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Manhood and McCall


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A camp for boys in South Carolina disciples young men through mentorship … and belly flops

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MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, January 4th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: masculinity.

We hear a lot about toxic masculinity these days, but what about Biblical manhood? Last summer, WORLD Associate Correspondent Steven Halbert visited the last remaining boy’s camp of the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s where boys learn to cultivate positive masculinity.

STEVEN HALBERT: On a hot afternoon in late July, fathers and sons gather around Lake Chillywater to cool off after a full day of activities at Camp McCall.

The lake is preparing to shut down for the day, and as the camp counselors who double as lifeguards blow their last whistle, the men and boys exiting the lake begin chanting, “Belly flop! Belly flop!”

It is a Camp McCall tradition that one of these lifeguards must belly flop into the lake from the guard stand at closing time.

In honor of that tradition, a young 20-something leaps from the stand with arms thrown back, chest and stomach exposed, and hits the water with a smack that can be heard around the valley. Raucous cheers erupt from the onlookers.

And benign though it may be, it’s this sort of seemingly senseless bravado that might get labeled toxic masculinity.

A show of strength for the sole purpose of showing strength.

Camp Director Matt Allen acknowledges that a camp for boys…

MATT ALLEN: Goes back to the idea of masculinity and what masculinity is often portrayed as in our society.

So, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a “camp for boys”? Allen has some ideas about what that might be:

ALLEN: And, you know, we don't as an organization embrace the camouflage, hunter, gun advocate, because I don't think that truly communicates the idea of masculinity.

Such a statement might come as a surprise from a 19-year-veteran, but it is precisely because of his military background that Allen feels the way that he does.

But how do you go beyond surface-level definitions of masculinity and manhood to pursue something deeper?

ALLEN: I struggle a lot trying to communicate that value as well.

The counselors and staff at Camp McCall will serve over 2,300 boys throughout the summer. However, discipling that smaller group of 40 counselors is where Allen sees his ministry. And most of those counselors return as staff for three or four years in a row.

ALLEN: I admit that we do a little bit of bait and switch on them, “Hey, come work for us; it’ll be great, you'll help run this camp.” But what we're really doing is we are recruiting them into a multi-year mentoring and discipleship program.

Allen believes that it’s that intentional discipleship that leads to positive masculinity. Practically, that works itself out amongst a staff who seize on small moments to point campers toward Christ.


A foray into archery becomes a conversation about how sin means “missing the mark.” A walk through the creek becomes a reflection on God’s creativity and the beauty of creation. And a dodgeball game turns into a discussion on how to avoid the temptations that often target us in life.

Most of the camp’s staff were once campers themselves. But now, these young, college-age men run the camp. Whether it’s activities, service, hikes, or swimming, the counselors are modeling what they are learning. That forms a communal bond amongst the staff that you can really see play itself out in the evening chapel services.

During each service, one of the staff members gives his testimony. This is a vulnerable and confessional time; and you can tell that the young men are nervous. But you can also hear the joy in their voice as they talk about what Christ has done:

AUDIO: [Testimony]

As the testimony begins, the rest of the staff come and stand behind him to quite literally “back him up” as he continues to talk of what God has done.

And as the testimony ends, this support group becomes a choir that praises God for the good news they just heard.

AUDIO: [Chapel choir]

Here at camp McCall, positive masculinity is spending time in a confessional community that looks for opportunities to serve others.

Seventy-five-year-old Bill Rigsby recognizes it. He’s a pastor, and he’s returned to the camp year-after-year for 42 years. This year he’s joined by his adult son and two of his grandsons.

BILL RIGSBY: I’ve had young men from my church in that choir before. And in this staff up here, who have gone to be pastors, and I'm thinking of one particularly who’d gone to be a missionary. And he really learned it here. He learned it as a camper, as a staffer.

Rigsby has an idea on why this combination of service and time within the context of a confessional community has such an impact on the next generation:

RIGSBY: They see these boys who are Christian men actually growing in their own faith. They see them as a role model, having fun as a Christian and then also worshiping as a Christian.

Maybe, then, the belly flop tradition is not as senseless as it first appears. Rather, perhaps it is an example of one more way that these staff serve the campers. They use it to foster the sort of camaraderie that forges relationships that actually result in positive masculinity.

But it’s not a formula. This is deep and genuine relationship.

AUDIO: [Doxology]

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Steven Halbert at Camp McCall in Sunset, South Carolina.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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