Rapidan Baptist Camp is situated in the rolling hills of Madison County, Virginia. The story of our camp is rich in the blessings of God. One can see the hand of God at work to keep the camp going through various periods of difficulty.
Dr. E. Wayne Thompson shared the history of the camp in an interview with Brent Hockema, the pastor at Smith Creek Regular Baptist Church, New Market, VA. The following is a compilation of that history.
The “Camp” began when churches came together because they wanted Christian camping. The idea of “Christian Camping” originated with Ed Bradley at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Luray, VA, and Ed Carmichael at Bethel Baptist Church in Great Falls, VA. These churches, along with others, originally rented property in the Shenandoah National Park at Powells Fort and operated under the name “Baptist Youth Camp, Inc.” This arrangement worked well for a few years until there were fears of government intervention in the camping procedures. The slogan for the Camp was “saved, studying, serving.” The camp operated on “a hand-to-mouth existence, that is, God’s hand to our mouth,” and we still live that way.
Baptist Youth Camp was a camp for fundamental, independent, Bible preaching churches. There were many churches involved in the camp in those early days. Some of those churches were: Adelphi Bible Church (Adelphi, MD), Allentown Baptist Church (Clinton, MD), Bethel Regular Baptist Church (Great Falls, VA), Clearview Baptist Church, Denbigh Baptist Church (Denbigh, VA), Engleside Baptist Church (Alexandria, VA), Faith Baptist Church (Fredericksburg, VA), First Baptist Church (Accokeek), Gid Brown Bible Church (Washington, VA), Mt. Carmel Regular Baptist Church (Luray, VA), Orange County Bible Church (VA), Smith Creek Regular Baptist Church (New Market, VA), Staunton Baptist Temple (Staunton, VA), Trinity Baptist Church (Verona, VA), and York Baptist Temple (Yorktown, VA). The purpose of the camp was, and still is, to see people get saved, to help saints study the Word, and to see these people return home ready to serve in their church.
Churches provided the counselors for their week of camp. Even the pastors of the particular churches were involved in counseling their young people. At the time of this writing, most of the churches still provide their counselors.
In 1972, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen Rast, Sr. decided they wanted their 210 acre farm to be used for a purpose of eternal value. The property meanders along the scenic Rapidan River and has a peaceful three acre pond down in the valley. The Rast’s knew that Baptist Youth Camp, Inc was looking for private property, so they sold the property to the Adelphi Bible Church in Adelphi, Maryland to be used for the camp. Adelphi Bible Church supplied the initial Board and Pastor Paul Kendle was the first Director.
The goal for occupancy as a camp was the summer of 1974. The Rasts continued to live on the property in their house on Jack’s Shop Road. The Rast’s had farmed the land for vegetables and cattle, and they included 15 head of cattle and some farm equipment in the sale. Vegetables were grown and cattle were raised for meat to feed the campers in those first few years.
A lodge was erected for a kitchen and assembly area.
The lodge is now named Kendle Hall. (Paul Kendle is the tall man standing next to Dr. Wayne Thompson, 3rd and 4th respectively from the right) Eight t-shaped cabins were built to house twenty-four campers and four sponsors each: four cabins for the girls and four cabins for the boys, and a bathhouse on each side of camp.
Ray De Bord was the first Director of Maintenance for the camp. Ray and Helen sold their house in Maryland and used the proceeds to build the large house on the property, which is now “the Director’s house.” Ray retired from his position in April, 1982.
In 1987, the initial bonds that were sold to purchase the property were coming due, so to pay off the bonds, Dr. Thompson purchased the 52 acres across the road from the camp along the river to help pay off the bonds. Camp Rapidan now consists of 158 acres. The name of the camp was officially changed in 1987 to Rapidan Baptist Camp and Conference Center. The remainder of the bonds were paid off by the 1988 timber sale.
In a private accident of November 2002, a fire claimed one of the girl’s cabins, and two nice log cabins have been built to replace it.
In 2004, only two “owner churches” remained as the people of Engleside Baptist Church in Alexandria and Smith Creek Regular Baptist Church in New Market attempted to continue the work.
Directors of the camp have been Pastor Paul Kendle, Jonathan Thompson, David Thompson, Matthew Speck, Kevin Carlock, and Kelly Earles. We remember the loss of “Johnny” Thompson, as he died on the property in a vehicular accident on a stormy and slick evening, in the first year of his leadership. There has been much personal sacrifice on the part of our directors through the years, as they surrendered to serve the Lord in this capacity.
Through the years, different activities have been added to provide greater opportunity for camper’s enjoyment: walking/biking trails; canoes; paddleboats; rowboats; an outdoor basketball court; the Rapidan Rail (Death Rail); a swimming pool with a 250 foot waterslide; a gyroscope; a portable 25 foot climbing wall; shooting ranges for archery, slingshot, and riflery; a low ropes course; and a zipline! The zipline is the longest one in Christian camping in the country, over 1500 feet long and starting 45 feet in the air! The Rapidan Rail (Death Rail) is a signature ride along a 500 foot long rail, on a cart at 30 miles per hour, down the hill into a gravel pit at the bottom!
Due to the economic hard times and other responsibilities of the ministry, the people of Engleside Baptist Church agreed to discontinue as an “owner” church in 2010. They still continue to be a supporting church. Currently, Smith Creek Baptist Church is attempting to get other pastors involved in this great work. There are currently 30 churches supporting Rapidan on a monthly basis.
Our desire is that God would continue to bless the camp with more disciples of Christ and create a vision in the heart of others for Christian camping; that they would then support the work here and continue the vision begun in 1972.
Rapidan Baptist Camp is a gem in the hills of Virginia, and maybe in your own “backyard” where you can “come away” to escape the rush of everyday life, to hear the Word of God expounded and preached, exalting the Lord Jesus, evangelizing the lost, and equipping the saints to return to the work of the ministry in your own hometown.
Come be a part of the great work of God here at Rapidan Baptist Camp!