Camp ministry has always been important to me.
My brother (Chad) was the youth pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN. On the day of the buss accident he was leading his youth group back from a week of camp at Camp CoBeAc in Prudenville, MI. I was had been interning that summer at the church and had been with the teens at the camp all week. This was the summer after I had graduated from college and I wasn't even supposed to intern that year or be on that trip. I can now see how God providentially closed some doors so that I would intern at Colonial that summer and go to camp with my brother.
My last earthly talk with Chad was at a roadside KFC. As we enjoyed lunch together I remember how excited Chad was about the decisions many of the teens in the youth group had made at camp. He was still relatively new as a youth pastor and he believed this particular camp trip could really be the spiritual catalyst that could bring about some real revival in the youth group. Chad was right that revival was about to start in the youth group he just couldn't have predicted how that spark would begin.
I was riding in the car behind the bus when the accident took place. I'll never forget frantically running across the highway to the scene of the accident. I'll never forget finding my then 2-year-old nephew in the street but safe and unharmed. God miraculously spared his life on that day but promoted his parents to glory. The events following the accident were a blur.
There was all the busyness of preparing for a funeral, searching through Chad and Courtney's stuff, and just taking time to grieve. On Wednesday, July 31, 2013 the then governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, spoke in our church. His words echoed the thoughts of many hearts in the room on that day.
We pledge on this day (Wednesday, July 31, 2013) to fan the flame of their (Chad and Courtney Phelps) lives and work ... to be here tonight and listen to the testimony of this dear family is profoundly inspiring." - Mike Pence
It was soon after that moment that a spark began to flame in my own heart. Camp ministry had played such a large role in this story and I desired to continue down that same path. I remember distinctly praying that if God would allow I would love to preach at camps every summer and herald the same message of the Gospel Chad had preached.
Since 2013 God has continued to answer my prayer. It's been 8 years since the bus accident and every single year since that time I have been preaching to different groups at different camps. God has been good to lead many to Himself for salvation during those camp weeks. Each time another person gets saved it just about brings tears to my eyes thinking about how excited Chad would have been to be there with me.
Two summers ago I was preaching at the Wilds of New England when a sponsor came up to me and wanted to talk. He recounted how in 2013 he was a teen camper at that same camp. On Friday, July 27th word came to the camp about the bus accident. The speaker for that week (Dr. Steve Pettit) knew my brother and our family and decided to share his story to the campers that day. The sponsor explained to me that on Friday, July 27, 2013 he accepted Christ as his Savior after hearing Dr. Pettit's message and being moved by Chad's testimony. He also told me that he was now a sponsor and was bringing his teens to hear me preach because of that same testimony.
This year I'm at the Wilds Christian Camp in Brevard, NC. Once again I will stand behind the pulpit and preach the Gospel my brother lived and died believing. Once again I will have the distinct opportunity to "fan the flame" of my brother's legacy.