DAVIS—Monday morning staff meeting at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center is part breakfast, Bible lesson and military briefing all in one.
On this particular Monday morning, a certain haze has crept over the Arbuckle Mountains in Oklahoma as morning rain has cooled the blistering hot temperatures known to oppress even those most physically fit. James Swain, the new director of the conference center, watches as about 150 young people wearing red shirts and lanyards marked “staff” enter the dining hall to begin another week at one of the largest summer camps of its kind in the nation.
“Falls Creek is a cultural dynamic for those of us who grew up in Oklahoma,” Swain says as he waves to some of the staffers who boast that being on the recreation staff is “the best job at Falls Creek.” Swain recently came to the position from the pastorate—a mindset that he has not abandoned even as he oversees what could be compared to a small city. By afternoon, more than 5,000 people will occupy these grounds for one week. During that week, the schedules of teenagers and adults will move between Bible study, swimming, rock climbing, a ropes course that rivals the obstacle courses of the United States Army and evening worship experiences in the “tabernacle,” a new auditorium with state of the art screens, television equipment and sets that rival the concert arenas in any major metropolitan area of the United States.
Serving on the Falls Creek summer staff can be compared to a crash course in leadership training as college students are placed in roles of responsibility that require an adult-like mindset that takes seriously their daily duties. Watching a team with its staff leader (usually someone who has served on the summer staff for a number of years) is like watching a U.S. Marine platoon leader without the uniforms and Hoo-rah.
“I’ve been here for five years,” one older young girl says, “and I know what I am talking about.”
She brings team members into line as she works to strengthen their resolve amidst brutal heat and a schedule that requires most every working hour be filled with supervising and caring for students.
For all of the activities and teaching times that take place at Falls Creek, a new awareness of the crisis and challenges of those who attend summer camp here is slowly making an impact on all who lead and seek to minister here. More students are coming to Falls Creek with little or no church background. They are unfamiliar with the Bible, possess little or no knowledge of the Gospel and grasp only a basic knowledge of Jesus (usually some general facts about His life and death).
These students live under what sociologists have termed postmodern America. Casey Shutt, senior writer for The Baptist Messenger, whose research centers on the sociology of religion and its particular impact on modern youth admits “most people do not understand the culture of teenagers today.” Shutt’s research finds that even young people who attend church “are confronted with serious intellectual and spiritual issues which challenge them at every turn.” From science to sexuality, “the demands placed on them are weighty and cause them to bear tremendous burdens at a very young age.”
“For the Bible to make its most compelling impact on young people, they must have more than spiritual vignettes void of serious interaction with the text of Scripture,” Shutt said in an interview. “Studies show that young people (even teenagers who attend church) have very little grasp on the basics of the Bible,” he said. “When confronted with worldviews that challenge the very essence of the Christian faith, many either withdraw from church completely or simply choose not to deeply engage in the teaching of the Bible, fearing that their faith will not be able to stand up under the weight of a secular onslaught.”
“And this is exactly where our hope is grounded—the Bible,” stated Anthony L. Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “For us to impact the lives of the thousands of young people who attend Falls Creek each year, we must work to not only share the Gospel with the hundreds of lost young people who attend camp each week, but we also must demonstrate to them that the Bible is the only foundation that truly can help them overcome and build a life of faithfulness to Jesus Christ.”
“Our goal is to build on the heritage of the past with a view toward the future that will strategically impact the lives of thousands of young people,” Jordan said. “Falls Creek is a major component in our life together as Christians and servants of the Gospel in Southern Baptist congregations all over Oklahoma. We continually see the fruit of the Gospel impacted in the lives of those who are saved here, called to serve in the ministry here and go out to the ends of the Earth as missionaries to the transforming grace of God. Our passion for Falls Creek is not simply for a place—but for the person of Jesus Christ as He works in and through the ministry of those who serve here year after year.”