Swamp Blog

The Deepest Roots of Camp Swamp History

Cory Cole

Hello Swamp Blog readers! In just a few short weeks, Camp Swamp will be entering it's 25th summer since opening! 25 years full of wonderful memories, camp traditions, the most delicious and heavenly food, countless friendship bracelets and unbreakable relationships amongst campers. Even deeper behind these lasting memories is a rich and extensive history that weaves in the stories of countless individuals.

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This week, one of those inspiring, beautiful stories will be told, and it is totally worthy the read! From the Athens Church of Christ, we get to hear from Dominic Spinella, whose take on the history of the current location of Camp Swamp perfectly reflects what makes camp so incredibly special at its very core:

I am under no illusions that this story is entirely unique, but merely one of many that people have from years of the Swamp's existence and the diligent and faithful service of numerous men and women of all ages. My hope is that this story aids others both to see the value of the Swamp for what it has and can do as well as the need for a new generation of men and women to invest themselves in God and the Swamp. May God be glorified.

I was baptized on Sunday, May 5th, 1996. Shortly after my baptism, Steve and Maggie Welker moved to Athens, Georgia. I don't recall the specific date, but do remember them being introduced and having an "older" brother tell me about the project to build a camp. If memory serves, this happened pretty soon after my baptism because a short time later the call went out for some people to help Steve with digging out around the house due to some moisture issues.

Three young brothers and I answered the call. As an introvert and young disciple, I was not terribly talkative but Steve and Maggie seemed to take a particular interest in me. We spoke constantly as we worked and I shared my deepest desire that my parents would become disciples. Steve and Maggie were adamant that if my parents visited, they wanted to meet them.

Over the next months, my relationship with Steve in particular grew. We spoke frequently at services and got together a few times. He helped me reconcile the intense emotional responses I felt with the things my parents said and did. Only later would I realize that he was an indispensable part of my conversion. God used him to help shape me.

A few months passed and my parents came to visit after noticing changes in me. As requested, I introduced them to Steve and Maggie. If I remember correctly, the camp was nearing the end of the early planning and discussions were happening about when the construction would begin. Steve and Maggie invited my parents to stay with them any time they wished to visit me.

Most of a year passed and my parents visited a few times, taking Steve and Maggie up on their offer. They would stay up late into the night playing cards and other games (sound familiar to anyone?) and talking. This culminated in my parents coming to visit the weekend that the Athens church sponsored a women's night themed "Titanic". My mom went to women's night and my dad came with me to a campus brother's prayer night.

That Sunday at church I was astounded to be told that the combination of their relationship with the Welkers, the changes they witnessed in my life, and that evening led to them talking intensely on the drive back to Steve and Maggie's house. That conversation went long into the night with Steve and Maggie. My parents realized that they needed to know more and to make the decisions and changes which they saw in Steve's, Maggie's, and my life. They discussed returning to Athens at least monthly and studying with Steve and Maggie.

My parent's trip to Athens was 5 to 6 hours depending on traffic and Athens leaders felt it wiser to hook them up with the nearest church to their home: the Tallahassee Church. I did some research and sent my parents the information about where the Tallahassee church met. The following Sunday my parents said they would visit the Tallahassee church. For my part, I spent a stressful few days because I could not get in touch with my parents to find out if they made it, liked it, or anything else. My stress was not needed though; my parents had made it and in fact had spent the entire afternoon and into the evening studying the Bible with several amazing disciples. My parents showed up early the next Wednesday to have dinner and do more Bible studies. I finally got a call Thursday to be asked if I could be in Tallahassee that Sunday to baptize my parents. Of course, the answer to that was yes. Regrettably Steve and Maggie could not get away from their responsibilities to come with me.

In and of itself, this story is enough to warrant my lifelong admiration and devotion, but the story continues.

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New disciples, my parents either drove to Tallahassee or to Athens from then on for weekends. Any time they visited, my parents stayed with Steve and Maggie. As work continued on the Swamp, my parents helped on several occasions. This positioned them for one of the biggest transitions of their lives.

In 1998 workers frantically attempted to finish the cabins in time for the first week of camp. My parents knew about the need and decided that despite their personal situation they would come help out. You see, shortly before this, my father had been slapped in the back by a co-worker and felt a lot of discomfort. He went to the doctor and they did a biopsy. They were waiting for the results as that weekend rolled around. After a good bit of discussion, my parents came up that weekend and gave their time and effort. The needs of the Swamp prompted them to work the entire weekend with Steve and Maggie. I barely saw them and was asked at the last minute to help counsel Cabin 6 for the week. I saw them from a distance as I arrived Sunday and then got lost in taking care of the campers.

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Over a week later I would learn that my parents worked well into the afternoon that Sunday. Finishing the last of the essential work, an exuberant brother slapped my dad on the back in the midst of the celebration at completing things and the inspector confirming that the Swamp could open for the week. Later my mom pointed out that my dad was bleeding. My dad mentioned that his back hurt more than he thought it should. Later in the week, my dad got the results of his biopsy. My dad had melanoma cancer. Not long after that, he had a mass the size of a softball removed from his back.

In all candor, I misunderstood this timeline until I wrote this and discussed it with my mom. I thought the initial discovery was that day. As I thought through the correct timeline, I wondered if or how that might change my perception of the events. My mom's comment though was this, "He was not going to allow the uncertainty to keep him away from something he knew was needed and somewhere he wanted to be." I must admit, as I thought about that it brought tears. In a few short years, as a result of his relationship with Steve and Maggie, my father went from his life of sins and selfishness, to driving over four hours to work most of the weekend on the swamp. He then drove home and went to work and was grateful for the opportunity.

My father didn't get to make many more trips up from Valdosta and later Tallahassee. As his life wound down, my father couldn't physically make the trips. I know my parents kept in touch with Steve and Maggie during this time. Ultimately my father succumbed to the cancer.

No longer at the Swamp, the Welkers were a source of strength and solace to my family after my father passed away. Regrettably, only a few years after this Steve passed away. My mother and I found ourselves consoling Maggie as she tried to sort out her life. My mom even moved in with Maggie for a time.

The bonds formed by the building of the Swamp have brought my parents to God, gave my dad a way to make a lasting impact at one of the last times he was physically able, provided one of the most prominent relationships in providing solace to my family, and later set the stage for our family to reciprocate. Ultimately, when I think of the Swamp, it is the Welkers who come to mind. Neither should those reading this forget that the Swamp provides the location but it is the counselors, workers, and leaders... in other words, the people who make the Swamp the special place that it is.

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As I finish this, I wonder who are the people that will make this impact in the future. Which men and women will surrender a part of their life to allow God the avenue to continue working through the Swamp.

I like to think of Camp Swamp like a tree; it's deepest roots are very much ingrained in the powerful, life-changing love that God showed the world by giving us Jesus. From there, in every branch, leaf and fruit of camp history, this incredible love is revealed. The story of The Spinellas and Camp Swamp are no exception to this. Thank you so much to Dominic for sharing this incredibly moving and inspiring story!

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All that being said, this year is a year to celebrate not just stories like Dominic's, but all of our stories at the most special place on Earth. This fall we'd love for you all to come join us as we celebrate Camp Swamp's 25th Anniversary. For more information on this party, please click here to RSVP and learn more!

In other Swamp news, we are getting closer to our goal for the new mattress campaign! Please click here to read more about our mission to sleep better at camp and donate today!

We are just a mere 27 days away from our first week of camp this summer! Be sure to register for your week of camp by clicking here! I can't wait to see what God will do this summer at camp and what legacy it will leave for future generations to come!

Thanks for reading! Until next week,

CORY

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