Native American youth enjoy 60-year-old camping tradition in Oklahoma

Keeping with a 60-year-old tradition, the Oklahoma Indian American Baptist Association (OIABA) held its annual summer youth camp—known as the Youth Bible Assembly (YBA)—in July. Comprised of 13 churches, OIABA is part of American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) Native American Ministries.

The camp provides Oklahoma Native youth aged 12 to 18 the opportunity to get away, have fun and experience spiritual growth in an intimate, secluded setting. An integral part of the Oklahoma Native American churches, the camp has produced many of the key leaders that continue to work in today’s churches.

“There is nothing like getting away from everyday life, changing your environment and being introduced to a life that is greater than anything that you know,” says the Rev. Ben Sullivan, mission coordinator, ABHMS Native American Ministries, who has been instrumental in the planning and development of the Native American camps program. “This is an absolute crucial time in the life of a youth—a moment of impressionable years as they begin to come of age. Native leaders see this as an invaluable moment to mentor them, hoping they will experience God for a week without the distractions of the world.”

Held at Arrowhawk Youth Camp, Anadarko, Okla., this year’s camp proved to be a unique and powerful experience. Leaders did their best to provide the youth as much fun as possible with afternoons of basketball, chair volleyball, swimming and other games that pushed the kids to challenge mind, body and spirit. The week culminated with a trip to a local water park.

Crow Tribe member the Rev. Josh Stewart, assistant pastor of Wyola (Mont.) Baptist Church, served as camp pastor, inspiring campers with amazing testimonies, stories and biblical truths.

“Any worthwhile camp effort has at its heart the cultivation of the spiritual condition of the youth they are serving,” Sullivan says. “The YBA is very concerned with this life-changing work of sharing the love of Jesus to all mankind.”

Sullivan urges American Baptists to join in prayer for the development of additional camps and ministry outreach to serve Native American youth.

“Camping ministry and all the benefits it provides to the local churches is nothing new to the American Baptist family,” he says. “It is a proven ministry model that has cultivated youth to answer the call for discipleship, salvation and leadership for many years. The Native churches however, have not had enough opportunities to participate in camps. Today, the need is as great as ever to share the amazing love of Jesus.”

Read more about ABHMS’ Native American Ministries online.