May 2009 A Piece of Eden Joshua Cooley Black Mountain FCA Girls Camp
Terraceena Green limped to the stage. It was "open mic" time during the final night of the 2008 FCA Black Mountain Girls Camp, and she had a story to tell.
The room — filled with hundreds of other campers, Huddle Leaders and adults — fell silent. Some had gotten to know 17-year-old Terraceena, or "TT," earlier that week. Many had not. But almost all of them had noticed something different about her.
They saw the imperfections in her gait — the result of a clubfoot — and how the FCA staff gave her rides to the competition fields while everyone else walked. They noticed, too, how she exerted herself in the different activities despite her limitations.
But they probably didn't see camp director Kim Boyce give crackers and Gatorade to Terraceena every morning to stave off her diabetic symptoms. And they probably didn't know Terraceena's history.
Huddle Leaders and campers in front of Robert E. Lee Hall
According to Kim Boyce, it is important to note that FCA Camp at Black Mountain or anywhere across the country would not be successful or effective without the help of outstanding Huddle Leaders: selfless volunteers (mostly college athletes) who spend the week investing in a small group of campers and teaching them about faith and sports.
"The Huddle Leaders are the most important members of the camp staff," Boyce said. "They pour their hearts and souls into the campers. They are the ones who are remembered the most and the longest by campers. Every year, when I read through the campers' comment cards, what meant the most to them at camp is always their Huddle and Huddle Leader. They truly make an eternal impact in five short days."
If you would like to be an FCA Camp Huddle Leader and change lives this summer, go to fcacamps.org.
She had been born to a 14-year-old mother and grown up in a troubled, single-parent home. Last summer, TT had lived in a temporary home for troubled youth in Gallatin, Tenn.
But there she was, microphone in hand, in front of hundreds of her peers, a smile on her face. For a few brief moments, she shared how God had revealed His love and purpose for her. She testified how, that very week, she had placed her faith in Christ.
And then, she was done. She quietly returned to her seat. Two months later, on Aug. 31, 2008, Terraceena died from complications with diabetes.
"Terraceena was a real special camper," Boyce said. "Just a sweet spirit."
These are the stories that have drawn Boyce, FCA's assistant director for Metro Atlanta, back to this quaint town in western North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains for nearly 30 years. As she prepares for this year's camp in June, her voice still catches when she recalls stories like Terraceena's.
"I tell you," Boyce said, "there's something very special about Black Mountain. God has really anointed that place."
Dona Banks would agree. After becoming a Christian at FCA's girls camp at Presbyterian (S.C.) College in 1978, she attended the first-ever Black Mountain Girls Camp in 1979 and has returned almost every year since either as a Huddle Leader, chaplain, evening speaker, dean or athletic director. A summer without Black Mountain is, in Banks' words, "pitiful."
"A lot of girls become Christians on that mountain," she said. "A lot of girls come from abusive relationships at home or with a boyfriend. They see the truth that the Bible offers, and it exposes the lies they hear at home. God does love them; God does value them. They realize they're a person Jesus died for and that they are worth it. They go home, at least I hope, realizing that they are the apple of their Father's eye. And like I did, they develop friendships that last a lifetime."
It all happens on a 1,200-acre plot of rustic splendor owned by the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. In the early 1900s, as the story goes, the man scouting the area for a YMCA land purchase climbed a tree, surveyed the wondrous vista and shouted, "Eureka! I've found it!"
On Black Mountain, time slows to the lazy rhythms of a comfy rocking chair — and there are plenty of those in a town nicknamed "The Front Porch of Western North Carolina." From the camp's stately, white-columned porch at Robert E. Lee Hall, you can see seven distinct mountaintops on a clear day.
"It's an incredible view of the Blue Ridge landscape," Boyce said.
Of course, leisure isn't the signature dish on Black Mountain Camp's menu. Mornings are consumed by Huddle-vs.-Huddle competitions in sports like basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball. Afternoons feature sport-specific skill sessions taught by college coaches.
"It's a good balance between fun competition and serious clinic time in their sport," Boyce said.
At Black Mountain, athletes will encounter — many for the first time — coaches who teach their sport not with profanity-laced tirades, but with Christ-like encouragement.
Starting this year, FCA's Black Mountain Girls Camp is offering a scholarship endowment fund to reduce the cost of all campers. Camp Director Kim Boyce, with the help of FCA's headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., set up the fund in September with a goal of reaching $50,000.
"The way it's set up, every camper who goes will get some money from that," Boyce said. "You don't have to apply for it or ask for it. If we only have $25 to give every camper, that's what we'll give every camper."
To contribute to this fund, contact Boyce at email@example.com. Or to give to one of the many life-changing FCA Camps in your local area, call (800) 289-0909. Visit fcacamps.org for a complete FCA Camp summer schedule.
"Some of the girls have never had a Christian coach until coming to Black Mountain," Boyce said. "They're used to their coach yelling, maybe even cussing at them. Then they get to Black Mountain, where the coaches are encouraging and positive, and it blows them away. These athletes learn about the difference Jesus makes. Many accept Him as their Savior and return home where they become leaders for Jesus on their teams and on their campuses. That's what keeps me energized to have this camp continue. God does change lives there."
As the sun sets each evening over the majestic Blue Ridge skyline, the agenda shifts from the athletic to the divine. For many Black Mountain veterans, their best memories include the powerful worship services as several hundred voices sing to the Lord. The camp also annually features top-shelf female speakers like Rebecca Pippert, author of the landmark evangelism book, Out of the Salt Shaker & Into the World, national women's conference speaker Lisa Harper, and Robyn Slain, a professional basketball handler who has performed at NBA, WNBA and NCAA games.
Banks recalls enjoying a visit from former North Carolina State Women's Basketball Coach Kay Yow years ago. Yow, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer who died of breast cancer in January, arrived at camp shortly after leading the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team to a stunning gold-medal victory in the 1988 Seoul Games.
"She got up and said, 'I'm sure you want me to tell you about South Korea. But that's not what it's about. It's about my relationship with Jesus Christ,'" Banks recalled. "That stuck with me. We're so goal-oriented [as athletes]. We want to win the championship. But when she said that, you knew that was her biggest priority."
Gospel-centered testimonies like Yow's have continued to mark the camp throughout the years. Harper, who first attended Black Mountain in 1981 and has served on staff and spoken there many times since, remembers being touched by the testimony of Iris Blue, a former inmate in the Texas prison system who now serves as a selffunded missionary for Mission Service Corps.
"It was almost as if the metaphorical curtain between heaven and earth parted and we could see Jesus," Harper said. "God moved through Iris in such a tangible way while she shared her story, I think every girl who heard it walked away with an indelible impression of just how amazing divine grace really is."
But the greatest highlight of Black Mountain is the young women who leave the rolling hills of North Carolina as changed individuals. Each young woman who walks up to the microphone that final night, like Terraceena Green, is another witness to the power of Christ.
"God transforms lives on that mountain," Banks said. "It's hard to describe it. I know when you go up that mountain, you can't help but experience the Holy Spirit. You go up that mountain, and you leave with a chunk of it whenever you go."
Perhaps Harper, who likens Black Mountain to "a little piece of Eden," said it best: "I know it's not theologically sound to say God's presence is more palpable there, but, for me and many of my friends, Black Mountain is where we've seen and heard our Redeemer the most clearly. Our Heavenly Father's promises echo so loudly there, His voice might as well be audible. Every single time I've had the unique joy of attending Black Mountain, I've seen God call prodigals home, heal broken families, and convince young women He thinks they're beautiful and that they're worth saving."
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of Kim Boyce.