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Central Hills

From camper to counselor

Having a Ball photo

HAVING A BALL — Isaac Cannon (left), a Central Hills Retreat counselor from near Lena, prepares to play dodge ball with an unidentified camper. Cannon was a participant at RA Camp for years before becoming a staffer.(Photo by Tony Martin)

By Tony Martin

Associate Editor, The Baptist Record

Story originally published in The Baptist Record on August 1, 2013

Who says dreams don’t come true?

For Isaac Cannon, a dream came true in the form of an opportunity to serve on staff at Central Hills Retreat near Kosciusko. Cannon, a member of North Morton Church near Lena, cherished a long-held dream of serving others at Central Hills. That dream became a reality this summer.

“I was about ten years old the first time I came to Central Hills as a RA,” said the Mississippi College student. “As a camper, you’d be a part of every activity, or you’d go to worship, and you’d be with your fellow campers. Then you’d see the staffers and the relationships they have — they were kind and always got along. That’s what I wanted.”

Cannon attended camp every summer through his high school graduation, and he noted staffers who had an impact on him growing up. “There was Jacob McBride,” Cannon said. “He was one that really sticks out. He showed a lot of care, and the year I had him as counselor I watched him reach out to kids in our group who had really deep problems. He had a lot to relate to us. I wanted to be able to do that.”

This is Cannon’s first year on staff. “When I got here this summer, it helped to kind of know my way around and know where everything is. I knew we’d be walking a lot, and it would be hot and tiring.

“What I didn’t expect was the mental stress,” Cannon continued. “You have a lot of that dealing with the kids, and that was one thing I wasn’t aware of.”

Cannon has come to realize that the boys at camp often have issues at home. “I’ve had a couple of boys with bad home situations, and I had one boy whose mother was recently deceased. You see them come in with their heads hanging low, and you feel like they’re going to have a really bad week, but by the end of the week they’re smiling and jumping around. That’s something that really touches your heart.”

For a counselor such as Cannon, a typical day includes getting up and getting the kids ready for the day. “You’ll have a million questions to answer, such as ‘what’s for lunch?’” said Cannon. “As you’re walking around during the day, the campers want to talk to you about your life and they want to tell you about theirs. Basically, you just listen. You’ll work with them in several activities during the day, just telling your own story when you can. It’s a long day. Then at worship, the campers will sometimes sing, really praising God. You may end the day feeling sort of down because there has been a lot of mental stress, you’ve answered all those questions, but at the end of worship you get to see the true reward.”

Central Hills offers three day camps which go from Sunday to Wednesday, and from Thursday to Saturday. The RA Weeks are full Monday through Friday events.

This particular week Cannon was responsible for twelve boys as a co-counselor. He is sharing a group ranging in age from eight years old to 12 years old with another counselor. “This week, every one of my kids came from the same church. It doesn’t always work that way, but this week it did.

“One thing we try to do is to find out if there is a guest who came with a different youth group. They might not know the people they are with, so we work to make sure they have friends,” said Cannon.

Cannon said that counselors are also responsible for helping with activities. “You can’t just sit around,” he said. “After the end of lunch, supper, or a snack time, you have to make sure you get to the activity you’re helping with. You have to have everything ready ten or so minutes ahead of time. You have to know what you’re doing. I’m on the zip line later, and we all need to know our responsibilities. Someone has to relay the kids up, someone has to be on the tower, one has to take kids to the platform on the bottom — that has to be all planned out. And we have to be sure we encourage the kids. When we’re assigned a certain activity, we have to work with all the kids, not just the ones in your group.”

Cannon is excited about the ministry opportunity camp offers. “I am feeling a call to something in ministry,” he said. “On campfire night, kids can really open up. You get the chance to lead kids to Christ — that’s the best feeling you can have. That’s what the reward is.”

The ministry at Central Hills is funded in part by gifts to the Margaret Lackey Offering for State Missions. Roddy Reed is the manager of Garaywa Camp and Conference Center in Clinton, which is administered by the Mississippi Woman’s Missionary Union and is Mississippi Baptists’ only other active encampment. Like Central Hills, Garaywa is available to groups year-round in addition to the summer schedule and is supported by gifts to the Margaret Lackey Offering for State Missions.

“We had 1,256 campers this summer,” said Reed. “All of them heard the Gospel. The heart of Garaywa is missions, and the Margaret Lackey Offering for State Missions is the lifeblood for making that happen,” he said.