many didn’t know how or what that looked like. So, Martin and his team of volunteers took it on the road. Sixty volunteers, broken up into different groups, have traveled this summer to do sports camps with Fellowship.
“We’ve been all over the United States,” he said. “We’ve been as far northeast as Pennsylvania, Canada and just all the states around Arkansas and in-state. The last two years we’ve been to Kansas. We’ve gone to the Dakotas numerous times—to the Indian Reservations.”
Martin said they have a list of six or seven churches wanting them to come do a camp there, but they can’t always go back to the same places they have already been. They plan to do their best and try to do a few training sessions for these churches, going on a two-day trip to teach them how to do it. They have even been invited to the regional VBS training here in Arkansas to teach churches how to do their own sports camps.
“We’re pleased with what the Lord has been doing through us,” Martin said. “It’s nothing more than using sports as a stage to draw kids in so they can hear the Gospel—it’s that simple.”