Lifeway camp staffers say experience prepared them for ministry

NASHVILLE (BP) – This summer, more than 87,000 kids and students attended Lifeway camps with more than 475 summer staffers providing fun and inspiring experiences at FUGE Camps, CentriKid Camps, Student Life Camps and Student Life Kids Camps. Summer camps are spiritually edifying not just for campers; they also provide the training, experience and passion for camp staff that develop the next generation of ministry leaders.

Kaybe Coto (third from left) jumps for joy with other CentriKid Camp staff at Gardner-Webb University in 2016. Coto used her training from CentriKid to start an after-school program similar to the Lifeway camps’ programming with Bible teaching, drama, art and music. Photo provided by Lifeway

Beginning with Centrifuge Camps in 1979, thousands of young people have served as Lifeway summer camp staff, and many say God used that experience to call them into vocational ministry.

Tiffany Hudson served five summers with FUGE Camps from 2005 through 2009 and felt called into full-time ministry through her camp experience. Today, Hudson serves as the Baptist Collegiate Ministry campus minister at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“The ministry experience I gained with FUGE Camps is immeasurable,” she said. “I began as a timid 20-year-old, afraid to have a conversation with my own camp director and graduated to a seasoned ministry leader because of the opportunities presented to me through FUGE to teach and lead others.”

Hudson credits the pre-camp training as pivotal in giving her practical skills to work with others, be a team player and build community.

“Camp is hard work,” she said, “from pre-camp preparation to leading and discipling students, to managing a team, to taking camp store inventory, to handling unexpected emergencies. FUGE Camps taught me how to work hard to serve God and others. It truly changed my life.”

Joe Hicks, manager of FUGE Camps, sees the value of summer staff experience for future ministry leaders.

“In the course of a summer with camp, a summer staffer will get many opportunities to teach a Bible study, lead small group recreation and be part of a ministry team,” he said. “All of these areas, when done well and to the best of their ability, will set them up for success in future ministries.”

Brandon Pisacrita was a teenager when he first attended MFuge – FUGE Camps designed to give students missions experience.

“MFuge was my first experience of Christian service,” Pisacrita said. “I vividly remember that week being so eye-opening, growing my faith. Later, God opened opportunities for me to serve as a FUGE Camp staffer for eight summers.” After working at FUGE Camps, Pisacrita became a teacher and served bi-vocationally as a worship and youth leader in his church.

Tiffany Hudson started ministry with Centrifuge Camps and now serves as the Baptist Collegiate Ministry campus minister at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Photo provided by Lifeway

“Recalling my time at FUGE Camps and the practical ministry I experienced, I felt reconfirmed in God’s calling of ministry in my life,” he said. In a step of faith, he left his career as an elementary school teacher to pursue a Master of Divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2019.

“I thank God for the way He used FUGE Camps as a catalyst for developing me into a vessel to be used for His glory,” he said.

Many camp staffers could tell stories similar to those of Pisacrita’s and Hudson’s.

“I think one of the highest compliments we can receive is to hear about God using our former summer staffers in full-time or even part-time ministry,” Hicks said. “Every summer, we have former camp staffers come back to camp as a student minister or an adult chaperone. It’s like a reunion.”

In 2013, Tim Wells began working at CentriKid Camps as a Bible study leader.

“I fell in love with camp that summer,” Wells said. “During my next summer, I began thinking and wondering if I could do ministry full time investing in kids, but I just downplayed that thinking.”

After two summers, he became a camp pastor, and almost every week, leaders from other church groups were asking him if he was going to pursue full-time ministry.

“I would respond no, but I sensed the Lord calling me into it,” he said. “I eventually surrendered to the call and have been in full-time ministry for five years now.”

Wells is now the junior high minister at First Baptist Church in Wylie, Texas, where he uses the skills he honed at camp to help students grow closer to Jesus.

“Camp staffers are able to go into their churches and careers with practical ministry experience,” said Jeremy Echols, manager of CentriKid Camps. “At CentriKid we evaluate everything we do and ask, ‘How can we make it better?’ Staffers are constantly being challenged to improve and given feedback on how to connect with kids and refine their craft.”

Kaybe Coto felt called to children’s ministry the summer of 2014 when she worked with CentriKid Camps at Trinity Pines, Texas.

“I had just finished my sophomore year of college, and I was at a crossroads. I had changed my major from music to family and child sciences,” Coto said. “Originally, I thought I would be going back into music, but the Lord had other plans.”

Coto described a night of worship at the camp when thunderstorms caused a power outage, turning out all the lights while the campers continued worshipping.

“I was in awe as I realized this was what the Lord was calling me to do,” she said. “When I left camp that summer, I immediately shared with the children’s pastor of my church that I felt a calling to ministry.” She plugged in as a volunteer at her church and eventually became the children’s ministry intern.

After her internship, Coto worked full-time in a children’s ministry position where she used her training from CentriKid to start an after-school program similar to the Lifeway camps programming with Bible teaching, drama, art and music.

“The Lord used CentriKid to make me realize how He wanted to use me to further His kingdom,” she said.

Echols said not all camp staffers have intentions of serving in full-time ministry as a career.

“But my hope is that all staffers leave camp viewing their life and career as a ministry opportunity,” he said. “That’s the beauty of camp – we take lots of activities that kids love and relate them to God’s Word. A CentriKid staffer is able to spend a summer connecting God’s Word to basketball, soccer, dance or arts and crafts. Then in their career as a teacher or business leader or life as a parent, they have experience with taking whatever scenario they’re in and making a Christ connection.”

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