By Courtney Shaw
Summer Intern, Linden Valley
LINDEN — Most campers do not have the opportunity to attend Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center at the age of 5.
Melissa Russell did and it has had an impact on her life ever since.
When Russell was 5 years old, her mother taught Mission Friends at Northside Baptist Church in Columbia. One night the lesson focused on missions in China and her mother served Chinese food, a first for the 5-year-old. “We had never had that. It was weird spaghetti,” she recalled.
Russell also remembered that her mother asked that night if anyone wanted to go to camp at Camp Linden (as it was then known). Though she was only 5, her mother signed her up with the admonition, “Just don’t tell anyone how young you are.”
So, in 1974, Melissa Russell experienced camp for the first time. It was not her last.
Her fondest memories as a camper were the skits and candlelight services in the tabernacle.
At the age of 15 Russell “graduated” from camper to camp staff.
She saw an ad seeking applications for summer camp workers at Linden. Russell completed an application and sent it in though she considered herself “shy and scared.”
Russell was called in and interviewed by the late Tommy Strong, former manager of Camp Linden, and his wife Shirley. They offered Russell a job and she worked every summer until she graduated from high school.
But it didn’t even stop there. She worked some in the fall and winter months as she could until she married. “This is really a special place to me,” said Russell, now a member of Richland Baptist Church, Lynnville.
Since then Russell has had three daughters and all three have gone to Linden Valley, including her youngest daughter Brianna who attended this year. Russell noted that when Brianna was born they did not have a middle name selected. They wanted a name that started with an “L” but were stymied. A doctor suggested she select a name that “reminds you of something special.”
Because Camp Linden was “the happiest time of her life,” she and her husband chose the name Brianna Linden Russell.
This summer will be Brianna’s last year at Journey Camp but it won’t be the last camp for her mother. “I’m going to continue coming as long as this camp is here and they will let me come,” pledged Melissa Russell, who attended the camp as a sponsor.
“How many people have given their lives to missions to tell other people about Jesus here?” she asked. “If it wasn’t for this camp, I don’t think I would be who I am today and my kids definitely wouldn’t be who they are,” she affirmed.
The experiences she had at camp helped to equip her to go on a missions trip to China.
“That’s what camps do. Anybody who doesn’t think this place is something special just needs to know where I have been and what I have been through. This is just an amazing place,” Russell said.