Observations from Falls Creek
The last time I was at a youth week of Falls Creek was in summer 1998. At that time, I was serving as head pastor of Lexington, Slaughterville, my son Nathan was one and a half, and Eileen was great with child (Tim, who was born about two months later). Bob Agee was finishing up his time as OBU president, and OU football was struggling with mediocrity.
We recently returned from the fourth week of Falls Creek with four of our kids. Eileen and I went as sponsors with Shawnee, Immanuel. We had a great week with our youth group and are thankful to God for the opportunity to serve. Here are some observations, in no particular order, many based upon anecdotal evidence, of our time in the Arbuckle Mountains:
1. I am not a young man anymore. Plunging back into sponsor-hood was more physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding than I remembered as a former Oklahoma youth pastor and senior pastor. Nevertheless, the jetlagged stupor in which I found myself by Saturday morning was worth every salvation, every recommitted life and every answered call to ministry that happened in our cabin and at the tabernacle.
2. The new (to me) tabernacle setting and facilities were incredible. I went to Falls Creek for the first time in 1976 as a teenager and well remember the endurance required to stay focused in the heat and less-than-ideal acoustics under the old, yet venerable wooden tabernacle. The use of cutting-edge digital technology at today’s Falls Creek was an effective enhancement. The Cody Dunbar Band, as well as camp preacher, Acton Bowen, did a great job of communicating the Gospel via their voices and instruments, as well as effectively leading a diverse group of young people in worship. And, as a middle-aged Falls Creek veteran, I appreciated the occasional hymn. Also, many new recreational choices on the grounds give today’s youth no reason to be bored during free time.
3. Introducing someone to Jesus never gets old. Eileen and I had the honor of serving anew as counselors during evening worship invitation times as well as in our cabin. It is a sacred moment when a person turns away from sin toward the Savior. It is an equally sacred moment when a wayward child of God seeks to recharge their relationship with Him, desires restoration of a damaged relationship with fellow believers, pursues obedience via baptism, and embraces God’s call to be on mission with Him.
4. This generation of young believers has a passion and zeal for God that is contagious. My generation (Boomers) was the first to experience genre-generating contemporary “Jesus” music and an historic sub-culture movement of God that touched our nation. This generation seems to have more of a reckless abandon to not only worship God, but also take that fuel and convert it into passion for global mission and evangelism, via a willingness to go to the most dangerous and unstable places on the planet in order to reach the remaining unengaged and unreached people groups of the world.
5. Kudos to BGCO youth ministry leaders. They have found a way to clearly communicate the demands of the Gospel and do it in a relevant way that connects with today’s youth and youth adults. Brian Baldwin, Andy Harrison, and Todd Sanders are to be commended. Thank God for such relevant and gospel-centered state convention youth leaders.
6. The role of youth pastors and head pastors at Falls Creek cannot be overestimated. Eileen and I were very impressed with the organizational and relational skills of Jason Peck (head youth pastor) and Aaron Fulbright (assistant youth pastor) of Shawnee, Immanuel. And to top it off, head pastor Todd Fisher put in some good hours working in the kitchen, helping prepare meals. These men, along with their wives and families, are great examples of servant leadership. May their tribe not only increase, but also multiply exponentially in discipleship.
7. Icee dates live on. Eileen and I fondly remember our younger days as youth pastoral leaders for Wanette, First and our times at Falls Creek. And those memories include a nightly Icee date after each evening worship service. That memory was rekindled for us.
8. God continues to bless Falls Creek. I recently led a GO team of OBU students to our former place of service as IMB workers (Ufa, Russia) in May-June. While in Ufa, I reminded fellow Russian Baptist church leaders, with whom I served for more than 15 years, about a place called Falls Creek in Oklahoma where tens of thousands of young people gather each summer and multiplied hundreds come to faith in Christ, seek baptism, seek to serve God vocationally and be sent around the world on mission, etc. During that fellowship time one evening around the dinner table, several of the church leaders’ eyes welled up with tears as I retold the history and story of Falls Creek. They were exhilarated to know of such a place where so many youth and young adults would gather in such volume and do it openly. They expressed the desire that maybe one day, somewhere in the vast expanse of Russia, God would bless and sanctify a place that would become the Russian Baptist Union’s own version of Falls Creek.
With Falls Creek’s centennial celebration coming up next year, I continue to ponder why God put it on the hearts of J.B. Rounds and W.D. Moorer to pursue especially the Falls Creek property to be used as a youth camp. They faced some formidable obstacles. But, I am thankful they followed God’s vision. I myself am a Jesus follower because of Falls Creek, and the Lord confirmed His call to international mission work to Eileen and me at Falls Creek.
The sun never sets on the sons and daughters of God who began their faith walk at Falls Creek and are now scattered literally all over the globe in service to our great King Jesus. Praise God for Oklahoma Baptists who continue to touch lost individuals and people groups around the world through Falls Creek!