When Ann Lawrence was 19 her friends’ camp stories sounded so fun she thought she might like to give camp a try, too. They had served at a Girls in Action and Acteens camp at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Florida and couldn’t stop talking about it.
“So I applied and went to Lake Yale as a cabin leader, and I have not turned back since,” Lawrence recalled. “It’s been in my blood since that very first summer. I loved it and loved what was happening, and it was the first time I was around missionaries a lot.
“It was a life-changing time for me.”
In college she studied recreation. But after she graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a master of divinity degree, Lawrence found herself serving in ministry roles that didn’t provide summers off. Over the years she got to dabble in camp life here and there, spending time at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Alabama while she served as an Acteens consultant.
Back at camp like never before
But it wasn’t until 2010 that Lawrence found herself back at camp in a big way. She and her husband had moved to Maine five years before, and she was serving on the board for Farmington Conference Center when the person who ran it had a massive stroke.
“There was nobody to do anything, and I said I would help out that summer,” Lawrence remembered. “Twelve years later, I’m still there.”
And she loves it.
Farmington is different from many other conference centers because it’s run entirely by volunteers. There are no paid staff members.
“People serve here because God has called them to do it,” Lawrence said.
Persevering despite new challenges
In a typical summer the center hosts a week of boys camp and a week of girls camp, plus a week when a Russian church from the city brings a large group of children from their church, as well as orphans from Russia.
This year was busier. The center had four additional groups, so between sessions leaders had to swap out faster and with less manpower. Lawrence said in the past RVers staying at the camp served as extra volunteers, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, Farmington hasn’t had any.
It’s also been a more difficult summer than usual because Lawrence’s co-director, Melissa, has been battling major medical issues.
“But God is gracious and gives us what we need, and we keep doing what we’re supposed to do,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence recently added a new role. She was elected as chairman of the board for the Southern Baptist Camping Association, which offers personal, practical and professional support to camp and conference center administrators and their staff.
Right now she’s leading out in their main assignment — to connect with camps they haven’t heard from in a while and see how they can help.
“We all took five or six to call, and I took the smaller ones,” Lawrence said. “My camp is small, and I wondered if some of them might be in the same condition we are and facing some of the same things.”
She believes in camps, both the small ones and the big ones, and the impact they can have. At Farmington the goal is to make disciples and equip them to stick with their faith as they go to college and become adults. They do this through intentional Bible study alongside traditional camp activities like swimming and archery. They also provide a training camp Lawrence runs to mentor a small group of teenage girls.
For many of the children it’s the only time each year they are around others their own age in a church-related setting. Most of the churches in Maine are small and don’t have large children’s programs.
“You get to see relationships blossom here,” Lawrence said.
She asked for prayer for Melissa’s health and for camp leaders to have the energy they need and the right volunteers to help out.
“We want to keep the camp going well and for campers to be able to come here and hear God’s voice,” Lawrence said.