Beyond the Tree: A message of safety & hope for Florida’s migrant children
Migrant children pampered for a weekend with gifts, love and the message of salvation
Dec 19, 2013
By BARBARA DENMAN
Florida Baptist Convention

HANGING OUT A youngster attending Migrant Camp at Lake Yale Conference Center demonstrates faith while overcoming his fear to glide down a 40-foot zip line. FLBaptist photo by Dale Stroud
LEESBURG—(FBC) Combined with the festivities of the Christmas season, two life-changing topics—the gospel message and sex trafficking—were addressed during the annual Florida Baptist Migrant Camp Dec. 6-8 at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center. 

While the incongruity of those two subjects seems obvious, both have the potential of irreversibly altering the life of a migrant child.    

“Florida is the third state in the nation for human trafficking,” said Marc Johnston, strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s Church and Community Ministries. 

Migrant children, as others, are especially vulnerable to predators involved in sex trafficking due to their migratory lifestyle, he explained. By being responsive to this social issue, the camp provided a great opportunity to educate the children to be better prepared for dangerous situations.

The eternal safety of the children was a priority at camp as gospel presentations were shared with the campers in a variety of settings, including devotional time in their cabins and worship celebrations led by local churches. At the conclusion of the three-day camp, 22 children prayed to accept Christ. 

“This is a wonderful place where they can grow spiritually,” said Pastor Juan Gonzales of Iglesia Bautista de Wimauma, who annually brings children from his church—17 this year.  

“This is important. We don’t have much for the kids in the church. Here they learn more about God, can share with other kids and discover there are many churches with youth who know Jesus just like they do,” he explained. Because their parents are field workers, he added, the children would not be able afford to attend a similar camp. 

CHRISTMAS SNOW CONES Snacks and sweets were plentiful and unceasing as associations and churches brought meals and goodies designed to please throughout the three-day camp. FLBaptist photo by Dale Stroud
According to Miseal Castillo, Florida Baptists’ missionary to migrant churches, 30 percent of the children who attend the camp do not go to church and are brought there by pastors as an evangelistic outreach into their community. “Camp gives us the opportunity to provide fun for the kids and share the gospel. We encourage every counselor to be sensitive to the spiritual needs of the children so they will leave here with a new faith.”

“And what better way to show kids what Christmas is all about.”

Throughout the weekend, the 182 campers were pampered with activities, gifts and attentive counselors. Upon arrival, each one received a ditty bag with shampoo, toothbrushes and paste, wash cloths, towels, soap and their own water bottle. Bibles and blankets also were provided. Then when the campers in the 16 cabins were awakened on Sunday morning before their departure, they received a bag with a huge stuffed Teddy bear and a walkie-talkie.  

Planned activities encouraged the children’s participation on the ropes course, zip line, football, soccer, piñatas and hayride. When asked what she liked best about camp, one youngster immediately exclaimed, “food”—plentiful and unceasing for migrant children who sometimes struggle with hunger. Popcorn, snow cones, hot dogs, homemade cookies, sodas and pizza were available at different times throughout the days. None of them went home hungry. 

According to counselor Mona St. Hilaire from First Haitian Church in Belle Glade, camp is a time for children “to get away, be in the Word of God and have fun during this season.” 

She said the children have few extras at home. Many of their parents struggle, making as little as $5,000 a year, she explained, and have multiple children to care for and feed.  Often the older children are expected to care for their younger siblings throughout the day while parents work in the fields. 

Most of the children she brought to camp have never left their hometown of Belle Glade and were amazed even at sights along the drive to Lake Yale, she reported. 

The migrant community is “a mission field,” she asserted. “You don’t have to go to another country when there are so many needs right here; so many children need to know Christ. We are investing in the leaders for the next generation. 

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