Tragedy struck twice in one day last summer for South Gastonia Church of God. Two members of their youth group were killed in two separate accidents which occurred on the same day. When I saw the story on the news, I was heartbroken. I knew this church. I knew these kids. This youth group has been coming to South Mountain every fall for the past 18 years. I immediately reached out to offer my condolences and prayers.
I knew this camp was special to them, but until this fall, I didn’t realize how much so. I was well aware that several members of their group have been saved here, and that most of them have had life-impacting experiences with God during their retreats. But I was blown away when, a few weeks before they were scheduled to arrive, the youth pastor contacted us to explain that they would like to place two memorial stones on the camp property in honor of these youth members who died.
It was touching to realize that this place meant so much to them that they wanted these memorial stones to be here, an hour’s drive from the church. It was then that I understood that to them South Mountain Christian Camp is not just a fun place to visit every year. There is a spiritual connection that runs much, much deeper.
When they arrived at camp last month for their retreat, they exhibited the same life and energy I’ve seen in them in the past. Many of them were wearing t-shirts displaying photos of the two youth members they lost. During their weekend, they had a very special devotional service up at our observation deck. There, at the foot of a large wooden cross, they placed these two memorial stones where they will be visited by this youth group every year in October as they gather to share in fellowship and meet with God.
We often emphasize our summer camp program here, and rightly so, because it is the heart of our ministry. But our ministry to these retreat groups is just as important. We want to do everything we can for these groups to provide the right place at the right time for them to experience Jesus.