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Calvary Campers complete relief mission

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By Geoff Hamill

In 1960, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Coulter, members of the Willisburg Christian Church, donated 26 acres of land to be used as a spiritual camp for kids. The first group of 86 campers arrived in the summer of 1963 and learned about the teachings of Jesus Christ. Since those early days, the camp has expanded to more than 400 acres. Dormitories, meeting halls and a covered pavilion have been built. Last year, more than 1,200 campers attended events at Camp Calvary.

The mission of Camp Calvary is “to provide a spiritual atmosphere by training campers to be fully equipped as mature Christians.  Examples to the world, they will lead the lost to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” A group of Camp Calvary alumni recently completed a week-long  trip to a poverty-stricken area of Kentucky, where they worked to help people in need.

Taylor Sawyer, 18, of Willisburg, said the friends had one thing in common - Camp Calvary.

“It’s a group of friends that only knew each other from camp,” she said. “We all got close, outside of camp, but it was all because of camp that we were all acquainted.”

Jordan Settles, 22, of Mackville, attended Camp Calvary as a youngster and now serves as a faculty member. Last August, Settles and a group of other adults returned home from a relief trip to Haiti. Soon after returning from Haiti, Camp Calvary manager Alan Cooper called Settles.

“We had barely been home 24 hours and he talked to me,” Settles said. “He said, ‘y’all want to go back?’ I thought, ‘this is probably not the best time to ask us because we’re all wore out.’ But everybody was so ready to go back.”

Settles and Cooper discussed taking high school students along on a second relief trip to Haiti.

“Where we went in Haiti, we were like, ‘no,’ said Settles. “It was just too rough. It was too much for them. So, we were trying to figure out something to do with the high schoolers.”

The two friends decided a relief trip – closer to home - would help prepare the youngsters for overseas missions.

“What we hoped to do was, through this trip, was to kind of give them a taste of mission work and then, when they turn 18, they’ll be ready to go with us overseas, if they want to,” said Settles.

A minister from Campton, in Wolfe County, was part of the Haiti group and had told Jordan and Cooper about needs in that area. The two friends organized a group of 10 students and six adults to travel to Wolfe County, in eastern Kentucky, to help people in need.

The high schoolers traveling to Wolfe County were Sydney Sawyer, Brady Sawyer, McCoy Brown, Quinn Brown, Makayla Cummins, Nancy Clark, Shelby White, Bryana Crain and Emilee Lewis. The adults leaders of the trip were Settles, Taylor Sawyer, Cody Young, Tara Watkins, Jane Clay Kephart and Holli White.

The week in eastern Kentucky was a busy one for the volunteers. On Monday, the group cut and stacked firewood for elderly and disabled residents. On Tuesday, rain stopped work on firewood, so the group tried to contact the operator of a local goodwill, who desperately needed help unloading a truck.

“She had no idea how she was going to do it,” said Settles. “She prayed about it Monday. When she’s at work, she never hears her phone. On Tuesday, for whatever reason – and I know the reason – she heard the phone. So we were able to get it set up and unloaded this truck for her and cleaned out this little building that she uses.”

On Wednesday, the group fixed some storm-damaged homes and made some home repairs for people in need. Thursday saw what Settles and Taylor Sawyer both consider the most memorable part of the trip – a visit with boys at Woodsbend Youth Development Center, a Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice facility in West Liberty.

“We had 10 high schoolers that we took along,” said Sawyer. “Some of them are really outgoing but some of them are just really quiet and reserved, so it takes them awhile to warm up. We’re taking them to this place where all these boys are here because they did something pretty serious.

“I thought, ‘these kids who are really shy anyway, who won’t talk to other kids at camp – how are they going to do with these boys?’ I could picture them sitting at a table and just staring at them. But it was awesome to see. They hadn’t been sitting down for two minutes and there’s probably five or six boys at every table and then one or two of us. They instantly hit it off. They were talking about anything. They were laughing. They were joking.”

Settles agreed – it was a special visit.

“That night at Woodsbend, we had some kinds who were shy,” he said. “We really didn’t know how they would respond to it and they jumped right in. The boys opened up and it was, by far, the best part of the trip. I don’t think we had a kid who didn’t say that was the best part of the week.”

Sports talk helped break the ice.

“I kind of decided ahead of time, if they wanted to volunteer information on why they were there, then that was fine,” said Sawyer. “But I wasn’t going to ask them anything. So, we just started talking about sports and that’s all we talked about. But they loved it. We talked about baseball and football and basketball and they couldn’t have been happier.”

Settles characterized the trip as an opportunity.

“Our whole week was based on Matthew 25:31-46,” he said. “You saw me hungry and you gave me something to eat. You saw me thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and in prison and you came to visit me. God gave us the opportunity to do every part of that Scripture.”

On Friday, the volunteers took a well-deserved day off and visited nearby Green River.

The group is planning a return visit to Woodsbend next year.

For more information on Camp Calvary, see campcalvaryky.com.