Lipscomb, Shiloh connection transforms lives of New York teens and university students

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Lipscomb alums and students both benefit from Shiloh's program and Lipscomb's mission work

When Lori Bumpas joined Shiloh NYC in 1997, the ministry was in the early stages of a renaissance that began in 1994. The summer camp facilities were still in desperate need of repair and the organization was in debt.

Bumpas arrived to lead a resurgence that had already begun with the previous director, but a key event in that renaissance was in 1999 when Bumpas stopped by Lipscomb University to spread the word about her ministry in chapel.

Laura Beth (Thomas) High (’99), now a teacher at Otter Creek School, was in Collins Alumni Auditorium that day and was so inspired by Bumpas’ talk that she volunteered to be the Camp Shiloh activities director that summer. The next year, she convinced her friend, now her husband, Chad High (’00), to join her up at the camp.

Today Chad High is a Nashville elementary school principal and a member of the board of directors for Shiloh NYC which has revitalized the camp facilities, grown to serve 350 campers each summer and has repaid all of its operating debt. Due in part to his persuasion, High’s hometown congregation, Brentwood Hills Church of Christ, has sent mission teams every summer since 2003 to help renovate the camp facilities.

Other Nashville-area churches have supported the ministry throughout the years, helping to fully revitalize the camp facilities, and Shiloh holds a fundraising dinner for Nashville residents every year, High said.

And at Lipscomb, student interest in Camp Shiloh has consistently grown since that first speech in 1999 with 25 to 30 students each year involved in mission trips to tutor students in NYC, to maintain and repair camp facilities or to hold retreats for teens involved in the Hi Def mentoring program. Many students also apply to be summer counselors at Camp Shiloh, located in the Catskills Mountains.

This past spring break marked 15 years that Lipscomb has sent mission teams to Camp Shiloh.

“It’s amazing what that one event in 1999 has led to,” said High. “The transformation of the camp has been tremendous to watch over the past 17 years.”

“They are a great host partner with clear vision for their ministry. They are the only ministry approved for access to the NYC public school system,” said Mark Jent (’00), Lipscomb’s director of Lipscomb missions outreach. “So when we go to New York, our mission teams know exactly what their goals are.”

The Shiloh/Lipscomb connection has not only benefitted the buildings, it is having a long-term impact on the lives of the youth who participate in Shiloh’s programs, as some of them have chosen Lipscomb as their college destination.

Katelynn Algarin of Bridgeport, Connecticut, came from a broken home and a troublesome childhood to attend Camp Shiloh in 2009. The theme that year was “God only knows,” and Camp Shiloh served the same purpose for her that it does for so many other at-risk children: “It was a safe haven,” Algarin said.

Many teens who experience stress in their home lives and their communities find it difficult to open up emotionally and be authentic, Algarin said. Camp Shiloh helps teens, “unite and build a healthy community,” she said. “It helps you learn to open up and share who you are to other people and experience a different way of living.”

Algarin attended Camp Shiloh three times as a camper, then she became a counselor-in-training in 2013. She was baptized at the camp, and due to her friendships with Shiloh counselors from Lipscomb, she chose to go there for college in 2015. She is now a sophomore majoring in social work (Lipscomb counselors at Shiloh often come from the social work program), and she was a leader of Lipscomb’s May mission trip to the camp.

When she attended Shiloh as a camper, Algarin associated Lipscomb with faith, she said. “Lipscomb brought a different culture to me (as a camper),” she said. “Living in the inner city, you are often insulated, but meeting counselors from universities all over the country really expanded my horizons.

“My experience with Shiloh has allowed me to know better what it feels like to be loved,” she said. “I was able to be a kid there, to learn about Jesus and to grow from a scared little pre-teen to a young woman who is conquering college. It is, and will always be, my home.”

In May Lipscomb’s mission team made repairs and additions to a ropes course added in 2016 and conducted a retreat for the teens in the Hi Def program. Algarin said many of the students she spoke with about the trip are familiar with the ministry or are people who have volunteered or participated at Shiloh.

Word certainly travels about the camp. Steffani Davis (’14, MED ’16), now a physical education teacher at Nashville’s Schwab Elementary School, first heard about Camp Shiloh when she was on another Lipscomb mission trip to Brisbane, Australia. Students she met in Australia were preparing for a mission trip to Camp Shiloh.

As an undergraduate, she served as a camp counselor in 2012 and 2013, and as a graduate student, she led two mission trips to the camp.

“I think (the connection between Lipscomb and Shiloh) has lasted so many years because of God’s love for each place. The people share a common interest of loving God and people,” said Davis. “Though I don't spend an entire summer at Shiloh anymore, I can go back for a week-long mission trip and pick up relationships from years ago. It’s that way with Lipscomb too — once a Bison always a Bison. Strong community and the love of God is what keep our relationship strong with each other.”

Patricia Denney Pena (’14), an English teacher in Nashville’s Glencliff High School, credits Shiloh with changing her life in more ways than one: it’s where she met her husband Luis. “It’s where we met, became friends and eventually fell in love,” she said.

Pena first heard about Shiloh through her social club, and the English education major signed up for a 2012 mission trip to work with the students of P.S. 179 in the South Bronx. Two mission trips later, Patricia decided to be a counselor at the camp in the summer of 2013.

“During the few months of that summer, God showed me the vast difference between what I could do on my own, and what I could do with his guidance and strength,” she said. “The children at Shiloh are like children everywhere: they crave stability, safety and love. Shiloh provides the positive relationships so God can give the kids those things.”

She also met Luis Pena during that summer. Pena had attended the camp since 2001, but he befriended Patricia for the first time when he served as counselor in 2013.

Although they pursued their own life journeys after that summer, their interaction, and their feelings for each other, continued to grow. They were married in 2016, and Ryan French (’04), Shiloh camp director, performed the ceremony. The wedding party was full of Shiloh alumni, said Patricia.

Camp Shiloh is a positive experience for Lipscomb students because it makes it very clear you don’t have to travel overseas to serve the disadvantaged, she said.

“At Shiloh, Lipscomb students see one of the simplest ways to show the love of Christ to others in any situation: love them by showing up consistently and positively. It does not require perfection,” she said. “They love spending time with adults who come back again and again to see them, who want to know how they are doing and who just want to be a friend to them. Teenagers don’t always have the consistency in their lives that they need, but I love knowing that they can count on the people at Shiloh.

“Lipscomb students learn through Shiloh to be honest about their shortcomings, weaknesses and fears,” said Patricia. “By showing the Shiloh campers that God takes care of us anyway, the counselors show the campers, and ourselves, His love.”