By Todd Brady
Vice President for University Ministries, Union University
Back in the day, each summer I went to Camp Carson Youth Music Week. I’ve never been a musician, and I’ve attended other camps which had more of the coolness factor than Youth Music Week. But for my youth group and for friends in other churches, it was the highlight of the summer for us. We wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
For us, it was simply the best week of the year. God did a great work in my life up there on that mountain.
It was there that I met people like Paul Clark and his brother, Ricky who at that time were pouring their lives into young people. As a teenager, I learned from Paul and Ricky that it’s not primarily about how I sing, but who I sing to. All year long, my friends and I looked forward to Bob Brian taking us to Camp Carson. On the way home, we started counting down the days until we’d go back up the mountain again next year. I didn’t know what he was doing at the time, but I’m now thankful for Julian Suggs’s work and heart to lead “One generation (to) commend (God’s) works to another, and (to) declare (God’s) mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4
Those who experienced Camp Carson Youth Music Week know what I’m talking about. Words simply cannot describe how special it was. Trumpet reveille. Classes. Friends. Meals. Worship. After worship fun time. Campfire. Bunk time. Trumpet taps. God was working through it all. There’s so much I could say, but “God. Was. There.” pretty much sums it up.
I recently attended the Transitional Interim Pastor Training Conference led by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s Steve Holt at Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center (formerly known as Camp Carson).
I had registered months in advance and was not only looking forward to the conference but also to returning to the camp. Even driving up the road to the conference center was special for me. My mind went back to riding in that hot, old, blue and white church bus — wondering if it was going to make it up the hill. It was then that I realized that it had been 28 years since I’d been to Camp Carson.
I got to the center and pulled in the parking lot of Carson Springs. As soon as I opened the door, I heard the familiar sound of water rushing down the mountain in the creek. That was the familiar sound I heard all those years ago as soon as we got out of the bus.
Returning to that place where God spoke so powerfully to you is an overwhelming experience.
During one of the conference breaks, I walked throughout the camp grounds. I went back to Hickory Lodge and thought about the cold showers and the great conversations I had there. I am glad those walls can’t talk — oh, the stories they could tell! I stood at the amphitheater where our choirs sang on the Friday night of camp.
I thought about all the young people who had sung praises to God in that place. At the Canteen, I thought about the money I spent on snacks and Cokes there. At the campfire site, I stood and reflected on the tremendous times I experienced there. I walked by the Mess Hall where we ate and thought about the songs of blessing we would sing as prayers before each of our meals.
But it was the big rock on the way to Stokely Chapel where I lingered. Back then, we had great times in the chapel, but it was sitting on that big rock where I first realized that God had called me into some kind of ministry. I thought about that night many years ago when I sat on that rock.
With no one on the campground and with only the sound of rushing water in the creek, I climbed up on that rock again and just sat there.
Camp Carson is holy ground for me, but in my opinion that rock is the holiest place. At least it is for me — for that is the place where I remember God speaking to me.
When God met Jacob at Bethel, Jacob said “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17).
In Genesis 35, God called Jacob to go back to Bethel, and “[he] called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.” (v. 15)
For me, Camp Carson is a Bethel. God has been good to let me go back to Bethel.