By William H. Perkins Jr.
The powerful tornado that roared across Central Hills Retreat just a few minutes after midnight on New Years Day will not hamper scheduled events and activities at the Mississippi Baptist campground near West, according to camp manager Jim Ray.
“We’re actually ahead of schedule for repairing the tornado damage and getting the facilities ready for camping,” said Ray. “The volunteer groups who have come to help us have been incredible, and the construction crews that have been brought in are going to put the damaged facilities back in good shape.”
Some activity sites will be shifted from damaged areas, Ray said, while other areas will have marked improvements. “We see this as an opportunity to make Central Hills Retreat even better than it was before the tornado,” he pointed out.
Directors and consultants from the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) who have responsibilities for upcoming events and activities at Central Hills participated in a Feb. 1 prayer walk around the campground and assessed the cleanup and repair efforts.
“There’s a plan in place for housing. The pool and the lake are unharmed. The horses are fine and the trails have been cleared. I don’t see a problem,” said Angie Boydstun, a consultant in the MBCB Sunday School Department who is in charge of two weeks of Bible study/worship camps for children slated for late June.
“We’re going full steam ahead,” said Ken Hall, a consultant in the MBCB Discipleship and Family Ministry Department who is responsible for a pair of student summer camps scheduled for June. “I have full confidence that the camps will be ready to go. Central Hills is going to be better because of what is happening there.”
Hall said the demand for last year’s single week of student summer camp convinced planners to open up a second week in this year’s schedule — the first time in several years that more than one week of student summer camp has been available.
“We’re building on the success and momentum from last year. We have a great program this year, and we’re designing the theme around the ‘new beginning’ that’s going on at Central Hills right now,” Hall said.
Camp manager Ray said he didn’t have to do a sales job when the directors and consultants showed up on Feb. 1. “After everyone saw the effort that is being made and heard about the steps being taken to prepare for the camps this summer, they were ready to go forward with their plans.”
Barri A. Shirley, MBCB associate executive director for business services, said contractors have been lined up for the campground work that the volunteers are not equipped to handle. All indications are that Central Hills will be ready for camping this summer, he added.
“We’re looking forward to another God-honoring year of camp and conferences at Central Hills Retreat. While the storm created many challenges, it has also provided an equal number of opportunities for the expansion of usable grounds and updated facilities.
“It is through the extraordinary efforts of volunteer teams, partnerships with selected contractors, and the dedication of the camp and MBCB staffs, that Central Hills will stand ready to serve Mississippi Baptists in 2011 and for years to come.”
Only a few people were at the campground when the tornado struck. Most of them were inside Carey Lodge, participating in an annual New Years Eve reunion of former Central Hills staffers. The camp opened in 1979.
Located in the deep woods of Attala County between West and Kosciusko, Central Hills has a full-size gymnasium, junior Olympic swimming pool, large lake, horseback riding, canoeing, regulation flag football field, rock climbing wall and ropes course, three heated and cooled lodges that house up to 240 people, a complete dining hall and kitchen, and a recreational vehicle park with 41 hook-ups, kitchen, showers, and assembly hall.
For more information on Central Hills Retreat, contact the MBCB Men’s Ministry Department at P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. Telephone: (601) 292-3335 or toll-free outside Jackson (800) 748-1651, ext. 335. E-mail: email@example.com.