Churches Rally Around Everyone Belongs Camp

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By Ben McBride, Madison Wells-James and Sharon Mager

It was hot, sticky and abundantly joyful at the annual “Everyone Belongs” Camp, July 28-30 at Skycroft Conference Center. The camp, sponsored by the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D), Cresthill Church, The Banquet Network, and The Gathering Place Church, Bowie, is specially designed for individuals impacted by disabilities. Throughout the weekend campers had multiple worship sessions, games, special outdoor activities, arts and crafts, dancing, a campfire, and pool time.

Tommy Rowe, the pastor of The Gathering Place Church, Bowie, served as camp pastor throughout the “Everyone Belongs” Camp. (Photo by Dominic Henry)

This year’s camp was the biggest yet, with over 100 participants, including staff, volunteers, buddies and guests. Fifteen Maryland/Delaware churches, along with several others, provided volunteers.

Banquet Network Director Katie Matthews, who co-directs the camp with BCM/D Finance Coordinator and Facilities Manager Margot Painter, was overjoyed. “Two years ago, this was a passion for a handful of people, and now we have pastors and volunteers driving hours to come out to assist. Some wanted to learn more about camps so they can bring volunteers next year. Others donated gifts to the parents and some even woke up early on Sunday to drive back to church to preach.”

Tommy Rowe, camp pastor for the weekend, was also encouraged by the additional help. Rowe said, “This year, God brought more volunteers, from parents to pastors, to help facilitate the camp and it will only continue to grow from here. These individuals are helping us touch heaven and experience God in a way that I don’t experience God a lot of times.”

Taylor Brown and Pier Penic participate in worship. (Photo by Madison Wells-James).

Praise & Worship
Rowe, who also serves as pastor of The Gathering Place Church, Bowie, with his son Brian Rowe, the Gathering Place worship leader, led the daily music and devotional time.

With cheerful lights dangling from the wooden ceiling and soulful music filling the atmosphere, the campers piled into the sanctuary, ready to worship for each session. The room was filled with energy and excitement as Tommy and Brian Rowe prepared for the services.

Each session began with a series of songs curated by Brian for the campers, including their theme song, “Shine.” The room ignited with joyful praise, lifted palms, and, most noticeably, the thundering drumbeat. “Anyone who is everybody can play drums,” said Brian. His incorporation of the hand drums during worship is a form of multi-modal or “tactile learning” for the campers affected by disabilities.

Brian Rowe incorporates drums into worship around the campfire. (Photo by Dominic Henry)

Brian, who is on the spectrum himself, has first-hand experience with ministering and engaging those living with disabilities. With most of the campers being in the adult age range, Brian wanted to incorporate music that was suitable for everyone’s abilities without undermining their intelligence.

“There’s a fine line between being too “kiddie” and too repetitious. We don’t want to belittle them when we are doing worship,” Brian explained.

Once the praise subsided, Rowe came to the front of the room sporting a gray fedora with khaki shorts and red reindeer socks that complimented his “Santa-esk” appearance. The message titled “Shine for Jesus,” centered around Jesus being the Light of the world (John 8:12) and how all Christians can share this light with the world after accepting the gift of the gospel.

“The light is the gift,” Rowe said as he handed out little paper hearts to all the campers. Each heart contained a glow-in-the-dark cross that was visible under a flashlight. “Let your light shine and let Jesus shine through you,” he said.

A camper braves the “Damascus Road” waterslide. (Photo by Dominic Henry)

Christians with disabilities often face challenges in worshiping, fellowshipping, and being discipled in typical churches due to the lack of accommodations. Rowe also explained how families impacted by disabilities are sometimes treated like an “untouched people group,” leaving them on the outskirts of the church body. “Families that have issues that come along with having disabilities are a distraction and an inconvenience for a typical church,” Rowe explained.

He said this is why camps like Everyone Belongs are so vital to ministering to those with disabilities who want to learn about Jesus and experience the joy of being in the body of Christ. They also allow other Christians to see how this type of ministry can be expanded throughout the Church.

Fun in the Sun (and Son!)
In spite of the heat, campers immersed themselves in the opportunities to have fun in the sun. On Friday evening after dinner and devotional time, they heard stories, sang, and made s’mores at the campfire. Saturday was the most

Zion Black  took the leap of faith and enjoyed the adventure of Skycroft’s zipline. (Photo by Madison Wells-James)

anticipated day because of the games and activities, including a waterslide, zipline, pool, arts and crafts, and games.

The waterslide was a huge hit, though many were tentative at first about going down. After one slide down, a camper turned to her mother and said, “Mom we should live at this campground!” Others were tentative, but once they conquered their fear they were dancing at the bottom of the slide. Painter said she was thrilled to have some teen helpers, who came with their parents or grandparents who were buddies, who participated with the campers. While some of the buddies were a bit older and weren’t as comfortable on the slide and other more adventurous activities, the young teens had fun with the campers. “And the campers loved it!” Painter said, adding that the teens worked very hard and she was truly appreciative.

Fun in the pool is always a part of camp! (Photo by Dominic Henry)

Thirteen-year-old Zachary Spriggs volunteered this year with his grandfather, Cresthill Member Greg Turner, who served as a buddy. Springs had fun and served with zeal. He said he is experienced working with families with disabilities, having worked with Night to Shine in the past. Zachary said his favorite part of camp was, “everything is inclusive, and everybody can participate in everything.”

Throughout the activities, campers supported each other in all they did. They were cheering at the basketball hoops when someone made a shot and at an impromptu diving competition in the pool. The support carried over to the zipline. This obviously scary, adrenaline-inducing activity brought some memorable moments. Some campers stood on the tower trying to get the courage to jump, and in some instances praying with their buddies for courage. For others, it was easier and they laughed as they called themselves Superman or other superheroes as they fearlessly took the leap. There were also tears of joy and pride from parents, buddies, and volunteers.

Dancing is always one of the highlights of the camp. In fact, Painter said the Friday night dance party was extra special. “It’s probably the best dance we’ve had. I don’t know what to attribute it to. It was so much fun. We went way past the time we were planning to end, but it was okay. No one wanted to go to bed.”

Katie Matthews dances with Zion Black during the Saturday night dance party. (Photo by Dominic Henry)

A talent show on Sunday morning allowed all of the campers to exhibit a wide array of abilities including playing guitar and the harmonica and creating and editing videos. One camper made a video of a cartoon (hand drawings) they put on YouTube. During these activities, much like the rest of the weekend, there was an overwhelming amount of support given to one another.

BCM/D Executive Director Tom Stolle, reflecting on the camp, said, “God has greatly blessed our camp that is specifically designed for individuals affected by disabilities. We continue to see more campers and more volunteers attend each year. It is wonderful to see our campers enjoy the pool, water slide, zip line, and many other activities while also experiencing the love of Jesus.

Jimmy Stolle smiles as he does some arts and crafts with his buddy, Ray Jenkins from High Tide Church. (Photo by Dominic Henry)

“I would like to specifically thank Rev. Tommy Rowe for being our camp pastor, clearly sharing the gospel message with our guests. We had a camper decide to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. What an amazing weekend! Many thanks to Margot Painter, Katie Matthews, Chris McCombs, Shawnetta McCombs, Cresthill Church, The Gathering Place, The Banquet Network, Skycroft Conference Center, and the many others that helped make this camp possible! Most of all I’d like to thank God. Without Him, none of this would be possible.”

Churches that participated in camp this year included Bayside Baptist Church, Chesapeake Beach; Bethany Church, Columbia; The Gathering Place Church, Bowie, Bethany Church Ellicott City, Cresthill Church, Bowie; Faith Baptist Church, Knoxville; High Tide Church, Dagsboro, Delaware; Hughesville Baptist Church; Lexington Park Baptist Church; LifeHouse Church MOT, Middletown, DE; LifeHouse Church, Smyrna; North Valley Church, South Shore Church, Crownsville, The Garden Church, Baltimore and Imago Dei Church, Columbia. 

Feature photo by Madison Wells-James.