Camp-O-Ree a reminder of the need for RAs
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
LINDEN — Though the number of boys in Royal Ambassadors, a Southern Baptist missions education program for boys in grades one-six, has declined in recent decades, it is still as relevant as ever, agree missions leaders in Tennessee.
“Royal Ambassadors is 110 years old this year and the mission today is just as important as it was all those years ago,” said Brian Holt, state Royal Ambassadors and Challengers (missions education program for boys in grades 7-12) coordinator for Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union.
“We have unreached peoples all over the world. That includes places here in the United States. How will we understand the importance of reaching these groups if we do not start teaching missions at an early age? Would you know that Salt Lake City is an unreached people group? RAs do,” Holt said.
He added that RAs teach “what it means to be a missionary, what our missionaries do and provides them with the most basic skills they need to be a missionary themselves.”
RAs, however, is not alone in the decline. Missions organizations as a whole have experienced a decline in membership, observed Juliana Wilson, communications and childhood missions specialist for Tennessee WMU.
But events like the RA Camp-O-Ree, held Oct. 19-21 at Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center, and JAM (Journey Adventures in Missions) events held in September and October are key reminders that missions education is still relevant and important, Wilson said.
Missions organizations are key to raising up young men and women to be Christian leaders in the future, Wilson continued. “With events like these, we have hope in a bright future.”
The nearly 500 men and boys who attended the 46th annual camping event at Linden Valley would no doubt agree.
It was a phenomenal weekend, said Mike Freeman, a member of Whitten Memorial Baptist Church, Memphis, and one of the leaders of the RA Camp-O-Ree.
“The RA Camp-O-Ree combines a taste of outdoors, missions and worship while providing a venue for Christian men to bond and mentor with these young RA and Challenger boys,” Freeman said.
Very seldom do men and boys have an opportunity to get away from television, radios, cell phones and video games to enjoy the outdoors and nature, Freeman observed.
“Leaders and dads alike were able to embrace this sometimes, rare opportunity to get to know their boys on a deeper level, both personally and spiritually,” he observed.
Though it rained on Friday night, the weather did not dampen the spirits of the campers, Freeman said. On Saturday morning the sounds of laughter and smells of camp food filled the air like the smoke from the campfires circling above the tents, Freeman said.
He noted that as the day progressed, the boys participated in a myriad of activities, ranging from camp craft activities to BB gun and archery competitions, Bible Drill, Speak Out and more.
In the afternoon, the RAs and Challengers ventured to “Missions Hall” where they met missionaries and leaders from a variety of missions-based organizations. They were able to learn about missions and see how they can be involved, Freeman noted.
Sessions on Saturday night and Sunday morning featured high energy worship services designed to clearly present the gospel, he added. Holt observed that while the messages are geared toward reaching the boys, they are relevant to the adults as well. “There is nothing like seeing fathers and sons worshiping together along with their RA leaders,” he said.
Freeman has long been an advocate for Royal Ambassadors and he thinks the need for the organization is greater than ever because of today’s culture in which so many children live in broken homes and do not have a male role model present.
He noted that this year’s event included boys who don’t have a dad present in their homes. RAs, and particularly the Camp-O-Ree, provides an opportunity for them to be mentored by Christian men, Freeman said.
Holt agreed. “We live in a world where manhood is under attack. Boys are lacking in positive male role models in their lives.
“From home, to school and even church their role models are often women because the men are not stepping up. There is a great need for men to set Christ-like examples for our boys so they grow to be Christ-like men themselves,” said Holt, a member of Forest Hills Baptist Church, Nashville.
“We are called to share the gospel with the world around us, and men need to realize that we have to start at home and work outwards wherever the Lord leads us,” Holt said.
Freeman also observed that the Camp-O-Ree seems to energize RA leaders from across the state as they see firsthand the role they are having in the lives of boys. “When leaders come to the event they talk about how it gives them ‘a shot in the arm’ and leaves them with a new resolve in their heart to keep RAs active in their churches.”