Wintford (right) and Martha Haynes (center) are recognized at a National Campers on Mission rally for their 45 years of service. Also pictured is Bill Foster, former Alabama COM president.
Photo courtesy of Wintford Haynes

Campers on Mission a ‘great blessing’ for volunteers as well as recipients

First Baptist Church, Union Grove, is getting a new Family Life Center, thanks to the help of Alabama Campers on Mission.

In a four-part project, Alabama Campers on Mission provided labor to enlarge and update the Union Grove Baptist campus by installing drywall in the 12,500-square-foot addition. The structure includes a gym, fellowship hall, three offices, a nursery, seven Sunday School rooms, four bathrooms and a kitchen.

“We feel God leading us to ‘Grow the Family of Faith,’ through all generations,” said Greg Narrell, pastor of Union Grove. “Young families are looking for a place to worship and have children’s activities, while the older generation needs a place to worship and spend time together in fellowship.”

‘See God at work’

Planning for the project began in 2016. Rain delays and cost increases brought challenges to the project, but Narrell said God was clearly in it from the start.

“What a blessing to see God at work throughout this entire process,” Narrell said. “Alabama Campers on Mission already had obligations but worked with us to accomplish this task.”

According to Ken Conaway, regional coordinator for Alabama Campers on Mission, campers performed all trades possible on the project, from framing and electrical work beginning in September 2019 to plumbing installation in December. Additional framing and utilities installation were completed in February and then in March the final jobs of installing doors, ceilings, electrical and plumbing fixtures and trim were finished along with painting everything.

The church plans to finish the remainder of the work in the building, Narrell said.

Alabama Campers on Mission provide a valuable service for churches and camps across the state and across the country who need help in construction, Conaway said.

Volunteers with Campers on Mission chapters mobilize for short-term construction, renovation or repair projects with the goal of reaching others for Christ.

Their work supports growing, cash-strapped churches with free labor, enabling the churches to build a larger footprint than they could otherwise afford.

“For a number of years we have supported Alabama youth and adults through our work at Alabama Baptist camps,” Conaway said. “Annually we work at Shocco Springs in Talladega, Camp Baldwin near Foley, Vineyard Christian Retreat in Ariton, Camp MACOBA in New Market and also Oneida Baptist Institute in Kentucky. … Our work enables the camps to keep their costs more affordable.”

In 2015, the group constructed the tower for the “Wet Willie” water feature at Shocco Springs. Conaway said the slide has now served more than 100,000 youth and children.

Along with construction projects, Campers on Mission members participate in sewing projects, using donated fabric to sew clothes for missions teams to send abroad, nursery curtains and walker bags and clothing protectors for nursing homes.

The group gains members through word of mouth and media coverage of their missions projects, Conaway said.

“Membership is open to all evangelical Christians who are active members in good standing in an evangelical church,” said Conaway. “We also require a background check initially and it must be updated every 5 years. We are grateful to Camp Baldwin (Baldwin Baptist Association Camp) for performing this service for us.”

“In the past few years, our members have been able to share the love of Christ in their RV in most of the southern states,” Conaway said.

Nora Thompson, president of Alabama Campers on Mission said she’s seen volunteers experience strengthened faith and spiritual growth.

‘Like a family’

“We do receive a great blessing from our work,” Thompson said. “The vast majority of our members are retired. It gives us great joy to have someone say to us, ‘That is what I want to do when I retire!’”

Thompson sees the group as like a family: praying for each other, encouraging one another and helping each other.

Churches or camps who want to request help begin by contacting one of the regional directors, who then visits the site to determine if the project is something the group can accomplish.

A Campers on Mission project leader works through logistics with the ministry, setting up a schedule and campground while promoting the opportunity to members who may volunteer.