DULUTH — When Royal Ambassadors (RAs) formed in 1908, it was about the only “game” in town. Boy Scouts of America had not formed yet and Little League baseball would not play its first game in Williamsport, PA for another 31 years.
For more than 2 million boys in Southern Baptist churches, the RA chapter was their connection to not just missions learning, but male mentoring, camp crafts, and adventure. RAs was the farm system that developed future Southern Baptist pastors, missionaries, and male church leaders.
Churches like First Baptist, Statesboro continue to place a high emphasis on RAs.
“First Baptist has long valued a strong missions heritage, and our RA program gives us the opportunity to impact the future of missions around the world,” said Susan Allen, First Baptist’s children’s minister.
A healthy RA ministry is contingent upon committed male leadership. Leaders at First Baptist Statesboro have seen a renewed interest by the men to influence the next generation for Christ, Allen said.
“Learning about missions, doing missions, and praying and giving to missions combined with times of overnight camping and fun field trips have given our men the opportunity to impact the lives of their own sons as well as the lives of a number of boys being raised by single moms,” Allen said. “Plus, they are reaching boys from foster families, many of whom are hearing about Jesus for the first time.”
RAs the Georgia Baptist way
Georgia Baptist state missionary Mike Flowers is the Cooperative Program-supported RA consultant. He also manages Camp Kaleo in Forsyth, the state RA camp. Flowers recalls training the leaders at First Baptist Statesboro and teaching them to lead Royal Ambassadors the Georgia Baptist way.
Flowers encourages churches to use the missionary story from the mission education magazines, but then he provides resources to train in camp craft and missions skills.
“The boys don’t want to make cakes and cookies,” Flowers said. “The churches need to get the boys outdoors and do interesting events like hiking, rock climbing, caving, and high adventure.”
Jonathan Tolbert is the family and children’s minister at Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens. He recently took boys and girls from Beech Haven to Camp Kaleo for a church adventure camp. His first experience at Camp Kaleo left a good impression.
“I just loved the manliness of the counselors and the setup of the camp,” Tolbert said. “I think a real struggle with our culture today is knowing what masculinity is and needing to see it from Christian men particularly.”
Camp Kaleo is not only the state RA camp, but it also serves area families with a day camp and is a church camp venue. During the first month of camp this summer, more than 80 campers, mostly RAs, made professions of faith.
Families have more choices
The number of decisions could be higher if more campers attended. But RAs is no longer the only “game” in town.
Georgians now have many options for their children. More often than not, they aren’t choosing discipleship ministries like RAs.
Families cancelled up to 40% of this year’s reservations for their children to attend Camp Kaleo. One church with 40 reservations had 20 cancellations.
“The issue is a four-letter word – ball,” Flowers said. “Families are sacrificing their sons and daughters on the altar of ball. You know it’s frustrating for the churches, too.”
If a church de-emphasizes gender-specific ministries like RAs, it eventually pays a price.
“They lose sight of the end goal of producing godly men, men with purpose, to be on mission with Christ in all the mission fields of life,” Flowers said. “It’s not something that’s just caught, it’s taught.”
Jim Burton is a writer and photojournalist living in Cumming. For more information about Royal Ambassadors, visit http://gabaptist.org/mensministries/. Camp Kaleo information is available at www.campkaleo.org.