Building a deeper relationship with God is focus of Camp Pinnacle


Girls at Camp Pinnacle learn the importance on prayer and listening to God's voice away from the distractions of the outside world. JOE WESTBURY/Index

CLAYTON — On a warm summer afternoon, a half-dozen young girls sit in a large swing, Bibles open. The silence is deafening as the only sound comes from waves gently lapping the shore of Camp Pinnacle Lake.

The girls – and more than a dozen others from their cabin – are observing their quiet time where they reflect on Bible verses.

In 2017 it's just another camp experience which most of the girls will probably forget, checking it off as just another spiritual exercise for the moment. But if experience is any indicator, it's one of the most frequently mentioned exercises cited by those same individuals 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.

The fun and games are exciting and mountain hikes not something the girls get to enjoy back home. But that weeklong interaction with missionaries from the North American and International Mission boards, along with the scriptural challenges, are what make a lasting impact.

Members of the Camp Pinnacle Alumni Association regularly cite those quiet time moments as the most influential of their camp experience.

'Camp Pinnacle ... a place where the Spirit dwells'

Kaitlyn Malia from Macon put it as succinctly as any when she reflected for a moment and said, “As a younger camper I felt Camp Pinnacle was a place where the Spirit dwells, where God calls people to service in a deeper walk.”

Raven Downing, who attends Jodeco Baptist Church in Stockbridge, listens as a missionary tells of his journey in trusting God in all things. JOE WESTBURY/Index

And those calls came many times in those quiet times by the lake. That is what sets the summer camp, owned and operated by the Georgia Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union, apart from others which may have a Bible focus but without the mentoring from a Southern Baptist missionary.

Danielle Williams, sitting at an adjacent weathered picnic table, was already beginning to sense that something was special about the afternoon.

“You get to focus on God for a week without distraction,” the member of First Baptist Church of Lawrenceville explained. You can talk to Him anytime in the year but camp removes all of those distractions, those things that keep you from being really focused.”

The teens sitting under the trees that late June afternoon were among 704 campers building their spiritual muscles without knowing it. The camp ran for seven weeks this summer, ending with its final session July 14.

Madison Grubbs in pink and Stephanie Cannon in blue participate in quiet time at Camp Pinnacle where they reflect on scripture and what they have learned. Grubbs attends Midway West Baptist Church in Carrollton while Cannon attends Crossroads Church in Newnan. Other campers in the background include Alexandra Lastinger on the far left, a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Clarksville, and in orange, Susana Albernas from Harmony Hill Baptist Church in Gainesville. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Celebrating 70 years in September

For every June and July since 1947, girls like Williams have returned to renew acquaintances and learn more about God’s claim on their lives. Pinnacle celebrates 70 years during the Women on Mission Series at Pinnacle Retreat Center, Sept. 15-16. Find out more about this event and the Pinnacle celebration at

Later that afternoon the girls convened in their cabins to rub shoulders with missionaries. Ryan Rice, a church planter missionary in New Orleans, shared the struggles and blessings he regularly encounters in an historically religious but unchurched society.

“New Orleans is such a spiritual place, so many of the residents have some kind of spiritual or church background. But that means you have to pull back a lot of layers to know what they mean when you talk about God,” Rice explains.

“Our church, which my wife and I helped start in January 2015, baptized five new believers just two weeks ago … but it took a year to get them to that point.

NAMB church planter: 'You spend a lot of time building a relationship, building trust'

“You need to spend a lot of time building a relationship, building trust. Sometimes they walk away; sometimes they come back. But it’s all a work of God to walk out the discipling process to bring people from Point A to Point B so you can move them to Point C.”

NAMB church planter missionary Ryan Rice shares the joys and difficulties of starting a church in his hometown of Algiers, near New Orleans. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Rice said he was enjoying his week with the young girls.

“I have so much to share with them about how God is working in New Orleans. This one-on-one brings a special dimension to life that you can’t get any other way. The girls get a two-way communication with a missionary and can be challenged to see that God can do the same thing in their lives … and that missionaries are just normal flesh-and-blood people like they are.

“God is just using missionaries for His glory just like anyone else, depending on how much of themselves they make available to Him.”

Ryan Rice

In another cabin other campers listen to Chuck Johnson, formerly of the International Mission Board. Johnson served for 20 years with the Richmond, VA-based agency before he accepted a Voluntary Retirement Incentive through a downsizing in late 2015.

In that role the Thomaston native coordinated the work of volunteers from the States who were coming to Central American and the Caribbean. He was responsible for encouraging U.S. churches to consider long-term relationship with those in the islands.

Former IMB missionary: 'Youth groups feel safe, the language is familiar, and the distance is not that far'

"One out of every two Southern Baptists go on a mission trip to that part of the world. Youth groups feel safe, the language is familiar, and the distance is not that far,” he says.

Camp Pinnacle campers learned about reaching the unchurched in Central America and the Caribbean from former IMB missionary Chuck Johnson from Thomaston. JOE WESTBURY/Index

Much of the ministry focuses on encouraging churches to begin evangelism and outreach projects that could lead to a church plant. Training local leaders is also a priority.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for teens to reach other teens because young adults relate so well to each other. The locals love to practice their English on those who come and bonds grow very quickly,” he explained.

Johnson said he was enjoying his Pinnacle experience because of the opportunity to encourage the girls to pray for a different culture and explore ways they could share their faith on a mission trip – such as the one he experienced as a Georgia Baptist Mission Board summer missionary while at Shorter University.

Chuck Johnson

After the session ended the girls exchanged cabins and listened to the other missionary in a similar setting. Learning about North American, as well as international, missions provides a complete experience for the teens, both agreed.

“I really enjoy being at Camp Pinnacle,” Melissa Lanier, from Tabernacle Baptist Church in Carrollton, said as she walked to the other cabin.

“I love how everyone is so loving here. Everyone listens to you and it’s such a great environment to learn about God.”

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Camp Pinnacle, missionaries, students, Tabitha Fewell