AQUILLA—On a breezy Saturday morning in the Brazos Valley, a line of boys snaked around a rope marking the edge of the BB gun shooting range at Latham Springs Baptist Camp.
The group stood silent, inching forward as the next 10 boys in line were called, prompting them to snatch the guns and sprawl out in the grass.
A few yards from the shooting line, 10 paper targets hung low above the ground, clothespinned to twine, while a man in a bright yellow camp shirt walked between the shooters.
“Watch your fingers, guys!” he called.
He talked about safety, aiming and firing. A freckled face boy on the end was confused.
“I don’t get it.”
“Let me see,” the man replied and hunkered down beside. Patiently, he pointed to each of the gun’s components and demonstrated proper form. After the tutoring, he called out again.
“Alright, everyone, you get five shots!”
As tiny pellets clipped the air, young hearts were given a boost—adding to one of the many memories shared by boys and men at this year’s Campout & Missions Mania.
Firing for missions
It may not be the sort of activity one would expect to see at a “missions” event. But it’s exactly the sort of outreach that “gets through” to these boys, organizers agreed.
In fact, the makeshift shooting range topped a list of more than 20 activities offered during the annual Campout & Missions Mania, along with sports, races and much more.
The three-day camping extravaganza is a highlight of Texas Baptist Men’s Royal Ambassadors (RAs) and Challengers Ministry, designed to raise awareness about missions and manhood. Several mission-themed activities are offered alongside the sporting events, including Bible drills, mission education displays, and talks with missionaries.
This year’s event, held Nov. 13-15, was attended by more than 640 people in 43 groups, including 460 boys, young men and adult leaders. The groups camped out in tents for two nights, filling a total of 37 campsites.
At the end of the weekend, organizers had counted 15 salvations and five rededications.
“That is what it’s all about,” Mike Wade, Missions Mania co-director, said.
TBM State RAs Director Keith Mack said the annual event raises boys’ awareness of God's activity in the world and allows them to interact with male leaders as godly role models. According to the event manual, events are designed “to foster fellowship and spiritual growth among Texas RAs and Challengers groups,” and to provide activities in which they all can participate.
“Godly men are the best ‘Christian curriculum’ for teaching boys how to become godly men,” Mack said.
Volunteer Ron Chapman, who served as the unofficial ‘camp medic,’ agreed that the camp gives the boys a chance to observe “real men.”
“A lot of these boys don’t have fathers, and these men have stepped up as role models,” Chapman said.
Manhood and mentorship
Will Gaston of First Baptist Church in Burnet was one of those role models.
Gaston brought 13 boys to the annual camping event, which marked the church’s second year to participate in the RAs program. The changes he’s seen in the boys since then—before and after events like Missions Mania—are clearly evident, he added.
“(The boys) have more discipline and more faith.”
Gaston said he likes how the program enables the boys to learn about Jesus and “good Christian virtues.” And it challenges them and shows them “it’s okay to fail.”
“It teaches them not to give up if you fail at something—you keep trying,” he said. In that regard, “I like to watch them succeed.”
A former RA himself, Gaston said he likes watching the boys grow in faith and maturity as they participate in the RA program.
Learning by design
By their very nature, the activities of Missions Mania work to instill practical problem-solving skills in the boys who participate. In addition to camping, fishing, shooting and other activities that require focus, the boys learn to compete with their peers and also work together on teams. Rewards are handed out at the end of the weekend.
Chapman said at this year’s event, organizers opted to try something new. They broke a horse, “a wild horse.”
“They brought a horse in, and step by step—using Scripture as they did it—they broke him,” he said. “There were at least 100 people standing outside, watching in the rain.”
He said the new activity added a different dimension to the camp and demonstrated “how we all are broken, and God puts us back together.”
“How Jesus puts the bridle on us and the saddle on us, and reins us in when we get out of control… just like that,” he said.
To learn more about how you can start an RAs ministry at your church, contact Keith Mack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-275-1123.