Hamish Baxter is Pastoral Leader at Royal Oak Baptist Church and last year completed a Doctor of Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary that sought to discover a way to reimagine an effective process of discipleship particularly suited to the Baptist setting and socio-cultural location. 

I’ve just been involved in one of the best church things I’ve done in ages. Pretty much our whole church has been energised by it too. What did we do? We undertook a mission trip… to Hamilton.

For a while now we’ve heard the pleas of our Easter Camps for help from our churches, but those pleas always seemed too close to Easter for us to do anything about. Immediately after Easter of 2023 then, we set out a challenge for our church to consider what it might look like for us to serve the Northern Easter Camp in 2024. In the following months, we mentioned the idea in our eNews and our services and invited people to pencil leave from work in faith!

In our December AGM, we asked the church to confirm whether they were happy for us as a church to undertake a ‘mission trip to Hamilton’ to serve Easter Camp, knowing that we would essentially cancel our usual Royal-Oak-Baptist-Church-based Easter services and events to make this happen. We even asked for permission to use an outreach fund to financially support the work we would be doing. The vote was unanimously in favour.

After approaching Blue Bradley (Director of Northern Easter Camp), asking how we could serve Easter Camp, we were given the task of being the welcome and traffic team. We shared with the church how we could shape the beginning of everyone’s Easter experience by offering a warm welcome, while also doing our bit to ensure everyone’s safety, making sure only registered people came in through the weekend, and no one left who shouldn’t.

While we all wanted our church to do this, when it came to individual sign-up, we were having a hard time! A church-wide poll on a Sunday morning showed us that almost everyone could say that they or a loved one had a very significant spiritual experience through an Easter Camp – so we encouraged people to connect the dots knowing how often these camps are places where God is at work.

We invited a commitment from those who could attend the whole of Easter Camp and those who could come for only the key moments such as when 4000 people arrive in the space of six hours! We also invited those who couldn’t come to commit to being present at Royal Oak Baptist Church for a few times of prayer or to join our WhatsApp prayer group. To be honest, we had to persist with asking beyond what felt comfortable – but it was in line with our values and with some practices of discipleship that we’ve been exploring for a few years – and it paid off!

The testimonies that were shared the weekend following Easter were God-honouring and deeply encouraging. The welcome we were able to give meant that camp started well from the gate rather than hours later in the first meeting. Someone was on gate duty late at night when a parent was picking up their evicted-from-camp young person. That parent was part of a community-based support group that our gate person was also in, and the ensuing support given meant the world to that parent. 

Relationships with our team members were deepened incredibly as we worked long hours side-by-side (the fun we had in doing it helped a lot). 

The wildlife came to greet us in our tents too (this was the cutest of them).

I had stood at the exit gate while parents were leaving on the first night. I had conversations with parents who couldn’t wait to be rid of their kids for the weekend and others who were anxious about leaving their young people. Often the mood of those parents had lightened by the end of our short conversations, and it left me with the impression that God had intended for me to be there. 

The early wakeups were rewarded with wonderful views, and we could pray over everyone before they rose for the day!

Others of our team raved about seeing God turn up in the midst of our interactions with people and were so grateful that God had invited us to partner with him in his work. Our at-home prayer people commented that the live updates (from our mission team and our Easter Camp & eCamp leaders) made them feel connected to the Easter camps in a way they hadn’t in years. One of them turned to the young people in our service and said he’d first made a decision to follow Jesus at an Easter Camp seventy years ago, and he’s still going strong!

Serving shoulder to shoulder, giving up the things that we are used to over the Easter weekend enabled us to experience God at work in a way we wouldn’t have if we did what we always do. It helped our young people to feel we believed in them and wanted to actively support what they were doing. It also helped us as a church to feel more connected to one another. Yes, it cost us some money and time, and it wasn’t that easy to organise as a first time-around event – but we got to be part of a place where young people were giving themselves to Jesus and his mission in the world in their hundreds!

I wonder what difference it would make to the Southern, Central, or Northern Easter camps if other churches also considered giving up their Easter plans to take a local mission trip and serve what is happening there?

Photos: Supplied by Hamish Baxter. Header image: Some of the team (who were staying onsite).

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