Wilkins has served as the music and youth director at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bremen for 33 years. When a tornado destroyed their church building, fellowship building and parsonage on Dec. 10, 2021, Wilkins wasn’t sure if he would be able to take students to camp this summer.
In a congregation of about 125 people, five families lost their homes and everything they had in the tornado.
Wilkins had planned for this summer to be the first summer back to camp after COVID-19 and his 30th year attending FUGE Camps. He had taken his students to FUGE Camps at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, every year except for 2008 when Union’s campus was devastated by a tornado.
Now, a tornado had ransacked his own town and church and homes of families in his church.
In the past, the church had covered half the cost for their students to attend camp, and that no longer seemed feasible — not to mention the fact that they had lost their church van in the tornado.
“We’re in a small community, and the community has really pulled well together,” Wilkins said.
For the past seven months, Bethlehem Baptist Church has been meeting in Bremen Elementary School for Sunday morning worship and in the fellowship building of a sister church on Wednesday evenings.
“I’m not going to say it hasn’t been tough,” Wilkins said. “But we’ve been blessed, and things are going well for us.”
When a Lifeway team member called Wilkins in December to check on the church after the tornado, he was initially reluctant to share their story. But when Wilkins decided to call back and share the church’s story from the tornado, FUGE Camps event specialist, Claudia Hallquist, prayed with him over the phone.
A few hours later, Hallquist called him back. She had shared the church’s story with her manager. And Lifeway wanted Bethlehem Baptist Church to come to camp this summer as guests of Lifeway.
Wilkins noted, “I was overflowed with joy. I told our church about it, and everybody was so thrilled that Lifeway extended that arm to us.”
So this summer, Wilkins packed up nine students in a van that a sister church allowed them to borrow and went to FUGE Camps at Union University.
“It’s almost like going to a revival and being revived. It’s a refreshing time even though it’s a tiring time,” Wilkins said. “And it’s an opportunity to be with some kids who aren’t really involved in the ministry at the church.”
Focused on Christ
Although Wilkins and Bethlehem Baptist Church have experienced a lot of uncertainty over the past several months, for a week at FUGE Camps, students got to take a step away and enjoy a time of bonding with one another and their leaders and focusing their attentions on Christ.
“They’re zeroed in on Christ and not the cares of the world,” Wilkins said. “They’re not seeing all the news and things of that nature. And I think that’s what has had an impact on the kids.
“It’s something they can stay focused on for that particular week. And it’s always tough going back [home].”
In a season where attending FUGE Camps seemed impossible, Wilkins’ students experienced the blessings of FUGE Camps that have kept Wilkins coming back for 30 years.
“I don’t have the words adequate enough to say how appreciative we are for what [Lifeway] has done for us,” Wilkins said. “But somebody told me, ‘Don’t take a blessing away from somebody.’”