Missouri Baptists' Deaf Youth Camp celebrated its 30th anniversary recently, with 32 campers at this year's camp. This is the only Bible-based camp for Deaf children and youth in the state.
Leaders topped the celebration by honoring Linda Whiggam with a plaque to mark her commitment to the camp for 29 years, including as director for more than 25 years. Because she works with St. Louis public schools Deaf education program, she is free to serve each summer.
Ken McCune, Missouri Baptist Convention multicultural church planting strategist, presented the plaque during a special celebration service on Thursday night of camp week.
Deaf Youth Camp looks much like any youth camp -- energetic campers involved in Bible study, recreation, crafts and worship. Only the language is different, with everything conducted in American Sign Language. All staffers are fluent in ASL, with about half of them also Deaf.
But just like their hearing counterparts, campers play major roles in worship -- leading music, providing drama and giving testimonies. During invitation time, one camper talked animatedly with another, explaining the plan of salvation.
Tracy Reed, a Deaf staffer whose daughter, Kara, is a second-year camper, calls the camp better organized and more effective than any camp for Deaf children she has seen. A volunteer for several years, Jan Parks of St. Joseph said she continues working because she is impressed with campers' spiritual growth.
The camp often provides the only religious training many participants receive each year. Many have no one to teach them in ASL. While some attend worship with their families, the church often has no interpreter or teacher who can sign.
Three students made professions of faith and two rededicated their lives to God at the decision service this year.
Leaders said they have seen more than 100 Deaf young people become Christians since the camp has been offered. With about 40 as average attendance, the camp has seen more than 1,000 Deaf youth touched by the ministry.
Some campers who have graduated from high school return as "staffers in training." They help adult leaders, but also benefit from Bible study and worship in ASL.
Individuals, churches and associations provide financial support. Whiggam requests prayer now for the 2013 event, including its finances and the volunteers who will staff it. She also asks Baptists in Missouri to begin praying that parents will permit their children to attend.
Most of all, she asks for prayer for those who have attended to find someone in their hometowns who would help them continue their spiritual training.
Deaf Youth Camp began in 1983 because of the efforts of officers of the Missouri Baptist Conference of the Deaf and David Morgan, then the MBC language missions director.
After taking the position in 1982, Morgan called officers and other leaders together to plan for the coming year. After plans for the adult conference were finalized, someone suggested the need for a camp for Deaf children.
Again at Morgan's invitation, the MBCD officers and other leaders met to plan for a camp. Included in that initial session were Gene Norris, MBCD president; Alice Davis, vice president; Priscilla Terrazas, secretary; Ruth Brummitt, treasurer; Leslie Hall; Tim Freeman; and Duane Davis. All were Deaf except Davis, who was fluent in ASL. They invited Oklahoma churches with a Deaf ministry to participate in the first camp, held at Windermere. Until 2008, the camp was underwritten by MBC. But while the convention still offers some financial support, the MBCD, now a 501(c)3 organization, has assumed responsibility.
The camp was held at Windermere until 1998. It met at the Laclede Baptist Association camp until campers outgrew it in 2000, and then the Fellowship Baptist Association camp until 2004. After trying other camps in 2005 and 2006, leaders found Kamp Kiersey in Osage River Association. This marked the seventh year there.