Half a century ago North Carolina Baptist representatives laced up their boots and climbed the surprisingly mountainous terrain of central North Carolina as they scouted a location for a Royal Ambassador summer camp. A site of interest was found at the northern tip of the Uwharries, a mountain range appearing as an island in the middle of N.C.’s Piedmont. The property in Randolph County was purchased and the ministry of Camp Caraway was born. Today this beautiful location attracts more than 20,000 guests a year and goes by the name Caraway Conference Center and Camp. However, the summer camp program facilitated by N.C. Baptist Men will always be known as Camp Caraway.
In 1963 the first Royal Ambassador summer camp program took place on the property, and since that first N.C. Baptist boot imprinted in the red dirt, the staff of Camp Caraway have been leading campers on a path toward a deeper relationship with God. Many current N.C. Baptist pastors, missionaries and laymen embraced their faith walk in the middle of this 1,100-acre oak-covered property. While it is important to recognize Caraway’s history of faith development, it is also important to remember those who made Camp Caraway’s story possible.
Over the last 50 years Camp Caraway has operated under the leadership of 13 summer camp program directors. These directors are responsible for the successful facilitation of a program that has led to countless boys understanding that their lives have purpose in Christ. Campers at Camp Caraway are also taught about the importance of missions. They’re encouraged to consider how their talents might be used to share their faith with others. With such an awesome responsibility, former directors express their heart for its continued ministry.
Tom Beam, student mobilization consultant with N.C. Baptist Men, held the reins of Camp Caraway from 1999 to 2007. He states “the greatest nine summers of my life occurred while being the director of Camp Caraway. Every part of camp interested me – from planning and promoting, to seeing God use the camp staff well beyond camp.” He goes on to add, “I enjoy hearing from former campers who are living a life committed to Christ, while knowing that … Caraway was a huge part of that commitment.”
Kendell Cameron, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mt. Holly, remembers his days at the helm of Camp Caraway from 1990 to 1993 with fondness. “My favorite moment each week was the commitment service at the chapel on the lake. I loved watching 200 campers converge on that beautiful, holy spot. Ultimately, what made that spot holy for me was not the beautiful vista, but the view of watching boys make commitments for Christ,” he said. “In my years as director, I worked with some of the finest Christian young men. Today, these men serve all over as pastors, missionaries, youth ministers, deacons, and they’re involved as laymen in the work of their church. God blessed me with the opportunity to minister to the boys of N.C. and to serve with some outstanding men who continue to contribute as N.C. Baptists.”
Ben Sutton is president of IMG College, the largest collegiate sports marketing company in the nation. In 1982, 10 years before Ben ventured into the collegiate sports business, he served as the fifth summer camp program director of Camp Caraway. Like Tom and Kendell, Ben recalls great memories of how Camp Caraway has touched his life, and the life of his family.
“Caraway has been a tremendously important part of the fabric of our family’s life,” Sutton said. “My grandfather, Douglas Branch (former president and executive director of the N.C. Baptist State Convention) and Bill Jackson (Caraway’s first director) walked the property 50 years ago, eventually acquiring it through the N.C. Baptist State Convention. Coming here to work for the first time in 1978 seemed completely natural to me. The four summers I spent here were like a little slice of heaven. I worked with some of the most dedicated folks I have ever had the privilege to serve alongside.”
Concerning the vital work of Camp Caraway’s ministry, Ben continues “literally seeing lives changed as a result of the investment in our campers made it one of the most satisfying experiences I’ll ever have.”
In less than a month, summer staff will begin to unload their belongings into the cabins that will be home for the summer. Their initial nervousness will soon turn to an excited realization that this will be no ordinary summer. Mark Moore, Camp Caraway’s 13th summer camp program director, will guide the staff through two weeks of staff training. As the staff members train, prepare and practice for their responsibilities, the most important tasks they have ever been assigned will begin to resonate in them.
They will also realize that they are part of a long, legendary tradition. Parents from all over the state will soon be sending their boys to camp for a week, and it will be the awesome responsibility of the staff to care for these campers. More importantly, it will be the responsibility of the staff to lead the campers toward a deeper relationship with God, just as they have for the last 50 years.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeremy Jackson is the associate director of Caraway Conference Center and Camp. Camp Caraway will celebrate 50 years July 21.)