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Beloved camp integral to spiritual growth for current church leaders, and those yet to come

Every summer, Judy Halter takes a busload of elementary schoolers from Anna, Ill., to Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp, where they spend a week learning about Jesus and what it means to tell other people about him.

She even got her commercial driver’s license so she could drive the bus. Halter understands well the value of investing in young lives.

“I was saved when I was six years old,” said Halter, a member of Anna Heights Baptist Church. “But finally, at eight or nine years old, after I came to Lake Sallateeska and the missionaries came and spoke to us, I finally got it. I understood the Great Commission, and that we were called to go, and not just stay when we follow Christ.

“And it was life-changing at that point for me.”

Halter’s “favorite place in the world” turns 75 this year. As Lake Sallateeska marks the milestone anniversary, children and students and adults across Illinois continue to stream to the IBSA-owned retreat. They go for the scenery, the activities, the friendships, and the opportunity to grow closer to Jesus and his mission.

“This place has housed missionaries. This place has birthed missionaries,” Halter said. “And hopefully it will continue to birth tomorrow’s missionaries and send them out into all the world as our Lord commanded.”

Lake Sallateeska dining hall

Volunteers completed much of the work during a recent round of renovations at Lake Sallateeska that included a new façade for the game room.

Transformation place
In 1928, Illinois Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) began holding youth camps at a lake outside of Pinckneyville owned by Dr. F.B. Hiller. In 1942, WMU bought the 40-acre property for $4,800.

The camp was dedicated on July 7 of that year, and later renamed after a visiting missionary from Oklahoma explained the meaning of her name, “Sallateeska.” The word, which means “keep looking up,” gave the camp its name.

Over the past 75 years, the camp has expanded to 163 acres. Cabins on the campground can sleep 200 people, and the Sallateeska Inn, added in 2000, offers 16 rooms of hotel-style lodging. More recent renovations nearly doubled the size of the dining hall, among other improvements.

Lake at Lake Sallateeska

Long-time camp attenders and staff speak of the camp’s value as a retreat, a place to get away from distractions and get closer to God.

“I think the camp is a place where you can get away from your normal routine,” said Mark Lee, pastor of Beaucoup Baptist Church in Pinckneyville and a former manager of Lake Sallateeska. “You just get to come out here, and your thoughts are a little different, because you’re not thinking about everyday pressures, and everything that’s going on around you. And you can focus on the Lord, your relationship with him.

“You generally sit under preaching every night and teaching. There’s singing. There seems to be more freedom to worship sometimes here [for] kids. I think it just gets people away from that normal routine, and gives [them] an opportunity to get closer to God.”

Conference Center

For many campers who experienced a getaway at Sallateeska, the camp is where they first met Christ.

“I remember being a little girl, and for the first time going to camp being really, really nervous,” recalled Lyndee Joe. “That was the year when I was 10 years old that I was saved.”

Joe, who grew up at Chatham Baptist Church, later served at Lake Sallateeska as a counselor, a program manager, and a camp missionary. She guided others as they made the same commitments she made at camp. She remembered one such story of transformation that happened in Sallateeska’s swimming pool. A young girl came up to her and said, “I need Christ in my life.”

“And she was saved at that pool, right there on the spot,” Joe said. “She didn’t care that we were all swimming around and the kids were goofing off around her.”

Nate Adams attended Royal Ambassador (RA) Camp at Lake Sallateeska when he was eight or nine years old. “It was a week of transformation,” said IBSA’s executive director, who credits his church RA leader, Ray, with getting him to go to camp.

“It was all the things we had been talking about week after week—missions and spiritual growth and what it means to be a godly Christian boy and man,” Adams said. “And in that week at Lake Sallateeska, it all came together, and it was a time of spiritual change for me.

“And I think Lake Sallateeska has been a place of spiritual transformation for many, many, many people like that since then.”

Just the beginning
For many campers, the initial commitment to Christ made at camp is just the beginning. Philip Hall has managed Lake Sallateeska since 2008, but his experience with the camp started years ago. The son of an RA leader, Hall grew up going with his dad to take the big kids to camp.

When he became a big kid and camper himself, God used Sallateeska to confirm his call to ministry. Now, he’s deeply invested in running the camp in such a way that the next generation of pastors and missionaries and Sunday school teachers can hear from God while they’re at camp.

Boating

“I don’t get to be the one sharing the gospel every time,” Hall said. “I’m not necessarily the one preaching every time. But our ministry is just to clear the path of distractions. It’s the whole purpose that they come out to the country anyway.”

Lake Sallateeska is hallowed ground for those who have experienced a new understanding of God, and have sensed a call to join him in his mission. Judy Halter’s days as a camper sparked a missions calling that has taken her on short-term trips to Botswana, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. For Lyndee Joe, her time at Sallateeska has helped her come full circle in her walk with Christ—from meeting him, to learning to love his Word, to learning to share it with other people.

“We’re seeing people come from this camp who are giving their life to Christ, giving their life to go on the mission field,” said Joe, who served as an International Mission Board Journeyman missionary to South Africa. “We’re seeing people who are going to this camp as a child, and then turning around, getting to high school age and starting Christian clubs in their schools.

“I think [Lake Sallateeska] is vital in the life of Southern Baptists in the state of Illinois because it’s giving our students a passion for the gospel. And they’re taking that passion and they’re running with it.”

As the Lake Sallateeska team embarks on their next season of ministry, Hall said their goal is to continue the commitment and legacy that started 75 years ago.
“My hope for the future is that we just continue to hear from the Lord [and] be faithful with what we have. It’s a stewardship, a talent,” he said, referencing Jesus’s parable in Matthew 25.

“I truly hope, when my time is over, to pass on a facility and a ministry that’s better than it was when I got it, to the next runner, to carry out this race.”

South_Asia

An mission team member teaches girls at a missions center in South Asia last March.

The best kind of advertising is free advertising, I’m pretty sure I heard in my college “Introduction to Public Relations” class. When it comes to missions, I think my professor knew what he was talking about.

Have you ever talked to someone who just got back from a mission trip? It’s like the old joke (that has been given new life with modern phenomena like veganism and CrossFit):

How do you know someone just got back from a mission trip (or is a vegan, or does CrossFit)?

MIO-box-smallDon’t worry, they’ll tell you about it.

And isn’t that a good thing? To share missions stories and try to help the people who weren’t there understand why you felt compelled to go—and probably go back? Even better, talking about a mission trip gives you an opportunity to challenge them to go.

Mark Emerson recently described a mission volunteer as a “living brochure.” The woman he was talking about, Lindsay McDonald, is a pastor’s wife from Casey, Ill., who went to South Asia in March with a small team from Illinois. The group shared the gospel in villages  where more than 90% of the population is Muslim.

Watch the Mission Illinois Offering video, Mobilizing Volunteers Worldwide, to learn more about Lindsay McDonald’s South Asia trip

They also visited community centers where women are learning job skills and Bible stories.

When the team got back to Illinois, they started telling their stories. The group is contagious, Emerson said, but in the best possible way. And people are catching what they have.

When the team got back to Illinois, they started telling their stories. The group is contagious, but in the best possible way.

I went to Haiti with an IBSA GO Team in 2013. When I got back to Illinois, it was all I talked about for a few weeks. My husband was on the team too, so we talked about it at home. I wrote about it in the Illinois Baptist. We shared with our community group and local church about the trip.

Haiti was constantly on our lips and on our hearts.

Before you get too impressed, I should confess that a weekend spent binge-watching Downton Abbey has had the same effect on me. Without meaning to, I start using the cadence and accent of early 1900s Britain. That’s what an immersive experience does: We adopt the passion and language of the experience that has captivated us.

We become living brochures. And in the best cases, what we’re advertising is the call to sacrifice time, money, energy, comfort, even safety, for the sake of taking the gospel to a place and a people deeply in need of it.

Free advertising, for a really great product.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer September 11-18.

– Meredith Flynn is an editorial contributor to the Illinois Baptist

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Missionaries-squareBy Meredith Flynn | The tone was set at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention: If we’re going to continue sending missionaries to people groups who haven’t heard the gospel, the missions paradigm has to change.

“Churches almost unknowingly begin to farm out missions to missions organizations,” International Mission Board President David Platt said during the missionary commissioning service that coincided with the Convention.

“But this is not how God designed it.”

Instead, said the leader of the world’s largest evangelical missions organization, local churches must play a greater role in sending missionaries to the ends of the earth, like the first-century church at Antioch did.

Two months later, Platt announced 600-800 missionaries and staff would end their service with the IMB through a voluntary retirement incentive and subsequent hand-raising opportunity. And the local church was still central to the conversation.

IMB released a list of ways churches can support returning missions personnel. Many, including Illinois pastor Doug Munton, publicly encouraged local congregations to consider hiring returning missionaries to fill vacant staff positions.

At their September meeting, the SBC Executive Committee adopting a resolution encouraging churches to give to the Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists’ main method of funding missions—“more than ever before” in light of the IMB cuts.

Since Platt was named president in 2014, he has prioritized the responsibility of local churches and everyday Christians to leverage what they have so that more people around the world might hear and respond to the gospel. And not just through monetary gifts.

“Even if our income from churches were to double over the next year…we would still have a cap on our ability to send a certain number of full-time, fully supported church planters,” Platt said when he announced the personnel plan in August. The solution: “Consider all of the different avenues that God created in His sovereign grace for multitudes more people to go.”

What it means for churches: Those avenues may find business people, college students and retirees in your church leaving their lives in the U.S. to take the gospel to people who have never heard it. Local congregations have an opportunity to expand the ways they think about missions, and encourage “regular” people in the pews to do the same.

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

On some Wednesday evenings, if I listen really hard, I can still hear it:

Girls in action, girls in action, missions growing and mission action. Praying, giving money, so the world may know that Jesus loves…

The jaunty chorus bounced out of a third floor classroom at our church every Wednesday at 6:45 p.m., heralding the beginning of our weekly GA meeting. It was in GA’s – the aforementioned Girls in Action – that I first learned most of what I still understand about missions.

This year, as the organization created by Southern Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union celebrates its 100th birthday, I’ve been remembering the most important piece of information I received from GA’s: I could do missions.

Every week our teacher, Mrs. Briggs, led us through 45 minutes of good things: international snacks, missionary stories, and the occasional letter from an overseas pen pal. As we prayed and ate and learned and gave, missionaries became more real to us. They were our heroes, yes, but they were also normal people who even wrote us letters sometimes. So, as I grew up and became a normal person, I never questioned that if God so purposed, he could use me as a missionary.

That’s why missions education is still important, because we are far more likely to try the things we think we can do. We GA’s (and the RA’s in the boys’ class next door) heard week after week that there is always something we can do to support the advance of the Gospel. We lost the excuses of “I can’t,” or “The task is too big,” or “I’m just one person.” The ways Southern Baptists cooperate to reach the world are compelling, even to a third grader. And when we saw that we had a place within that cooperative system, the missions potential felt limitless.

Every Wednesday night now as I sit in my community group (where, sadly, we have not once had egg rolls or baklava), I’m reminded of the lessons I learned more than 20 years ago. Mrs. Briggs and her volunteers played a part in my decision to go on my first international mission trip this summer. And their counsel back then reminds me that I’m called and equipped to be on mission, here and now.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.