Rural Wayne County church relies on faith to sponsor camp
By Lonnie Wilkey
LINDEN — On paper, it doesn’t seem possible that a small country church that averages about 40 people on Sunday could sponsor a youth camp (at no cost) for about 50 people.
And, members of Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Iron City will agree. They can’t, but God can, and He has proven it many times since 2013 when pastor Dusty Malugen felt God was calling him to lead the rural Wayne County congregation to go beyond its walls.
When Malugen, a deputy sheriff with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, was called into the ministry nearly a decade ago, he became the pastor of Oak Grove. Though the church is one of the oldest churches in Wayne County, it had declined to about six to eight people when Malugen arrived.
He admitted that he was not sure that he was where he wanted to be, but God reminded him, “I put you here for a reason.”
After two years, the church had reached a few more people, “but we really weren’t growing,” Malugen recalled. After studying God’s Word, he came to the realization that “a church that is not going to function really has no place in the kingdom of God.”
Part of the problem with many churches today is that they get complacent and do not reach out beyond their walls, he observed.
So, in 2013 he led the church to do just that — by sponsoring a youth camp at nearby Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center in Linden. The church had doubts since they had relatively few youth who attended, but the congregation followed their pastor’s heart and between 12-15 people, including adult leadership, went to that first camp.
Then, each year, more youth from the community began to attend the camp at the invitation of their friends. As the camp grew each year, the church also began to grow, Malugen said. As youth were saved at camp and joined the church, parents began attending as well. Oak Grove now averages about 29 each week, he noted. And, “we’re still growing,” he said.
So is the camp. In late July, more than 50 youth and adults gathered at Linden Valley once again, the largest attendance ever.
“It’s been amazing,” observed church member Sherry Rich, who has been at Oak Grove most of her life and was there when Malugen became pastor. She admitted apprehension about starting a camp with so few people more than six years ago. “We thought we were too small, and then, how could we pay for it?”
“It was hard but the church decided to follow Dusty’s vision,” she recalled. “We just put our faith in God,” Rich said.
Not only have youth attended and had fun, they have given their lives and hearts to Christ, the pastor said. Through the camps more than 80 salvation decisions were recorded and nearly 60 baptisms have been held, including eight at this year’s camp.
What’s more, no one who attends the camp is required to pay. Though attendance at the camp this year surpassed the normal average attendance of the church each Sunday, Oak Grove has been able to continue to provide the camp at no cost. They have even included youth from a church in Kentucky that has joined them the past two years.
Rich, who also serves as church treasurer, said God has always provided. The church does fundraisers and members donate above their regular offerings to the church, she said. “We put our faith in God. We have always been able to pay for this,” she said. She also expressed appreciation to the staff at Linden Valley. “We come here because they have been awesome,” she said. “They bend over backwards for us.”
Kathryn “Mama Kat” Staggs has served at every camp and is appreciative of all that has occurred over the past six years. “Even though we are a small church, God has blessed us,” she said. “No child or family has to pay a penny. There is nothing impossible with Him,” Staggs affirmed.
Malugen stressed that whatever the camp costs, it is worth it. A price cannot be put on the fact that “we have them worshiping and crying out to God. To enable them to leave the camp, knowing they can have confidence in Jesus Christ and knowing that they can be a light to the world” is priceless, he said.
Others who have been involved with the camps would agree. Joseph Rich has attended every camp, and he returns to help as an adult leader. The spiritual aspect of camp and fellowshiping with other young people are important, he said.
Tayvon Jordan has been attending since the second camp. “It gets you fired up for the Lord,” said Jordan, now in college. “It’s where I have needed to be.”
Pam Kirchem has brought youth from the Kentucky church to Oak Grove’s youth camp. “My daughter was saved here two years ago. That’s what this camp means to me,” she said. “I have never been to another church camp where I’ve seen the Holy Spirit speak to the children like He does here,” she added.
Malugen is grateful for the members of Oak Grove who have supported him from the beginning. Because his job as a deputy sheriff (in charge of homicide investigations) is demanding, Malugen said church members are willing to step up and do whatever is needed if he is called away. “If I call them any time of the day, they’re there. … I’m blessed to serve with such incredible people,” he said. B&R