CLAYTON — On a warm July afternoon a line of young girls walk single-file across the campus at Camp Pinnacle. They weave here and there, dodge the hot sun and seeking the cool shade when possible.
When they get to the lake, some take a seat on the ground, others in the swing or the picnic table. Morgan Benefield, camp staffer/counselor/cabin leader/jack-of-all –trades begins a Bible study.
Her young wards for the week fidget a little but soon become engrossed in her storytelling. Before long they listen to every word and quickly raise their hands with answers to her questions.
Earlier that day 2A Cabin leaders Manzhen Chen and Bukky Subulade led another long line of campers to a wooded area behind the swimming pool. Soon the shade parted and the girls walked into a bright clearing where bows and arrows were lined up.
For the next half hour or so the girls became archers, some pulling the bows tightly and letting an arrow fly through the air for the first time. Some hit the target, others didn’t come close. But it was all about fun in a Christian environment and learning lessons about hitting the mark in life.
Later that afternoon Keyanna Imgrund walked yet another line of campers through the woods to a setting that looked like a deserted village of sorts. A village of worn tents with clothes hanging outside to dry and sparsely furnished within.
A depressing village of worn tents
As Imgrund taught, the girls learned what it would be like to be a refugee, leave their home, and live in tents for years at a time. They learned about the biblical admonition about loving immigrants, refugees, and displaced people.
The women are only three of the 27 staffers who served this summer at the summer camp operated by Georgia Baptist Women’s Missionary Union. And they are only 27 of the hundreds spanning seven decades who have poured themselves into the young lives of the next generation.
The staffers are the unsung heroes of summer camp, the women who, only a year or two removed, were campers themselves. As they grew and matured they came to realize the dedication of those who were their selfless mentors and wanted to walk in their shoes.
One by one the women tell stories of how summer at Pinnacle changed their lives by making the Bible become real. That, in turn, leads to a deeper spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ.
What makes Pinnacle different from other summer camps is its distinctive Southern Baptist emphasis. While others do just as good of a job teaching scripture, campers at the North Georgia site regularly hear from missionaries supported through the Cooperative Program.
That, in turn, ingrains an appreciation for those individuals and the economic process of sacrificial giving which keeps those missionaries on the field. There is also an added dimension. Sometimes their mentor answers the call to missions, serves a shorttime assignment, and returns to share those personal experiences the next summer.
Missions in action
It’s missions in action.
Imgrund, a junior at Valdosta State University, says she has always loved missions and learned about the Cooperative Program through friends at her school’s BCM.
“I learned so much about Southern Baptist missionaries through my group and they were always talking about being involved in missions. I know that God will reveal himself to those who have never heard of him but that does not absolve us from going and sharing our faith like it says in the Great Commission,” she says.
“It’s like you have a real special gift that you want to share with everyone. That’s what I am enjoying teaching the girls this summer.”
The member of Valdosta’s Perimeter Road Baptist Church says she wants to be part of that team of staffers who are “raising up the next generation of women who fear God and love Him. I have had many such women in my life who taught me to be a godly woman. I felt this strong responsibility to place myself in this role in the lives of these young girls,” she added.
The theme of mentorship surfaces almost like clockwork when the staffers explain why they want to reinvest themselves in the lives of those who are coming behind them. Some receive a stipend for their work, others return as volunteers for a week or two.
Kaytlyn Malia spent a week each for two summers at Camp Pinnacle because her parents financially invested in her spiritual future. Then she returned for five summers as a staffer, mentoring young girls and earning a little money for her college years.
Last year she returned as a volunteer as a gesture of appreciation for the camp’s role in shaping her into a godly woman.
Alumni Association creates bond among former staffers
Malia is one of more than 30 former staffers who joined the Camp Pinnacle Alumni Association since it was launched in 2013. As word spreads about the fellowship, its numbers continue to grow.
“As a camper I felt like this was a place where the Spirit dwells, where God calls people to serve or into a deeper walk with Him,” the Macon resident explains.
She says she is grateful for the GAs program at Tom’s Creek Baptist Church, which introduced her to the camp.
“At Pinnacle we learn to live the Great Commission, both as campers and as staff. A week at camp can really make an eternal difference in a young girls’ life,” she adds.
Malia says the camp, located just outside of this north Georgia town at the foot of Mount Pinnacle, “is a refreshing, renewing place to spend your week or your summer. It has such an incredible legacy … Georgia Woman’s Missionary Union and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board have prayed over it for years and created a legacy you can sense just by walking across the campus.”
Others staffers this summer readily agreed.
Benefield is one of those previous campers who returned this year to “pay back” the Pinnacle blessings in her life. She spent 8 years as a camper and the past 2 on the staff, serving as counselor and spiritual guide for her wards.
“God does a lot here every summer,” she says during a break. I was saved here during my first summer,” she says.
Not only did I accept Christ here but a few years later received my call to international missions on a February retreat. It happened right over there in the chapel where I was also saved,” Benefield says as she points to the historic white building.
She is the only believer in her family and is grateful she was brought to Pinnacle by the GAs leader at the church she was attending. Today she serves on the leadership staff at the University of North Georgia BCM.
A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Glass took a minute to rest after pulling kayaks out of the lake with fellow staffer Imgrund. The morning free time was over and the lake surface had settled into a natural calm after being beaten by numerous paddles with campers with energy to spare.
The Albany woman enjoyed a decade as a camper before returning this year as a staff member.
It doesn’t take long for her to say why she was giving this summer to Camp Pinnacle.
“I wanted to give back to the next generation what had been poured into me through all those years. Camp Pinnacle has played a huge role in developing my relationship with Jesus, and I will be forever grateful for that. It was in the Vespers Garden that Jesus called me to be His Friend and follow him.
“I was already saved but that was a moment of spiritual renewal for me … a realization of how much I needed to be totally surrendered to Him and not just see my faith as a weekend experience.”