Recently, we had the great privilege of hosting members of the Watoto Children’s Choir. For this special group from Kampala, Uganda, Shocco Springs was just the first stop of many. These 18 children and their chaperones stayed with us for a time of rest and rehearsal as they prepared to begin a six month choir tour. For most in the group, this is their first trip to the United States, so something as simple as being served a pizza lunch during their time here turned out to be a new and exciting treat.
This group was truly a pleasure to serve. Knowing the circumstances these children have come from (many orphaned by AIDS and war) and seeing their constant joy is such a testament to our great God and the work he is doing through the ministry of Watoto Church.
For the next several months, Watoto Children’s Choir will be traveling and performing throughout the United States to share their hope and raise awareness for their ministry. If you have the chance to see them, we highly recommend going! We are certain you will be blown away by their joy-filled performance, as we were.
At Shocco Springs, we often say something like, “It is an honor or a pleasure to serve those who serve.” It’s always meant sincerely, but is often overused so it may come across as cliché. That being said, there are times when, cliché or not, it must be said. There are times that you catch a glimpse of the servant heart of Jesus in those in front of you, and you can’t help but appreciate the blessing of serving them.
We recently hosted a reunion of former, and a few current, missionaries to Nigeria. These people gave up a jobs, being close to friends and family, and the simple comforts most of us take for granted to go and take the Gospel to people in need halfway around the world. Among them were some of the first Journeyman ever commissioned by the International Mission Board and one of the founders of the Journeyman program. These were great men and women who answered God’s call to take His life-changing message to Nigeria.
Many of the guests were MKs (or missionary kids). They, unlike their parents, had no choice but to grow up on the mission field. When other children were going to the park or swimming in the public pool, they were swimming in a river that most of us have never heard of. Sacrifice for service is a way of life for missionaries and their families. To see these children, now grown with their own children, reunited for the weekend was a treat. Ladies greeting each other like teenage friends on the first day of school after a long summer spent away was a common scene in the lobby. Many reminiscent conversations undoubtedly lasted long into the night.
This year was a changing of the guard as former missionary Bill Cowley, who had been in charge of organizing the reunion, handed the reins over to MK, Kevin Reece. This passing of the torch was evident because so many MKs and MGKs were present at the reunion. To call it a family atmosphere is again cliché and falls short of the feeling that was in the air. When God calls you to a foreign land with little of what you consider familiar, it is easy to imagine that there are many times when you are left with two things— God and each other. The community of these guests was so strong that you could almost touch it. More senior members of the group were not known as Mr. and Mrs., but instead as Aunt and Uncle, and friends were more like brothers and sisters.
We are blessed as a staff to have such great people cross our paths week in and week out. On our grounds, you may often hear stories of how God has used Shocco to bless lives, but many of the lives that have visited here have blessed us as much as they have been blessed. So to say it was an honor to serve such servants may sound common. It is in fact anything but, much like the servants themselves and the God they serve.
As Shocco Springs employees, we find ourselves getting attached to our guests quite a bit. They are so much more than our customers. We serve them and partner with them in ministry. We work together with group leaders to point their people to Jesus and His saving, redeeming, and sustaining power. Together we have the privilege of watching Him change lives. It is such a blessing that sometimes you just have to wonder at God’s grace in allowing you to work at such a place.
Having this relationship with our guests means that more often than not, they become friends and family. For the Labor Day weekend, we were blessed with a few such groups, one of which was a last minute addition. Horeb Baptist Church from Gretna, Louisiana, was supposed to go to a camp closer to home but because of an increase in interest among their members, they had to look for a bigger place to hold their family retreat. Shocco just happened to have space available for the holiday weekend. A six hour trip might have hindered some groups’ attendance, but instead Horeb’s continued to climb until they showed up with 176 out of about 300 members from two congregations.
Even though they were a last minute addition, they quickly became part of the Shocco family. They were warm and welcoming and the love of Christ was evident in their fellowship. One of their members even brought beignets from New Orleans to one of our desk workers. This was not Horeb’s first time at Shocco as they had stayed at Shocco during the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, even doing some work around campus. It was a pleasure for Shocco to welcome them back under better circumstances and to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s times like these that Shocco can be just a glimpse of heaven where we will be able to fellowship with Christians from different backgrounds, places, and even times, all because of our one common interest, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because of our love for Him, I suspect it may feel much like running into long-lost family like this Labor Day with not only our friends from Louisiana, but with all of our other groups as well.
The idea to bring camp to Jacmel was born in 2012. While seeking God’s guidance in determining where to lead Shocco’s next international mission team, Jacmel, Haiti, was brought to the attention of our Executive Director, Buster Taylor.
The Alabama Baptist State Convention had been deeply involved in Jacmel since disaster relief efforts brought them to the area following the devastating 2010 earthquake. Through their experiences, Buster learned about the new children’s ministry led by the Children’s Hope organization operated out of First Baptist Church of Montgomery. “They indicated a desire for a day-camp activity for the children of the area. With Shocco’ s staff experience in leading and facilitating camp activities, this was a great fit for our team,” he explained.
During the team’s first visit to Jacmel, Children’s Hope leadership pointed out the availability of a local facility, Camp Bossier Sur Mer, that could be available for our second year’s day camp event. Arrangements were completed and the first annual Camp Hope was held this year.
Buster and Recreation Manager, Elizabeth Cook, led our team as they held a five-day camp for local children. The team, consisting of both full-time staff and student summer staffers, hosted 30 children and had the opportunity to build relationships with them while sharing the love of Christ through a variety of camp activities.
Among the children attending the 2014 camp were five missionary’s children. They especially enjoyed the camp and the interaction with the staff. As a follow-up to the 2014 Camp Hope, Shocco has been asked to consider hosting another camp in Jacmel for all the missionary children in the region and maybe the country. We are currently praying to see if this new camp can be added alongside the Camp Hopes of the future.
Shocco’s missions program was developed as a way for us to share the blessings we have received and serve the Lord beyond our Talladega campus and often beyond our comfort zones. It also provides many summer staff student workers the opportunity to experience international missions for the first time.
Karli Boulware, a student at the University of Alabama, who served as a Shocco summer staffer this summer had desired to travel to Haiti for some time and was excited to finally have an opportunity to go and serve there. “The trip reinforced my belief that nonprofits can play a pivotal role in improving the lives of impoverished people and I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to see the Gospel on display in such a delightfully unique manner,” Karli said of her experience.
We are thankful for the opportunity to serve God this summer both at Shocco and abroad and we look forward to what He has in store for the future of our missions involvement in Haiti.
Seven years ago, Kaley Lowry was a part of the youth group at Christway Community Church in Ooltewah, Tennessee. She was among a group of students from the church who had come to Shocco to experience “The Challenge.”
This year, as a college student, she helped lead that same challenge with 109 students, giving them an opportunity to experience a fraction of what Jesus went through during the last 12 hours of His life.
The Challenge is physically, spiritually, and emotionally grueling in an attempt to recreate the final hours before His walk to the cross, Kaley said. Students are divided into teams with natural leaders not able to talk for 12 hours. Designated leaders were forced to confront their weaknesses, which brought out their strengths. There were demanding exercises that were designed to be unfair so that each would better understand that while Jesus was treated unfairly, “he still remained silent,” she said.
“Because of His great love for us,” He accepted the torture, the pain and the humbling.
To put Jesus’ challenge into perspective they could understand, the students stayed awake most of the night, only getting about two hours sleep. They prayed for an hour and then their last leg of the journey involved carrying a large plank of wood up the hill to recreate Jesus’ walk to the cross.
“When the last student made it up the hill around 10 a.m., we joined together in worship to celebrate our Lord’s sacrifice and his love for us,” Kaley said. “We hope that our students will remember that Jesus believed we were worth it when he went through the ultimate challenge for us. We also hope that they will know that Christ loves us in a way that we can barely begin to comprehend and let that love change the way we live.”
Short term mission trips are a passion of Elizabeth Cook. And as Recreation manager and Summer Staff manager at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center, a trip earlier this month to work with children in Jacmel, Haiti, was a calling to her. “It was an opportunity to live out that calling.”
From Aug. 5 to Aug. 11, she joined 16 others — college students from across Alabama and full-time Shocco staff — to bring Vacation Bible School to life for students in Haiti. “To my surprise, I saw several adults sit in, too — men and women of the church.”
She experienced rewards on many levels. As a former teacher who hasn’t been in the classroom for years, “the opportunity to teach kids, hold their hands and make bracelets with them” brought her renewed joy.
On a management level, planning the entire mission trip, “it was exciting to see the staff put together the materials and lessons. To see them put it all into action was really cool,” she said.
But perhaps the most touching was her team’s work at Children’s Hope Orphanage, a ministry in Haiti of First Baptist Church of Montgomery. When the day of VBS was done, the group would hold a revival outside the orphanage. One of the summer staffers gave testimony, and Cook watched intently as people all around started coming out to here what was said. “It was really a unique moment” to know that the message was going well beyond their group, extending to the villagers in the hillside. “They were literally coming out of the hills to hear.”
Those moments for team member Taylor Patterson were “life changers,” she said.
“That is where I think I was most impacted. I got to know kids from the villages that surrounded the orphanage that we worked with. Those kids do not have many material things, but it doesn’t affect them. They have so much joy, and they are just so full of the Spirit.”
“I learned how to love fearlessly and intentionally,” said fellow team member Rivers Brunson. “Everyone that I came in contact with was not necessarily clean or healthy. I had to consciously make the decision to love them or not. I am so much more thankful for the love that God has for me — how undeserving I am, and how unreserved He is!”
This summer’s mission trip is an ongoing series for Shocco staff, who hold fundraisers all year long just to make their calling a reality. Each is responsible for $1,200 of the trip’s cost, and they raise money in varying ways — working with the annual 5K run, Dashing Through the Springs, or a silent auction for skill sets, like grass cutting, pressure washing and cleaning houses. They set up a special coffee shop for guests at Bagley Center, and they wrote letters asking for support from churches and family.
But you know the work involved is worth it when the lessons learned can be applied to everyday life. Patterson came face-to-face with her lesson learned when she returned to the U.S. “At the Miami airport, one of the things you see were all the stores. It really hit me at that point when you think about how much people want. I am even guilty of always wanting more, but why? The Lord is enough for us all. My trip to Haiti is something I will never forget, and it impacts my daily life,” she said.
“I hope I get to return next summer!”
The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is true – especially on the mission field.
A close-knit group of IMB missionaries and families who have served in Indonesia know this better than anyone else. They gathered at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, Alabama for a reunion June 14-17. Numbering 180 in attendance and traveling from distances as far as New Mexico and Washington, these harvesters convened to celebrate and continue the legacy of faith they all shared. In attendance were retired former IMB director, Dr. Jerry Rankin; Christian author, Joe Turman; and Hardin-Simmons University professor of theology, Dr. Robert Sellers. There were also nine doctors present, eight of whom served in Indonesia. The family with the most members present numbered at 18, descending from Oliver and Virginia Harper of WaterStone Church, Warrior, Alabama. There were four people present who were born in Indonesia while their parents were missionaries.
“Thy faithfulness is unto all generations…” (Psalm 119:90) The theme verse for the week is proven by the number of “missionary kids” (MKs) who have now gone to the mission field. The families who served in Indonesia have yielded more than 65 MKs and spouses who are now serving in various capacities all over the world. Faithfulness among the MKs is partially attributed to the more genuine sense of “family” that these missionaries experienced in Indonesia, according to Dr. Sellers who served there as a Journeyman and later as both a seminary professor and church planter. “We had something quite special in Indonesia… and part of it was the attention paid to everyone’s children. On the mission field… you are cut off from your blood relatives and everyone else becomes your children’s aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. This is our family.”
Another factor in the bountiful response of these families to the Great Commission is participation in Camp MiKi. Conducted by the Indonesia Baptist mission, Camp MiKi was a time of escape and encouragement for MKs. The reunion at Shocco Springs was simultaneous with the 50th annual Camp MiKi in Indonesia. MKs relived memories of climbing volcanic Mt. Merapi and participating in other Indonesian activities, as they prayed for current children gaining the same experiences.
The reunion consisted of many diverse activities, from a memorial service honoring lost loved ones to silly Camp MiKi competitions between “tribes.” However, there seemed to be a common thread throughout: dedication to the Gospel. This commitment tied together not only the activities, but also the people. Children heard their grandparents tell stories of carrying the Truth to Indonesia as career missionaries. They saw the difference that Truth had made in the lives of their parents, former MKs. Hopefully, the Truth is taking roots in the hearts of the third and fourth generations of this Family. “We’ve laughed, cried, prayed, heard messages, and buried three MKs. There are all sorts of memories and experiences,” says reunion coordinator, Virginia Harper. “We still celebrate that God called us to be foreign missionaries. Remembering that time never gets old.”