At age five Mac Johnson’s dad left him, his younger brother and his mom. Johnson said he watched his father’s mental illness drive his father away from those who loved him most.
“My dad was my hero. I didn’t know why God would take such a valuable person away from me,” Johnson said. “I was so angry with my dad. I didn’t think there was any way God could love me.”
During his teenage years Johnson’s grades slipped, he was depressed and physically starved himself. Yet, through mentors and a mother who continued loving and teaching him about Christ, he came to trust in God’s love.
“I realized I didn’t have to let my background define me,” he said. “I could live a life of significance in Christ.”
This summer Johnson shared his story with students during youth weeks at Fort Caswell. Johnson, who will graduate from the College at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in December, led large group Bible study sessions for each of the seven youth weeks.
Youth weeks, sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), draws nearly 7,000 middle and high school students each year.
For Johnson, Caswell is like a second home, as he has spent nearly 12 summers at Caswell helping with Youth Weeks. His mom, Merrie Johnson, is the BSC senior consultant for student evangelism and ministry and coordinates summer youth weeks. “Caswell and Youth Weeks have taught me about being a man of integrity and about leadership. I’ve learned more about what it means to follow Jesus,” he said. “Our words paint a picture of our testimony. Don’t just be a Christian on Sunday and Wednesday; make your life line up everyday.”
BeDoTell photo by Lou Owoc
Ashley Seagle, left, and Jonathan Wyndham, right, lead worship at Youth Weeks. The worship team is made up of college students, and they spend the summer facilitating Youth Weeks at Fort Caswell.
This year’s Youth Weeks theme was “Speak Up, Step Up, Stand Up,” based on 1 Timothy 4:12. Students were challenged to live in a manner that honors and glorifies God. They learned how to be witnesses for Christ in their speech, conduct love and faith.
“Are we living in the name of Jesus?” said Chad Poe, who served as the camp speaker one week this summer. “God works through limited people to make Himself known.”
Poe encouraged students to trust that Jesus will work in their lives to accomplish His Kingdom purposes, even during difficult situations.
“In the midst of this broken world, Jesus provides comfort” he said. “Everything that is broken about this world points to the idea that we need someone to fix it.”
In order to stand up for their faith students must continue growing in their knowledge of Christ, yet they must not forsake growing in their relationship with Christ. “We’re so caught up in being self-righteous that we’ve confused being a spiritually mature person with knowing stuff,” Poe said.
Ashley Huneycutt, minister of students at Hopewell Baptist Church in Monroe, has brought youth to Caswell for about 11 years.
“Caswell is a time for our youth to be discipled, and it gives them a chance to be who they are,” he said. “It is a developing ground for them to begin owning their faith.”
As a result of participating in Youth Weeks, Huneycutt has traveled twice to Haiti to help deliver food with Change This World.
In 2011, Merrie Johnson led youth weeks students to partner with Change This World, a ministry to help send food to people all over the world who have little to eat. Through Change This World, organizations, churches and individuals can feed someone for a quarter a meal.
She decided that all of the money given by students to the Youth Weeks missions offering would go toward providing meals for people in Haiti. In 2011, students provided for 200,000 meals and last year they gave $80,000, making it possible to send 300,000 meals to Haiti. This summer students not only sent meals to Haiti, but are helping support orphanage children and teachers.
Earlier this year Huneycutt and a group from Hopewell delivered meals in Haiti that they packaged with their church. “It could have ended at Caswell, but we took it home,” Huneycutt said. “Other people saw the need. We wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Caswell has helped give my church an opportunity to serve.”
Merrie Johnson recognizes the need for parents and youth leaders to be more active in discipling their youth and helping them find ways to serve in their community and around the world.
“We’ve got to do more to equip our adults,” she said. “If no one is living the Christian life out before our students, they won’t know how to do it.”