Published September 4, 2014
FORSYTH — Off Old Zebulon Road west of the city of Forsyth sits Camp Kaleo, Georgia Baptists’ long-time Royal Ambassador camp. Thousands have gone there for a retreat or camp, only to come away with an itch. The good news is that poison ivy rarely causes the itch.
Mark “Scratchy” Thomas from nearby Juliet started working mostly on weekends at Camp Kaleo about 10 years ago. By 2006, he was a summer staff counselor and has worked there every summer since except one. His spiritual life was changed.
Thomas recalls years ago facilitating a weekend group and attending their worship. That’s when he felt the “itch” to surrender to vocational ministry. He almost missed the call.
One of eight home-schooled children, Thomas fondly remembers growing up in a secure, Christ-centered home where the family engaged regularly with a local Baptist church. Still, by middle school he was facing some heavy doubts about Christianity. In early middle school, exposure to pornography led to battles with his faith.
Thomas came to understand that the Christianity he was practicing was hypocritical.
“I adopted Christianity because it was part of the culture I grew up in,” Thomas said. “I didn’t lose my family or my identity. I was becoming one with my culture around me.
“People said the way you know you are saved is praying a prayer, and if you are a Christian you shouldn’t be sinning,” Thomas said. “People sin after they are saved. The deeper question is: Are you having a consistent relationship with Christ? That’s the key indicator.”
The ongoing spiritual nurturing of his family, church, and Camp Kaleo staff helped Thomas realize he could have that consistent walk with Christ that would empower him to face temptations.
So later at the weekend worship service, Thomas looked over the gathered teenagers and wondered, “Are these students experiencing the same things that I did? I felt like I was alone in my struggles. Who is going to be there for them?” His changed life was itching to change others.
That “itch” led Thomas to make a commitment “to be ministry-minded in everything I do.” He has completed college with a degree in youth ministry and will begin additional full-time studies at Southeastern Seminary in the fall. Currently, he aspires to be a collegiate professor of religion.
Thomas now values the spiritual struggles he faced as an adolescent.
“At the end it was really good because I knew I had a decision to make,” he said. “I made a decision when I was a sophomore in high school that I would wholly give my life to Christ in every way, and I wouldn’t hold anything back any longer.”
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