By Jennifer Law
“Love is what has characterized Camp Alkulana in all its years, and love has brought us to this moment, ” commented Fred Anderson, Executive Director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society. “Pure, unfettered love” is how he described the motivation behind all those who have poured themselves into the life-transforming ministry that is Camp Alkulana.
“We’re excited to be together to give witness to the things that God has done and is continuing to do through camp,” explained Beth Wright, Camp Director. “One hundred years of campers, counselors, and supporters mean there are a lot of stories to be told and a lot of lives worth celebrating!”
On Saturday, March 21, friends and supporters of Camp Alkulana throughout its long history gathered at Richmond’s First Baptist Church to celebrate, share stories, and reminisce. The camp, located in Millboro Springs, is a ministry to inner-city children and is affiliated with the River City Faith Network (formerly Richmond Baptist Association). It was begun as a camp for girls, often those who were children of Richmond factory workers. Many of those girls worked in the factories themselves.
In 1915, a group of women in Richmond had a vision. They believed that those children should have the opportunity to get away during the summer months, breathe in fresh mountain air, learn to live in community, and experience what it means to be loved, valued, and cared for. They wanted these children to see and know God.
Those values and that vision have been carried out at Camp Alkulana ever since, and for the past 100 years children, youth, and adults have experienced changed lives because of their time at Camp Alkulana. The camp added programs for boys in 1947-48.
Despite some heavy criticism, camp’s leaders decided to fully integrate in 1968. Black and white children began to play together, sleep in the same cabins, eat at the same tables, and become life-long friends. The camp made strides toward diffusing racial tension during a challenging time period in Virginia history. Today, Camp Alkulana still offers a place of love, beauty, fun, truth, and rest every summer for inner-city kids from Richmond.
“Consistently we hear camp alumni saying that camp was a place they felt safe and loved,” said Wright. “Sometimes that can make a real difference in the life of a child who has never felt it before. One alumna told us that the camp counselors were the first father figures he’d ever had. He gives Alkulana the credit for keeping him off the streets, for giving him role models, and for creating a second home for him.”
Wright recalled another alumna who told her, “Camp was my haven…from everything else that was bad back home in the city and in the streets. Camp Alkulana completely saved my life. It’s as simple as that.”
Those who work at Alkulana have been transformed as well. Seeing firsthand how the love of God touches a camper is an unforgettable, life-shaping experience. Wright observes, “It’s sometimes hard for college-aged students to find their place in churches. But Alkulana is a place where they find themselves serving God in a way that produces tangible results, and that’s something that resonates with many young adults.”
She goes on to explain, “They are entrusted with important parts of our ministry, from mentoring campers to teaching Bible studies and leading worship services. In the midst of that service, they not only find themselves encouraged and equipped; they often feel called into ministry or other careers.”
During Saturday’s celebration, past directors, campers, and staff were present and recognized. Hundreds attended—from as far back as the 1930s and as recently as last summer—singing camp songs together and joyfully reconnecting in ways that only those who have experienced the joy of serving God together can do.