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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.


“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.”

What happens at camp

ib2newseditor —  June 26, 2017

Canoeing at Streator Baptist Camp

When our IBSA executive staff recently pulled away for a couple of days of long-range planning, we chose to drive north to Streator Baptist Camp. Mike Young is doing a great job as camp manager there, and we arrived to see new roofs, new siding, new paddleboats on the lake, a newly furnished and equipped dining hall, new mattresses on the beds, and improvements to the grounds too numerous to mention.

Though the camp was bustling with workers making final preparations for the summer camp season, Mike and his staff hosted us graciously, serving delicious meals, and giving us a tour of the well-kept grounds. After dinner, he prepared a toasty campfire for us, complete with marshmallows and all the ingredients for s’mores.

I don’t attend as many camps these days as I once did. But something about the campfire, or the bunk bed, or perhaps the wooded setting made me think back to my first Royal Ambassador Camp at Lake Sallateeska, our other fine Baptist camp in southern Illinois. Believe it or not, this year marks Lake Sallateeska’s 75th year of service to Illinois Baptists!

That summer camp was one of the first times I can remember being away from my parents for more than a night. I can still feel the anticipation of packing up and leaving home with my friends, but then also the homesickness of bedtime, and laying there in the dark with only the sounds of the woods. I recall the fun of canoes and archery and crafts, then the seriousness of the lessons from the Bible and about missions.

Sometimes we get to see down the road a little to the fruit of our efforts in tomorrow’s leaders.

Looking back, what made that first scary and wonderful week away from home OK was my trust in a guy named Ray, who was my RA counselor both at camp that week and at church every week. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, Ray had been investing in my young life for a long time, leading me down a road of Christian discipleship and leadership.

He probably knew he wouldn’t see me all the way down that road. A couple of years later another devoted Christian man led me, then when we moved on to another church, and another. For a while, it was week after week of RA’s followed by camp, and then it was week after week of youth group followed by a retreat. But always my church gave me a Christian man, and his weekly commitment and friendship, and an occasional week away from home when I could stretch my Christian commitment to a new level.

I know I’m not alone in this experience of disciple making and leadership development. Recently I was visiting with Evelyn Tully, IBSA’s retired Woman’s Missionary Union Director. She showed me a commemorative booklet from Illinois WMU’s 100th anniversary, and it was filled with pictures of Baptist women investing themselves into the lives of Baptist girls. One of those pictures was Evelyn with a young Sandy Wisdom-Martin, who is now the Executive Director of National WMU in Birmingham. Sometimes we do get to see down the road a little, to the fruit of our efforts in tomorrow’s leaders.

I don’t know where Ray is today or if he ever got to see much of the result of his investment in my life. But being at camp again last week reminded me of that investment, and the lasting difference it’s made in my life.

There’s an advertising slogan for Las Vegas that simply says, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But that’s not the case when it comes to investing in kids at a Christian camp. What happens there can last a lifetime—and spread all over the world.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at

Proud moment

ib2newseditor —  September 1, 2016

Sandy Wisdom-Martin elected to lead National WMU

Sandy_Wisdom-MartinThe news spread quickly among Illinois Southern Baptists that one of their own was named to serve as executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union.

Sandy Wisdom-Martin, an Illinois native who grew up near the small town of Marissa, was unanimously elected by the WMU executive board at a special-called meeting July 29-30 in Birmingham, Ala. She directed women’s missions and ministries for IBSA from 2001 until 2010, when she moved south to serve as executive director of WMU of Texas.

“Many of us here in Illinois are ‘busting our buttons’ with pride and gratitude for Sandy’s selection, because we consider her one of our own,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams.

The Illinois Baptist paper is not large enough for me to list the ways or the people who have impacted my life. I take with me to Birmingham a priceless heritage passed down to me by faithful Christ-followers.

“People eagerly hear her, respond to her, and follow her because of her personal integrity and character, and because she clearly follows the Lord’s leadership in her own life.”

Wisdom-Martin was highly involved in Illinois WMU as a student, serving on the state Acteens panel and several Acteens Activator mission teams. She also was the first recipient of the Darla Lovell Scholarship from Illinois WMU while studying at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

While at IBSA, she served as president of Mississippi River Ministries and led the first international WMU Habitat for Humanity team, which traveled to Ghana to build houses.

“I am thrilled beyond words in Sandy’s selection as Executive Director of WMU,” said Evelyn Tully, who directed Illinois WMU prior to Wisdom-Martin. “Her missions commitment, her ministry lifestyle, and her exemplary relationships have uniquely prepared her for this tremendous responsibility.

“I know Illinois missions-minded women will be her strong prayer supporters.”

The Illinois Baptist interviewed Wisdom-Martin via e-mail shortly after her election:

Illinois Baptist: Congratulations! We’re so excited one of our own is on her way to Birmingham!

Sandy Wisdom-Martin: Thank you. That means a great deal to me.

IB: Let’s start with the name and role of your organization. What does “woman’s” and “auxiliary” mean in the 21st century?

SWM: Our leaders have all said in different ways, “We are not a women’s organization, we are a missions organization.” My first full-time ministry supervisor, Julia Ketner at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, said, “We shout missions and whisper WMU.”

We are not about perpetuating an organization. We are about making Christ known in the world. If we focus on who we are, we will fail. If we focus on Christ and the mission he has given us, we cannot fail.

IB: What will you take from your Illinois/IBSA experience to Birmingham?

SWM: I am a product of Illinois Southern Baptists. The daughter of a coal miner and foundry worker. The first Illinois Southern Baptists I knew were my Christian parents who worked hard and served well. I learned lessons too numerous to mention. The members of Clarmin Baptist Church poured their lives into mine giving me every advantage possible as a young Christ-follower.

A new pastor’s wife introduced our church to Acteens and I discovered what God was doing in the world. State missions camps and events, as well as Acteens Activator teams, sealed my heart for missions. Then came the opportunity to rub shoulders with heroes of the faith who served with the Illinois Baptist State Association. In college, the Nine Mile Baptist Associational WMU council invited me to join their team. They let me teach conferences. I was awful. They loved me anyway. Baptist Student Union at SIU-Carbondale became one of the most important discipling influences of my life.

And that’s only the beginning. The Illinois Baptist paper is not large enough for me to list the ways or the people who have impacted my life. I take with me to Birmingham a priceless heritage passed down to me by faithful Christ-followers.

IB: How will you make WMU relevant for a new generation of women?

SWM: We have challenges to be sure. The future will demand higher visibility and more options. I find that when people understand what we really do, they value us.

As WMU, we have these six objectives: pray for missions, engage in mission action and personal witnessing, learn about missions, support missions, develop spiritually toward a missions lifestyle, and participate in the work of the church and denomination. While we want people engaged in all six objectives, ministries seem to be the way to capture people’s heart for missions initially.

So, in Texas, we began doing things like building houses in partnership with local associations. We converted an old bus to a rolling WorldCrafts store and have sold more than $100,000 in WorldCrafts products while teaching shoppers about fair trade and missionaries who work with artisans. We have a truck and generator being converted into a “Suds of Love” laundry unit.

Once we get people involved initially, we invite them to go deeper in missional living. We strive to engage missional disciples for life.

IB: It seems like a lot of churches have moved away from missions education programs like Girls in Action and Royal Ambassadors. Do you think people need to be reminded (or taught for the first time) why missions education is important?

SWM: I think the experience of 2015 should be enough to remind people of the importance of missions education. Between 600-800 international missionaries were brought home (because of budgetary shortfalls at the International Mission Board). When people know about the needs of the field, they respond by praying and by giving. When they don’t know, the reverse happens.

I think we have moved away from missions education because we have moved away from the Great Commission. We are failing at the one thing Jesus told us to do which is “make disciples.” Making disciples is a lifelong process.

I am who at I am today because Illinois Southern Baptists began pouring their lives into mine and discipling me through local church missions education, missions education camps, associational missions, campus ministry and statewide missions activities. I grew up passionate about the Cooperative Program because that was what I was taught. We lived and breathed missions in my small country church. It was not an option. It was part of the DNA of our congregation.

IB: People today are awfully busy. How can WMU leaders find time on the church schedule for missions education?

SWM: We live in a wonderful age where resources are readily available and creativity abounds. There are countless ways to engage in missions education and involvement.

WMU provides premier missions resources. I think the problem is not with church schedules or other issues. I think the primary problem is that we have forgotten our “why.”

Our identity is with Christ. We believe Christ gave his all for us. We follow his teachings and his example. We do it all for the sake of Christ. We believe we are people made in the image of God with infinite worth because we are his creation. We know we are broken people in need of restoration and healing. Through Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace, our lives are being made new. We are passionate about telling his story and how it has changed us. We want every culture to know his story and be changed by it as well. We give our lives to that pursuit. That is why we do what we do.

IB: What does partnering with the International Mission Board look like now, with a new leadership team and reduced missionary force from funding challenges?

SWM: I’m looking forward to discussions with both IMB and NAMB (North American Mission Board) when I get settled, but believe our partnership will focus on reaching the nations for Christ as it always has. WMU actively promotes the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Week of Prayer for International Missions, encourages members to pray for missionaries daily through the missionary prayer calendar, coordinates stateside housing, provides water filters through Pure Water, Pure Love, and so much more.

IB: What is WMU’s main point of connection with NAMB, given its church planting focus?

SWM: Through our partnership with NAMB, we help participants live out the six objectives we discussed earlier. We count it a joy to be able to tell the stories of all our missionaries, as well as support their work through extensive promotion of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Week of Prayer. We also support NAMB missionaries through Christmas in August, scholarships for MKs (missionary kids), and more. When it is possible, we continue to invest our lives in their ministries through hands-on involvement.

IB: How do you make missions cool in a world without borders? What is the compulsion to “Go…” when “all the world” seems so close these days?

SWM: For more than 125 years, the name of our organization has been said incorrectly in many venues. We are named Woman’s Missionary Union because it is the individual woman who understands and responds to God’s call on her life.

That is how we make missions cool. We help each individual understand their own giftedness and God’s call on their life to make disciples. It’s not about what you do. It’s about who you are in Christ. You were created in the image of God for His purpose and glory. We are here to help nurture that call.

Annie_ArmstrongTwelve charter buses of women toured Annie Armstrong’s Baltimore today, stopping at churches she attended or influenced, visiting her grave site, and praying over her city. The tour was part of the WMU Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting.

Some of the women even met Annie in person, or at least someone very much like her. At Woodbrook Baptist Church, formerly Eutaw Place Baptist, “Miss Annie” sat at an antique secretary once owned by Armstrong herself. She answered questions about her life, her work, and her possible meeting with fellow famed missionary Lottie Moon. (We’re not completely sure, but they might have met at a missionary commissioning service for Lottie’s sister, Edmonia.)

Others on the tour sat in chairs Miss Annie might also have sat in at Jesus Our Redeemer Church in Federal Hill, which was established as Lee Street Baptist in 1855. Each bus visited Federal Hill Park, where women prayer walked and looked over a formerly poor part of Baltimore that’s now home to the city’s rich and famous.

Becky Arnett, Janet Craynon and Evelyn Tully sit where Annie Armstrong could have sat, at Jesus the Redeemer Church in Baltimore.

Becky Arnett, Janet Craynon and Evelyn Tully sit where Annie Armstrong could have sat, at Jesus the Redeemer Church in Baltimore.