For decades, Fort Caswell, Caraway Conference Center and Camps, and Truett Conference Center and Camp have served as unique places for ministry.
If you drive the length of North Carolina, you’ll come across three N.C. Baptist camps and conference centers.
There’s Fort Caswell at the coast, Caraway Conference Center and Camps in the Piedmont, and Truett Conference Center and Camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains. From sandy shorelines to rolling hills and mountain vistas, these camps and conference centers are as diverse as the regions where they are located.
All are owned and operated by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. For decades, these facilities have served as a unique place for ministry.
“I am confident that more decisions for Christ have been made on the grounds of Fort Caswell, Caraway and Truett than any other real estate in North Carolina,” said John Butler, director of N.C. Baptists’ Operations Group, whose responsibilities include oversight of the camps and conference centers. “That’s something every North Carolina Baptist can be proud of.”
So sit back and relax as we take a scenic tour of these three N.C. Baptist camps and conference centers.
In 1949, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina bought a former U.S. military fortress along the eastern tip of Oak Island, where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean. One year later, the first N.C. Baptist camp was held at Caswell.
Just 35 miles south of Wilmington, the location holds a chain of forts built between 1826 and 1838 that was named after North Carolina’s first governor and Revolutionary War hero Richard Caswell. These forts helped determine Confederate positions during the Civil War, became a training ground for soldiers during World War I and served as an island patrol communications base during World War II.
Over the past seven decades, the site of historic ruins has transformed into a spiritual refuge for Baptist churches, Christian groups and nonprofit organizations to attend year-round retreats, camps and conferences.
The coastal landmark is exceptionally popular during its nine weeks of summer camp, primarily for children and youth. That’s when dozens of church vans and buses cross Oak Island’s bridge surrounded by marshland to bring thousands of students to Caswell.
The summer camps offer an escape from everyday distractions, and attendees can “sit on a porch in a rocking chair and just listen for God speaking in new ways as you watch the boats go by on the ocean,” said Brian Hemphill, Caswell’s director.
From June to August, the Baptist state convention’s student ministries staff conducts summer youth weeks at Caswell, which draws more than 1,000 middle and high school students from across the state each year. The weeklong camps include worship services, small group devotions, deep discussions about God through breakout sessions, and numerous track time recreational activities. In early July, Caswell also hosts mission-oriented camps for youth which are offered through N.C. Baptists on Mission.
Tucked in the Uwharrie Mountains, Caraway Conference Center and Camps predominantly serves as a children’s church camp in Sophia, just northwest of Asheboro. The rural area consists of a single stoplight and a post office. It sits geographically almost in the center of North Carolina.
Surrounded by beautiful hardwood forests, Caraway first operated as an all-boys camp for Royal Ambassadors in 1963. Churches across the state raised money through bake sales and car washes to buy an acre and help the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina pay off the 947-acre parcel for $55,000.
Eventually, Caraway transitioned into an exclusive co-ed camp for children. Now church groups can bring first through sixth graders for a weeklong summer camp with chaperones. Each day, campers hear from a missionary, attend worship services, and select a skill class or recreational activity like archery, zipline, pool time or a ropes course. Reflecting its beginning, Caraway still offers one week of Warrior Camp for boys and Horizons Camp for girls.
“I’m excited about kids who get to come here and roast a marshmallow for the very first time, go out in a kayak and be loved on by our staff in a very unconditional way,” said Jimmy Huffman, who has served as Caraway’s director for 17 years.
Just a 20-minute drive from the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, Caraway is easily accessible by three major interstates and is a convenient location for many N.C. Baptist churches. The property has expanded to 1,100 acres and borders Caraway Speedway.
In 2019, Caraway also assumed operations of nearby Camp Mundo Vista, which was operated by the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina (WMU-NC) for Girls in Action. Caraway continues to operate one week of girls’ camp each summer and also rents out space for churches to conduct retreats and camps throughout the year. WMU-NC still uses Mundo Vista for other ministry activities, as well.
“If you go look at many of the state parks in North Carolina, we’re larger than almost half of those,” Huffman said. “I just think North Carolina Baptists really need to be made aware of what they have. We’re a tool for their church to do ministry.”
When three different Baptist associations acquired property in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, they prayed for what God would have them do with the land.
The idea for Truett Conference Center and Camp was born. The associations named the camp after George W. Truett, a well-known Southern Baptist pastor and leader whose birthplace and boyhood home were on the property in Hayesville, North Carolina.
While one of the camp’s buildings would later include logs from the Truett home, those who attended the first boys’ camp in 1953 stayed in tents. The following year, a girls’ camp began. Realizing the full scale of operating these camps, the associations eventually donated Truett Camp to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Today, the 95-acre property has multiple structures in a valley surrounded by majestic mountains, including 12 bunkhouses to host boys’ and girls’ summer camps for children and youth, ages 7 to 17. During these camps, a pastor and missionary create an awareness of gospel opportunities.
Truett also invites church groups and chaperones to co-ed children and youth group summer camps. At these camps, students participate in missions projects like volunteering to help a widow or serving at a local pregnancy center.
Camp life includes daily worship services and adventurous activities, such as standup paddle boards, riflery, paintball, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and ziplining.
“We’re able to utilize those tools to present the gospel,” said camp director Kenny Adcock. While he loves that camp involves fun and games, Adcock ultimately hopes the experience will help kids understand why they believe what they believe.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Truett Conference Center and Camp, and the facility will host a ministry celebration event on Saturday, June 3, from 10 a.m. to noon.
Where do you go from here?
If you’re looking to head to a summer camp or host a retreat, you can’t go wrong with any of the N.C. Baptist camps, each covering a different region of the state.
“North Carolina Baptists are blessed that they have three very, very special camps and conference centers across the state,” Hemphill said. “We’re all working on mission together. Our saying is, ‘From the mountains to the sea, we have all three.’”
And while summer activities make up a big part of the camp and conference centers’ ministries, they offer something for everyone throughout the year. In addition to children and youth, the N.C. Baptist camps and conference centers offer programs for college students, husbands and wives, parents and children, grandparents, senior adults and others.
The camps and conference centers can also serve as a host for your next church or ministry retreat and more. In addition, the conference centers host multiple convention-sponsored leadership trainings for churches and ministry leaders throughout the year.
“All of our facilities operate year-round and love the opportunity to serve our churches and their members,” Butler said.
by Lizzy Haseltine, contributing writer, Biblical Recorder
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the May issue of the Biblical Recorder magazine.