|Migrant children pampered for a weekend with gifts, love and the message of salvation
By Barbara Denman
December 12, 2013
Combined with the festivities of the Christmas season, two life-changing topics—the
gospel message and sex trafficking—were addressed during the annual Florida
Baptist Migrant Camp Dec. 6-8 at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center.
the incongruity of those two subjects seems obvious, both have the potential of
irreversibly altering the life of a migrant child.
is the third state in the nation for human trafficking,” said Marc Johnston,
strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s Church and Community
children, as others, are especially vulnerable to predators involved in sex
trafficking due to their migratory lifestyle, he explained. By being responsive
to this social issue, the camp provided a great opportunity to educate the children
to be better prepared for dangerous situations.
eternal safety of the children was a priority at camp as gospel presentations
were shared with the campers in a variety of settings, including devotional
time in their cabins and worship celebrations led by local churches. At the
conclusion of the three-day camp, 22 children prayed to accept Christ.
is a wonderful place where they can grow spiritually,” said Pastor Juan
Gonzales of Iglesia Bautista de Wimauma, who annually brings children from his
church—17 this year.
is important. We don’t have much for the kids in the church. Here they learn
more about God, can share with other kids and discover there are many churches
with youth who know Jesus just like they do,” he explained. Because their
parents are field workers, he added, the children would not be able afford to
attend a similar camp.
to Miseal Castillo, Florida Baptists’ missionary to migrant churches, 30
percent of the children who attend the camp do not go to church and are brought
there by pastors as an evangelistic outreach into their community. “Camp gives
us the opportunity to provide fun for the kids and share the gospel. We
encourage every counselor to be sensitive to the spiritual needs of the
children so they will leave here with a new faith.”
what better way to show kids what Christmas is all about.”
the weekend, the 182 campers were pampered with activities, gifts and attentive
counselors. Upon arrival, each one received a ditty bag with shampoo,
toothbrushes and paste, wash cloths, towels, soap and their own water bottle.
Bibles and blankets also were provided. Then when the campers in the 16 cabins
were awakened on Sunday morning before their departure, they received a bag
with a huge stuff Teddy bear and a walkie-talkie.
activities encouraged the children’s participation on the ropes course, zip
line, football, soccer, piñatas and hayride.
When asked what she liked best about camp, one
youngster immediately exclaimed, “food”—plentiful and unceasing for migrant
children who sometimes struggle with hunger. Popcorn, snow cones, hot dogs,
homemade cookies, sodas and pizza were available at different times throughout the
days. None of them went home hungry.
to counselor Mona St. Hilaire from First Haitian Church in Belle Glade, camp is
a time for children “to get away, be in the Word of God and have fun during
said the children have few extras at home. Many of their parents struggle,
making as little as $5,000 a year, she explained, and have multiple children to
care for and feed. Often the older
children are expected to care for their younger siblings throughout the day
while parents work in the fields.
of the children she brought to camp have never left their hometown of Belle
Glade and were amazed even at sights along the drive to Lake Yale, she reported.
migrant community is “a mission field,” she asserted. “You don’t have to go to
another country when there are so many needs right here; so many children need
to know Christ. We are investing in the leaders for the next generation.
sex trafficking issue was addressed by Edie Neal, a special agent with the
Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who told the rapt audience what to look
for in risky situation and how to respond. She also urged the youth to speak to
parents and law enforcement when they or their friends have become involved
with predatory relationships--explaining it is a matter of life and death.
that the average age of victims are between 12 and 14 years old, Neal said one
third of all runaways are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving
don’t seek help, she noted, because of threats, fear shame and dependency upon
video of two church-going teens targeted and ensnared by predators illustrated
the gravity and reality of the situation.
who brought the migrant children to the camp applauded the effort to educate
the campers of this evil in the world. “The video showed some youth who attend
church and the signs to look for,” said St. Hilaire. ”It is good to explain
this to the kids and make it real.” The
counselor said she planned to discuss the presentation on the way home to
further drive home the point with the youth. She is also considering showing
the video to those who could not attend.
annual weekend camp is free for migrant children in the state, underwritten as
a ministry of the Florida Baptist Convention through the Maguire State Mission
Offering. But it also represents gifts of love from countless Florida Baptist
congregations who send counselors and recreational leaders, lead worship, sew
ditty and gift bags, contribute food and pray for campers before and during the
event. Many sponsor individual children who otherwise may not be able to attend.
associations—Nature Coast, Marion and Lake County—provided meals for the 300
campers, counselors and workers, and made financial contributions to create an extraordinary
experience in the children’s lives.
Maddox, director of missions for the Nature Coast Association, has championed involvement
in the camp among his churches as an Acts 1:8 opportunity, he said, for
“churches to get out of their communities and into the state—our Judea.”
can sponsor a child to attend camp for $40. This is so easy for a Sunday school
class to do.”
it was time to leave Lake Yale on Sunday morning, the 10-year-old girls in
Cabin 2A didn’t want to go home according to cabin counselor Jill Cumbo,
associate strategist in the Convention’s Women’s Missions and
Ministries/Missions Education Team.
said ‘this needs to go on for a month.’ Another one said, ‘no forever.’ And a
third, ‘I want to live here,’” she reported.
“They did not want to leave camp. We were a
family for the weekend.”