In 1970, eight men armed with a dream, a love for missions, and a truck full of camping equipment formulated one of the first associational Royal Ambassador camps in the Memphis area, called “RA Camp-O-Ree...” Little did they know their modest venture, designed to give a few local RAs a place to camp, would explode into an event that would change their lives as well as the lives of many men and boys for generations to come.
By 1972, RA Camp-O-Ree was born and its founders Wade Watts, Herschel Wells, John and Allen Cole, Ed Smith, Lester Ditto, Bill Ferguson, and Les Collier christened the new camp's home at a small local Baptist camp called Camp Cordova, located in Cordova Tennessee.
At that time, the town of Cordova was a very small rural community just outside of the Memphis city limits. It was a perfect place for a church camp; it was easy to get to and only an hour's drive from most any of the association's churches. The Camp was managed by the Shelby Baptist Association, Memphis, which is now known as the Mid-South Baptist Association, Bartlett. For years, Camp Cordova served as an easy get-away for retreats, picnics, and outings, but nothing like what took place with the RA Camp-O-Ree.
Even though RA Camp-O-Ree started out small, it began to grow year after year. In time, RA Camp-O-Ree became a staple for Royal Ambassador chapters all over the Mid-South area. Every year, more and more chapters began to take advantage of this outdoor phenomenon. As the camp began to grow, so did its name. “RA Camp-O-Ree” soon became known as the “Tri-State Camp-O-Ree” or “TSC” for the old-timers. The idea was to ensure full associational representation from all three states (Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi).
It was obvious these guys weren't focused on “long-term” growth, because it wasn't long before they discovered that even borders were irrelevant when it came to boys seeking a place to camp. TSC found itself welcoming visitors from states surrounding even the Mid-South states. From 300 boys in its earliest beginning to an amazing 1,100 in its peak, the Tri-State Camp-O-Ree became one of the largest RA events in the nation. It ministered to men and boys from Louisiana to Missouri and states in between.
During its stay at Camp Cordova, the numbers of boys and men, privileged enough to have experienced this camping extravaganza, are staggering. In fact, when averaged out in the early years leading up to the 80's, the numbers into the thousands! Over three generations of RAs, many of whom have returned as RA leaders themselves, have enjoyed the excitement that TSC had to offer.
As with any community near a growing city, areas quickly changed. The town of Cordova was no exception. The once-rural farmlands that surrounded Camp Cordova were quickly being replaced with homes, businesses, and a “soon to be” highway. The impact eroded the rustic feel of the camp leaving several years of financial hardship. In time, the difficult decision to sell the camp by the associational churches, leaving TSC with a difficult decision of its own: move or close.
Dedicated to the ministry, started so many years ago, the staff knew it was time to find a new home. Several similar camps were selected, scrutinized, and evaluated, but most were not suitable to accommodate such a massive event. Amenities and location were very important, but the ministry to boys and the future were paramount. They realized that in order to keep TSC going into the future, they needed to find a home where the same vision and mission were shared by the home they chose, which was Royal Ambassadors.
In God's own timing, the leaders of the Tri-State Camp-O-Ree were approached by Frank Green and Tim Bearden, representatives of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and were asked to consider making Linden Valley Retreat and Conference Center in Linden TN as its new home. Although two and a half hours away from its birthplace, the new camp offered a more centrally located area, which was accessible to even more RA Groups without being too far away from its real home. Linden had huge potential in keeping TSC going for several generations of RA leaders. Most importantly, they were strong Royal Ambassador supporters. I guess you could say it was a match made in heaven... Thank you Jesus!
TSC has come full circle. The name TSC was also to be changed back to its original name RA Camp-O-Ree. This is not because it is no longer part of the Mid-South, but because it is now part of many surrounding states.
Time affects us all in different ways, even RA Camp-O-Ree. But there is one thing for certain, as long as there are mission-minded men like those that founded RA Camp-O-Ree so many years ago, missions and camping for boys will always have a chance.
RA Camp-O-Ree is owned and operated by the Mid-South Royal Ambassadors, created by and for leaders like you for the purposes of growing Royal Ambassador programs through Mentorship, Training opportunities and Large Events.
RA Camp-O-Ree is designed specifically for boys and youth in Southern Baptist RA and Challenger or like mission education programs grades 1 -12. Activities designed to help children discover the saving grace of Christ while discovering the importance of leadership, mentorship, and missions. RA's also gives boys the opportunity to appreciate the outdoors and build strong Christian relationships.
Royal Ambassador Camp-O-Ree is sponsored by the Mid-South Royal Ambassadors, in cooperation with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and the help of the Golden Offering of Tennessee Missions.
Through your donations & church support to the GOTM, we are able to grow the Royal Ambassadors program through camps like
RA Camp-O-Ree. Your support is greatly appreciated. To find out more, go to: https://www.tnbaptist.org/ and ask how you can help