For more than 50 years, Caraway Conference Center and Camp operated a boy’s program in the summer and offered a year-round retreat and conference destination for Baptist churches. Six years ago, Caraway staff began discussing the decreasing summer attendance at the 1,100-acre facility near Asheboro, N.C.
Caraway Conference Center photo
Children celebrate during a game at Caraway’s summer coed camps. The N.C. Baptist conference center and camp near Asheboro once limited summer camps to boys, but has seen growing success after expanding its programs to include all children.
Royal Ambassadors (RAs), the boys mission program of the Southern Baptist Convention, once provided a steady stream of summer campers. But a decline in RA programs resulted in a significant drop in the number of camp attendees. That prompted Caraway’s leadership to convert the summer program to a children’s camp for boys and girls.
“The demand for boy’s week was just not there like it was in our heyday in the ‘80s,” said Jimmy Huffman, Caraway’s director.
“There was a time when we ran 1,600 boys during the summer, but it dropped to a low of 400,” he said. “We’ve had a tremendous run with our boy’s camp in partnership with N.C. Baptist Men. It’s been very successful. Almost 70,000 boys have attended in those 56 years.”
Two members of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s board of directors asked why there was not a convention sponsored coed Baptist camp for children in the state, according to Huffman.
“They were taking their children to a non-Baptist camp. That triggered us to do something new,” he said.
The coed camp for first grade through sixth grade children has seen “phenomenal success” according to Huffman, comparing the new children’s program to Fort Caswell’s camp for youth.
Mark Moore, children’s program director at Caraway, said Caraway still operates a one-week “boys only” camp, in addition to five weeks of children’s camps and a two-night camp around July 4th.
Caraway also offers specialty “parent-child” retreats, Moore said, pointing out how they are unique.
“There are none that exist that do what we do in the recreational programming where the mother-daughter, mother-son and father-daughter can do those things together in a camp setting, yet stay in a private, hotel style bedroom,” he said.
Parent-child retreats and coed camps drew approximately 1,000 children this summer, Moore said, estimating the overall boy-girl ratio to be about 50-50, with girls slightly outnumbering boys during the coed weeks.
“We started ‘Grand Camp’ in 2014, and it has doubled every year,” said Jeff Kohns, Caraway’s associate director.
Grand Camp allows grandparents and their grandchildren or great-grandchildren, ages 6-12, to enjoy activities and Bible study time together. Some come with one grandchild, but one brought six grandchildren to the camp, Kohns said.
Twelve family units of 37 people attended the first year. This year more than 50 family groups of 154 participants came.
“When we started the camp, I thought this might be a ‘one and done’ thing,” said Kohns, “but it’s really become a legacy that grandparents want to leave to their grandchildren.”
In 2019 Caraway plans to offer two sessions of Grand Camp – one will run Sunday through Tuesday, with a second camp from Thursday through Saturday.
“We’ve found that some grandparents are raising their grandchildren,” Huffman said, “so this gives them something different to do together, something they don’t have to plan – just show up and enjoy it.”
Moore sees the camps as Caraway’s way of fulfilling the convention’s vision of impacting lostness through disciple-making.
“All of our programs are very intentional to share the gospel of Jesus Christ verbally and practically, but also equip children and the chaperones with how to share their faith,” he said.
“All of our summer programs have an emphasis on missions and sharing their faith.”
Dan Kiefer, student pastor at Concord Baptist Church in Granite Falls, N.C., has taken boys and girls to Camp Caraway for the last four summers.
“Our kids love going to Camp Caraway,” he told the Biblical Recorder.
Caraway Conference Center photo
There are many recreational activities for children and adults, including water-based slides and canoes, as well as ropes courses. Caraway Conference Center offers “Grand Camp,” too. Grandparents are encouraged to bring children or great-grandchildren.
“The children are outdoors swimming in the lake or the pool, going on hikes, playing Gaga ball, learning about archery and air rifles, playing bazooka ball, fishing, carving wood, going down the zip lines, climbing the rock wall and even throwing tomahawks. There is just so much to do at Camp Caraway,” Kiefer said.
The spiritual focus of the camp is important to Kiefer.
“In devotions the kids learn to read and apply God’s Word on their own,” he said.
Adult leaders show children how to have a deep and meaningful daily devotion.
The camp pastor leads worship and a career missionary tells the children how God is working in different parts of the world.
“Camp Caraway is a well-balanced camp that teaches kids how to be followers of Jesus while also providing an awesome camp experience. It reminds me of what camp was like when I was a kid – except the cabins are air conditioned,” Kiefer said.
Arvil Pennington, associate pastor of preschool and children’s ministries at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro, said their boys and girls “love their experience” at Caraway.
“It allows them to get away from their electronic devices and enjoy and interact with nature. Children need to be learning interactive life skills by socializing with their peers, problem solving and learning to be resourceful,” Pennington said.
“I especially appreciate the attention to detail that is given by Mark Moore and his staff.
College students on the staff show genuine interest in the boys and girls. The meals are child friendly, but well planned and nutritious. The facilities that North Carolina Baptists have provided are excellent.
“Our families are already asking for the 2019 dates for Camp Caraway. They want to protect that week on their family calendars,” said Pennington.
Kohns said a year-long Bible study called, “Keys for Kids,” goes home with each camper. He recently received an email from a grandfather who said he and his grandson individually work through the devotional book, then discuss it together by phone.
Sandra Montague, minister to children at First Baptist Church in Matthews, said the church decided to take their rising fifth and sixth-graders to Caraway the first year that coed camps launched.
“The awesome outdoor experiences coupled with the excellent staff, great worship and solid Bible study made Camp Caraway the real camp experience we were looking for!” she said.
A participant with the Matthews camp group, Connor Woodman, said the counselors were “extremely nice to all the campers and were fair when it came to the games.
“Camp Caraway is extremely fun because every day is packed full of different things to do. The skill and recreation classes are stellar. In everything you do, they still find a way to make it point to God.
“Whenever I go there, I always feel much closer to God because of the people I’m surrounded by. This past summer when I was on the lake, I canoed over to a cross by the road and asked Jesus into my heart,” he said.
Visit caraway.org for camp schedules and more information.