FORT CASWELL — A quick survey of the auditorium after an evening worship session during Youth Weeks 2009 indicates that for some, the evening is far from over.
Youth linger about, some clustered in corners of the room. Heads and arms are draped over pews as prayers and counseling continue.
A line forms to meet with the speaker for prayer and guidance. The precious minutes of free time before bedtime tick away, but for those remaining in Hatch, they don’t seem to want to be anywhere else.
Since its dedication in 1968, Hatch Auditorium has been the home of many stories. The building continues to host children, youth and adults at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell. This year Caswell celebrates its 60th anniversary of being owned and operated by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
Youth weeks continue to draw the largest crowd at Caswell. Nearly 7,000 youth in middle school and high school came to Caswell this year for eight youth weeks, 400 students made first time professions of faith, 3,600 students rededicated their life to Jesus Christ, and 71 students surrendered to full-time Christian ministry.
Taking it home
Jeff Foster and Paul Welborn sat outside Faith Baptist Church’s cottage talking with a few youth. Foster, a church member and second-year chaperone, and Welborn, youth pastor, are best friends. Last year Foster experienced Caswell and youth weeks for the first time, and one week is all it took to push him into action.
Foster did not want youth week to be a week soon forgotten once they arrived back in Archdale, so he organized “Feed the Need.”
The all-day event held earlier this year included a food drive, clothing drive, blood drive, car wash, concert and message from Welborn. “Instead of just having another event we wanted to focus on what we could do to meet needs in the community,” Foster said. “We wanted it to be outreach. It can’t be about us.” The Faith Baptist youth group and local churches worked together to host the event. Foster described “Feed the Need” as one of the “most impacting” events in his life.
Painting and chatting
When Sara Caulder sits down with her canvas painting class during free time, technique isn’t what is foremost in her mind. Caulder, a third-year BeDoTell staff member and recent graduate of Appalachian State University, asks the students about what they learned in worship. Before long they are sharing with Caulder about the challenges of being a teenager in middle school. It seems that with a little care and attention, youth open up.
Caulder said conversations with campers are priceless and she has seen campers “confessing their sins and laying down their pride.”
Week after week she watches as students are broken — broken at the thought of their sin and the power of God to transform their life.
“It is an honor to be here,” she said. “We are learning and growing just like the students. God’s working in my life, too.”
During lunch one day, chaperones from Mount Beulah Baptist Church in Wadesboro shared about what it’s like to a veteran camper — and counselor. Michele Hinson came to Caswell every year in grades 7-12 and at Caswell she prayed to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.
The first year her oldest son was old enough to come she attended as a chaperone. That was seven years ago, and this year makes seven years in a row for Hinson as a Caswell chaperone and counselor.
She has two sons, a nephew and a niece attending Caswell this year.
“The minute you step on the grounds — I just love the atmosphere,” she said. “My boys now know what I felt like.”
From pictures as screensavers to old meal tickets, “our home is full of Caswell memories,” Hinson said. More than that, Hinson said her family leaves Caswell knowing God more, because at Caswell, youth are taught how to live a Christian life.
Mercy and grace
“Do you think more about your pain than you do about His resurrection power?” asked Derwin Gray during a Wednesday evening worship service. All week long speaker Gray challenged students to model purity in their lives, and to lay all their hurts, struggles and sins at the cross.
He asked students to consider whether or not their life reflected sexual purity.
At the end of the service student after student came to the front of Hatch to pray with a youth leader and to confess sin.
“What’s in the darkness Satan controls,” Gray said.
Rising high school junior Jamie Buckley heard those words and was the first youth to stand and walk to the front after the service.
“There were secrets in my life I had to get out,” Buckley said. “I’d been wearing this mask for so long.”
Later that night the youth from Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem met for church group devotions, males meeting together and females meeting together, and Buckley again confessed his sins to his friends. What happened that night during devotions Buckley described as life-changing.
After that night, “we weren’t a youth group — we were a bunch of brothers,” he said. “I cried my eyes out.” That night Buckley shared sins he struggled with and one by one, other youth group members also shared.
They realized, some for the first time, the importance of accountability.
Buckley knows that what he learned at Caswell and the commitments he made will change the way he lives. He has friends he needs to talk with back home. Yet, he is no longer afraid of rejection. He is no longer afraid of stepping out of darkness and into light, for he knows that by God’s grace and mercy, God is changing his heart.