NEWTON, Texas—Deep in the East Texas Pineywoods, more than 200 elementary-age boys worked with their hands and were “forged” into followers of Christ during the third annual East Texas Baptist Encampment (ETBE) Boys Camp, June 7-10. Keeping with this year’s theme, “Iron Sharpens Iron,” 1st-6th grade boys learned skills of the trade from master blacksmiths, certified welders, and professional knife makers as they hammered out a sword on an anvil, welded pieces of metal, and fashioned their own knives.
“We have a master blacksmith that is teaching them how when iron is heated, it can be shaped and sharpened, which goes along with our theme,” Jason Glenn, pastor of Call Junction Baptist Church in Kirbyville and director of the four-day camp, told the TEXAN.
“And God molds us that way. He molds us by all kinds of fires that we go through, and we’re tried by fire. It gives (boys) an opportunity to use a hammer and an opportunity to do something cool. They’re going to fool with fire, and they can see how things are shaped. And, hopefully, we can teach them that they’re going to be shaped in the same way.”
Glenn, a former farrier and electrician, said God laid on his heart several years ago a desire to teach boys spiritual principles through hands-on activities. The first ETBE boys camp focused on Jesus as fully God and fully man, while boys learned about Jesus’ life as a carpenter. Last year’s theme was “Fishers of Men,” where boys learned to make lures and competed in a fishing tournament in addition to being challenged to be disciples and make disciples as they share their faith.
“I wanted a time where we could spend with just boys and men and not be in a co-ed situation—not that it’s wrong, but I just wanted to be able to talk to the boys without the things of the world on their minds,” Glenn said.
“Boys have an attitude … and men do too … where we don’t want to learn from each other. We try to do it independently; we don’t learn from the experiences of others. And this being a mentor-type camp, they’re going to have to work shoulder-to-shoulder with these men and learn their experiences.”
Glenn said the camp gives boys a chance to unplug from technology and other distractions, opening the door for meaningful conversations about Christ.
“We want to do our part so we don’t lose this generation,” Glenn said. “We’re wanting them to be men, and God wants us to raise men. In our world today, the line is all mixed up on what makes a man a man. … We’ve seen kids get exited about experiencing things that some of us grew up doing, but they never get a chance to do it.”
When ETBE Executive Director Andy Narramore came on to manage the encampment in 2011, he recognized that their girls camp was thriving but their boys camp had died four years earlier. As he began to pray and share his vision to revive the boys camp with area churches, Glenn came along and said he would direct the camp. The numbers have grown each year, and boys are accepting Christ and growing in their relationship with God.
“The neat thing about it is that the men are here—all ages, from young daddies to high school and college kids that want to be good role models to grandfathers—doing men’s stuff, and the boys love it,” Narramore said.
This influence of men in the lives of boys is a primary emphasis at the camp, so much so that they intentionally schedule it for four days beginning on the weekend so men only have to take a couple of days off work.
“We want (the men) to be involved, to get in there with those kids,” Glenn said. “It’s not a vacation time; we want you with them, teaching them all the time.”
The added benefit comes as these relationships between men and boys continue in churches throughout the year. Glenn and others are currently writing a discipleship curriculum called Apprenticeship of the Master to aid churches in this process.
“Years ago, let’s say a master wagon-maker, would take a young boy on and teach him how to build wagons. And then when that master would get old and could no longer handle it, the young boy would take over and take care of that older man. In the same way, we as children of God need to do that. That will bridge the gap between (generations) in the church. With these older folks investing in these kids and the kids seeing ‘that old man is cool, we can hang out with him,’ then we can bridge those gaps, and that’s what we’re working toward.”
Throughout the week, boys hammered on a sword that the blacksmith fashioned into a show sword to mount on a wall at the camp. They also learned about welding techniques and safety, which led to discussions about the unbreakable bond Christians have with one another in Christ. A knife maker from Henry Brothers Knife Company in Kirbyville continued the week’s theme, explaining how to make a knife and the proper way to sharpen it.
“We’re about trying to transfer the faith any way we can,” Glenn said.
Next year’s theme will involve leatherworking, and boys will be taught that as Christians, they are marked by God and must represent him well in the world.