Gifts, Gospel and God's love embrace migrant children
Aug 19, 2014
By BARBARA DENMAN
Florida Baptist Convention

JOYOUS OCCASION A hayride brings smiles to the faces of the children attending the Florida Baptist Migrant Children’s camp. Photo by Dale Stroud
LEESBURG (FLBaptist)—She was 8 years old when Ami Martinez first went to the Florida Baptist Migrant Children’s camp held annually at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center. While there she made a decision that would change her life forever when she accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior.  

She went back to camp every year until she was out of high school and took with her one of the most important lessons of her life. “I learned there that we all worship the same God, whether you were rich, poor, black or white, you worship the same God.”
 
Now 28, Martinez, a member of Primera Iglesia Okechobee, embraces the camp that meant so much to her as a child. She has returned to the camp as a counselor and takes other migrant children from her church, so that they, too, can experience God’s love. 
 
During the 2013 camp she led four girls to Christ. 
 
Children growing up with a migratory lifestyle “have self-esteem issues, and don’t feel like they are wanted or needed,” she explained. “Because they travel, they have missed out on normal activities, going from town-to-town and school-to-school.”  
 
They also grow up poor with few extras at home. Many of their parents struggle, making as little as $5,000 a year 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.
 
The migrant camp held in December, she said, makes them feel special as planned activities and Christmas gifts are given to them throughout the weekend. “Many of them come from large families. Their parents don’t have enough money to buy presents. It’s amazing what they receive from Florida Baptists.”
 
The children’s migrant camp is held during the first weekend of December and happens because individual Florida Baptists, local churches and associations have embraced leading migrant children to Christ. The camp is underwritten by Florida Baptists’ gifts through the Maguire State Mission Offering, which also funds other ministries for migrant churches.
 
The 2013 camp, held Dec. 6-8, focused on the eternal safety of the children 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 in 2013.  
 
“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 to afford to attend a similar camp. 
 
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 cloth, towel, soap and their own water bottle. While these items are commonplace to Florida Baptists, many of the migrant children have never had toiletry items of their own.  
 
Each camper also received a Bible and blanket. 
 
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 often 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. 
 
Counselor Mona St. Hilaire from First Haitian Church in Belle Glade said camp is a time for children “to get away, be in the Word of God and have fun during this season.” 
 
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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