By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Prior to 2020, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board provided events such as Super Summer and Impact for Baptist youth.
Following a year’s absence due to COVID-19, camps for teenagers have returned but with a new name and purpose — YEC Camp. Nearly 400 Baptist youth from across the state gathered at Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center in Newport and Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center in Linden in late June and early July.
“YEC (Youth Evangelism Conference) has been such an impactful event for Tennessee Baptists and has a huge following,” said Jay Barbier, youth specialist for the TBMB. “I wanted to take the evangelism element of YEC and add it to the camp experience.”
Barbier said the goal of YEC Camp is to share Jesus with those who come and help equip them to return to their communities to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their friends.
His desire is to have the annual YEC in the spring and camp in the summer with regional YEC rallies in the fall. The rallies are still in the planning stage, he noted.
The camps are done in partnership with the churches who bring their youth to the events, Barbier said. “We want to benefit our local churches in Tennessee. We provide the programming but we want our churches to take ownership,” he added.
Barbier added that another goal of YEC Camp is to teach the younger generation Baptist basics — what it means to be a Baptist. “We want to help youth understand the need for missions. We want to lay the foundation of who we are and why we do what we do in terms of missions.”
“Kids today do not know our Baptist story. Everything we do at YEC Camp goes back to an intentional opportunity to lay the foundation of who we are as Tennessee Baptists,” Barbier stressed.
In addition, while the youth are involved in activities and Bible studies, Barbier and others led sessions for the youth leaders who accompany their teens to camp. It is easy to burn out as a youth leader, Barbier noted. “We want to invest in them. Tennessee Baptists are not a hierarchy. We want to serve the local church.”
Steve Littleton, pastor of Gibson Baptist Church, Gibson, led Bible studies at both camps this year and his wife, Susan, joined him to minister at the camp held at Linden Valley.
In addition to teaching today’s youth about what it means to be a Baptist, it’s also important to teach them at an early age to be involved in the life of the church, Littleton observed. He noted that his generation (Littleton recently turned 50) is one of the last generations “that grew up in churches that recognized the value and importance of being in church.”
“We have dropped the ball in teaching our kids the importance and value of church in their lives,” he observed. “So many things have taken the place of church. … It’s just not a priority today.”
Littleton noted the youth he dealt with at camp were receptive. They have paid attention during the Bible studies and have come up afterwards to talk and share prayer concerns.
“They are soaking it up,” he said.
The Gibson County pastor said he heard a speaker once proclaim that youth are not the church of tomorrow, but they are the church of today. “That is why we need to pour into them,” he said.
Paul Frick, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Wartburg, helped bring six of the church’s youth to the YEC Camp. While some of them had been to TBMB-sponsored camps for children, it was the first youth camp for all of them.
Frick noted that youth camp builds cohesiveness among the group and helps them to get to know youth from other churches. In addition, they receive exceptional teaching, preaching and worship, Frick added.
But one of the best benefits from Frick’s perspective is that the youth and the entire church are seeing the church’s Cooperative Program dollars at work. “Our church is a huge supporter of the Cooperative Program. We give a report to the church and are able to share with the congregation about the great resources we have with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“It helps them to see the return on their Kingdom investment they are making (through their CP gifts).” B&R