Faith, fun converge at Super Summer

Dan Steinbeck/contributing writer

HANNIBAL – More than 20 students professed faith in Christ during two weeks of Super Summer at Hannibal-LaGrange University here, June 9-20. And, in keeping with Super Summer trends that have only developed during the past few years, another 84 students surrendered to ministry or missions.

According to Matt Kearns, leadership development team leader for the Missouri Baptist Convention, Super Summer exists to help youth grow in their faith, although the mission of Super Summer has changed some through the years.

Initially, Super Summer placed heavy emphasis on introducing students to Christ. While that is still important, organizers have recently seen God move differently, and they now focus on developing young Christian leaders, Kearns said.

“In the last two years we’ve seen about 150 students feel called to missions or ministry. In the first seven years I did Super Summer, we saw about 7-10 such calls each summer,” Kearns said. “We do well to point students to a conversion moment, but equally important is what happens next.”

“We emphasize challenging the youth to walk closer with Jesus, and we introduce Jesus to those who are without a commitment,” Kearns added.

During the five days that they’re at Super Summer, students gather with their peers in age-graded, color-coded teams. Super Summer has multiple small-group team meetings with Bible study, worship, organized afternoon recreation and full-group gatherings called “The Morning show” – the latter that Kearns called “a mental health break.” In keeping with this year’s theme, “Follow,” the schedule at Super Summer is built around challenging and equipping students to become true followers of Christ.

Jason Walters agrees with this focus and the move “from a program-driven event to disciple making.” Walters is a Super Summer campus pastor from Canaan Baptist, St. Louis, and has led groups to Super Summer for seven years.

Walters said statistics show that nearly 70 percent of Christian youth are not active in church by their junior year in college. As a result, Walters and other student leaders want to ensure that these students are equipped to stay in the faith throughout their lives.

“We want them to spiritually feed themselves and take ownership of their faith,” Walters said.

Especially because of the increase of students surrendering to the ministry, Super Summer provides a ministry-training track, called Kaleo, for upper-level high school students and recent high school graduates.

“Kaleo shows them what ministry is all about,” Walters said. “Two years ago we had 75 students called to the ministry and last year we had another 67. God is doing something with this generation.”

Kearns added, “With Kaleo (Greek for ‘called’) we move forward to work out the call of God on their lives.”

Students and Super Summer staff both admit that they feel equipped and encouraged by the camp.

“I keep coming back because I want to invest in students and catch their enthusiasm,” said Milton Baumgardner of First Baptist, Monroe City, who completed his 24th year as a Super Summer staff member this summer.

Maddie Atwell, a high school senior from Laura Street Baptist in Maryville, was at her first Super Summer. Atwell, who senses that God is calling her to ministry, said that Super Summer takes faith-building deeper than other church camps she has attended. She also recommends that youth considering Super Summer should “be ready in their hearts before the camp so you can see what the week can do for you. Other believers can support you in your faith.”

Super Summer also helps youth leaders. Walters said that Kearns and his team make it a point to serve student pastors. One hundred student leaders participated in Super Summer this year.

“A lot of responsibility was taken off me when I came as a youth pastor,” said Walters, who spent his first six years at Super Summer in this role.

Kearns added, “We build in time in the schedule to give the youth leaders a break. We take them out for a meal in the middle of the week and give them a free afternoon.”

More than 50 Missouri Baptist churches were represented during the two weeks of Super Summer 2014.