Merge Summer Camp continues to grow, involves 13 area churches

Merge Summer Camp continues to grow, involves 13 area churches

By Danielle Waddell
Intern, The Alabama Baptist

In 2012, members of Golden Acres Baptist Church, Phenix City, watched their call from God come to fruition and it’s been growing ever since.

After years of attending a popular youth camp, children’s pastor Daniel Cook and fellow leaders kept finding themselves saying to one another, “We should try to do this ourselves.” Cook and his peers found that the cost of the more popular camp kept a number of students from participating and decided they could accomplish a similar event for a lower cost.

Gathering interest

So the group sent an outpouring of emails to neighboring churches to gather interest. With Golden Acres Baptist at the head and two partner churches alongside them, Merge Summer Camp had its first year serving 3rd–6th graders at YMCA Hargis Retreat in Chelsea. That was nearly seven years ago.

Since its inaugural year, Merge has grown to include 13 churches and has outgrown its original retreat setting. This summer the camp will move to Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, which is where Cook and fellow leaders initially felt led to begin Merge.

“Knowing Daniel, knowing his heart, knowing his vision for children’s ministry and family ministry makes me pumped up to be part of this camp,” volunteer Amy Young said.

Young, children’s pastor at Sixth Street Baptist Church, Alexander City, writes small group material for Sixth Street youth as well as for Merge Summer Camp. When Cook asked about gifts and talents volunteers could offer during prep for Merge’s second year, Young spoke up about writing material.

“I’d never written on that scale before,” she said.“It was daunting at first, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Even in Merge’s new move, Cook said keeping the cost low remains a priority for leadership. They plan each aspect carefully so campers experience a high quality camp at a reasonable price.

“Our goal was to make it affordable to everybody,” he said. “Once they get there, I see camp as an opportunity to connect to their leaders, and the biggest thing of course is to introduce them to or deepen their relationship with Christ.”

A staff made up of about 25 people — all volunteers aside from Cook — begin meeting and planning for the four-day camp in December. For seven months this group meets weekly to plan each detail of the camp’s dates. Once July arrives and camp begins, adult, college and older youth volunteers from each of the participating churches lead small groups with the help of material written specifically for Merge.

“It’s a lot more than just one person,” Cook said. “It’s nothing significantly different than what anyone else is doing, it’s just people sacrificing time with no questions or complaints and committing to a bigger vision to impact children with the gospel. It’s a God thing.”

Using God-given gifts

Melissa Wilks moved her letter to Golden Acres when her children started participating in Upward basketball. As she started asking herself where she could best serve with her fine arts background, Daniel began discussing Merge. That was a year before the camp’s first summer. Since then, Wilks said she’s seen how God orchestrated her gifts to serve Merge well. She writes scripts and assists with set organization and videos for nightly worship services. Wilks said she and others are open to learning any tasks necessary to pair with their natural gifts to make the camp better.

“It was interesting every year to figure out what we needed and how to facilitate that,” she said.

Cook credited the innumerable volunteers for the success and growth of Merge each year, saying they’ll continue to push forward until God tells them to stop. He also stressed their openness to anyone interested in participating, no matter the denomination.

For more information about Merge Summer Camp, email Daniel Cook at