IMB, Erin’s Hope Foundation & Oklahoma Baptists partner to present new prayer feature to ignite ‘burden for lostness’

Participating in the ribbon cutting of the Missions Trail were, from left, Andy Harrison, director of Oklahoma Baptists Conference Centers; Todd Fisher, Oklahoma Baptists executive director-treasurer; Patrick Swezey, Chris Swezey, Dixie Swezey; Ed Herrelko, IMB vice president; Stephen Rummage, pastor of OKC, Quail Springs.

DAVIS—The new interactive Missions Trail at Falls Creek Conference Center near Davis officially opened May 10 with more than 50 people bowing their heads in prayer. Attendees gathered at the trailhead and asked God to work in the lives of tens of thousands of students that will trek through Falls Creek’s Centennial Garden this summer. They also thanked God for a unique partnership that brought this Missions Trail to life.

Erin’s Hope Foundation partnered with the International Mission Board (IMB) and Oklahoma Baptists to create an interactive prayer walk experience which encourages people to learn about, pray for and consider their calling to missions.

Chris Swezey told the gathered crowd he never imagined the project would turn out so well. Eight wooden pergolas dot the scenic trail overlooking the Arbuckle Mountains. The representative for Erin’s Hope Foundation explained the trail means a lot to his family. The foundation honors his sister, Erin, who passed away after a car accident in which a drunk driver hit her. This project puts feet to her dream of going to the mission field.

Erin Swezey was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. Her family created the Erin’s Hope Foundation which funded the Missions Trail at Falls Creek.

“We feel like this place allows her to do that in a way,” Swezey said, pointing to displays under every pergola that educates on missions and challenges participants to pray and respond. “Our prayer is that God would use this project to help spread the happiness that comes from a life lived under Christ.”

This hope is exactly why the IMB joined the endeavor. Ed Herrelko, IMB vice-president of marketing and communications, explained lostness is the only problem with an eternal consequence. He told the crowd that they were experiencing the best of what Southern Baptists do together — pursue lostness.

“Our hope is that thousands of youth will start to think about how many people don’t know our Savior Jesus Christ or how many people don’t even have access to the Gospel,” Herrelko said. “Our prayer is for a passion to ignite in our youth, and they will start to think about the lost and how they can impact lostness.”

Chris Swezey speaks at the dedication of the Missions Trail, with his mother Dixie listening to his speech.

For many missionaries who grew up in Oklahoma, Falls Creek was a place they first recognized God’s calling on their lives to reach the nations. Todd Fisher, Oklahoma Baptists executive director-treasurer, spread his arms and said they were standing on sacred ground where special things have happened for the past 106 summers. This is the place countless children, youth and others came to know Christ and where countless young people were called to the ministry.

“This trail brings a richness to this area of the camp,” Fisher said with three white crosses to his left and the pergolas spread around him.

Bill Herron, center, served as overseer of the construction of the Missions Trail. His crew built the pads and the pergolas and installed the metal sign holders.

The idea for this missions trail was actually years in the making. A parent of missionaries had an idea to help children know how missionaries live and work. He suggested to Erin’s Hope Foundation about creating some “steps” for children to walk through with information about countries and missionaries.

As a former children’s minister, Erin’s mother Dixie Swezey found the idea appealing. She spent years taking Erin and other children to camp. She knew these experiences can be a special time in a child’s life where they learn to walk closer with Jesus and heed His call. It was at camp where Erin learned to have a daily quiet time. Dixie also remembered Erin sending a letter from Falls Creek as a seventh grader filled with the excitement of leading someone to faith in Jesus for the first time.

Ed Herrelko shares the significance of lostness in the world and how the Missions Trail helps visitors to think how they can impact lostness.

“I’d see kids go to Falls Creek and maybe have questions or consider making a commitment to serve but didn’t know how to flesh out this calling,” Dixie explained, pointing out that many campers come from rural churches where resources might be limited. “Our prayer is that those who walk through the missions trail will see the needs and learn there are many ways to serve.”

These tidbits of information spread throughout the trail stood out the most to Stacie Sherry and Cindy Boyd, who attended the ceremony. Each pergola provided fun facts, statistics, photos and information about different regions of the world. They were blown away by the large numbers of lostness around the world.

  • Close to 59 percent of the world’s population, or 4.9 billion, are considered unreached.
  • Among the Asian-Pacific Rim Peoples, 46,470 die daily without Christ. This is similar to all the visitors at Disneyland in one day.
  • For every 1,000 Central Asians, only one might know Jesus.
  • 72 million culturally Deaf have almost no access to Scripture in their heart sign language.

The Swezey Family pose with the entrance sign to the Missions Trail. The sign features a message from Erin in her handwriting.

“As I stand here reading about the many Deaf around the world who don’t have access to the Gospel, all I can think about is the youth in my church learning sign language,” Boyd said, noting that her own daughter will soon walk this trail. “I’m praying for our church’s youth to see this and commit to this type of ministry…I’m praying for my daughter’s heart to see the lostness around her and respond to the need.”

Responding to this call is exactly what Dixie had in mind for this trail all along. She wanted students to know about all the ways God calls His people to serve—by giving, praying and going. She knows not everyone will have the ability to give. Not everyone will have the ability to go. Not everyone is a prayer warrior. But it takes everyone discovering their calling and gifts from God to truly honor Him.

Stephen Rummage, right, offers a prayer of dedication at the Missions Trail.

Dixie saw that come to fruition with her daughter Erin, even hours before her death when she interviewed to become a summer camp counselor at CrossTimbers Children’s Mission Adventure Camp. During the interview process, she shared her testimony and passion for sharing her Peace, her Creator, her Sustainer and Protector so that everyone may know the happiness that comes from a life lived under Christ.

“I feel like we’ve come full circle,” Dixie said. “What started with Erin as a 6-year-old seeking God at a children’s camp brought us right back to the same camp, praying the same thing happens for many more generations to come.”