Masterpiece camp inspires gifted believers
FOUNTAIN RUN, Ky. - It's not heaven, but for gifted Christian high school youth it will do for now.
The setting is near Barren River State Park in Kentucky at a faith-based camp known as Masterpiece Project where creative teenagers find a place that nurtures heart, mind, body and soul.
Here they find themselves surrounded by like-minded students, all seeking a way to use their talents. And here they find support from professional Christian artists, men and women who will mentor them and possibly help send them on the path for which they were destined.
"There are not a lot of camps that do what we do," said Masterpiece co-founder Sherrie Rogers of Lebanon, stating the obvious.
In 2002, she and her husband, Gordon, and another couple began the camp, which offers week-long sessions in June and July as the kids study songwriting filmmaking, photography, dance, drama, improv, visual arts and creative writing.
"This is a group that has not been fully addressed: creative kids who speak a little bit of a different language," said Sherrie. "They would rather make art and write or act and sing or perform than play ball when they go to camp. A lot of camps don't offer what they need.
"Our mission statement is to help young people identify and develop their gift in the arts and become wholehearted followers of Jesus Christ."
The ministry takes its name from Ephesians 2:10: For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
The June session of camp attracted five Wilson County students, including Briley Barnett, 17, a rising senior at Mt. Juliet High School.
"This is my fourth year to come. I'm doing the drama studio," said Barnett. "The first time I came, I fell in love with it, and I made one of my best friends. It's so refreshing to my faith.
"In the drama studio we're doing a lot of improv which is something I've always done. There are moments I feel like I just really need to be here. The devotionals and stuff have been really cool. This week I mostly hope to reaffirm my faith and look more toward how God works in my life," said the student, who plans to major in film or creative writing in college.
Gordon Rogers said, "What we're about is integrating arts and faith. Our culture says, 'You can be a person of faith or you can be an artist. You can't do both.' We have working artists who have integrated their faith and their art."
Masterpiece Project camp originated in 2002 near Chicago. This will be its tenth year to convene on the grounds of Barefoot Republic Camp. Each week of camp is limited to 40 students, rising high school freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
The cost is $625 but some scholarships are provided for those who can't afford it. A majority of the campers come from Kentucky, Tennessee and the Midwest.
Timothy Botts, a retired senior art director from Tyndale Publishing House, and his wife, Nancy, were on the ground floor with the Rogers' at the camp's conception.
"I was like many of these students when I was growing up. I was an artist. In my school and my church I wasn't understood, and since I wasn't good at sports, I didn't feel appreciated," recollected Botts, who selects the camp instructors.
"So we just wanted to create a camp where artists could be themselves and be nurtured and to help them grow. Many of these kids have different gifts, more than one. So we have visual arts, drama, creative writing and music. Some haven't decided what path is right for them so they have the opportunity during the week to try all of them.
"A lot of artistic kids if they're not affirmed go the wrong way. They find this is the place where they belong. They've encouraged."
This has been the third year at camp for Kiana Ledo, 17, a rising senior at Mt. Juliet High. She's getting hands-on instruction in the film studio.
"I'm learning different types of cameras, about lighting and what buttons to use. Our first project today was creating a one-shot film. It's almost like you're making a movie. I acted in one as well. It's been so much fun," she said.
"I remember my first year. Everybody is so nice and welcoming, like a big family. I'm enjoying knowing that God is here and seeing some really amazing things."
Teaching Ledo and the other film students is David Vosburg, a producer from Chicago, who attended the very first camp and who had three brothers who experienced it as well.
"I got interested in film by coming to camp," Vosburg said. "We did a project during the week and that exposure tilted me toward studying in college and through them I got my first job."
Serving as the camp's collaborative projects director is Jeff Walser of Tampa, Fla., who has worked at the camp 15 years.
"I'm really responsible for driving the theme through the camp. This year the theme is pilgrimage. One of the values of Masterpiece is helping young Christian artists collaborate. Learning to give up your ideas to serve the theme or the goal and learning to be humble at what you're trying to do," said Walser.
"The best thing for me is to see how God works in and through the students and staff to change us and produce something together that is beautiful. The camp has been such a trajectory changer for the students as I see their faith and art grow."
A newbie to camp is Jamie Hampton, a sophomore from Wheaton, Ill., who has been checking out the improv studio.
"Acting is something I love to do. Improv is especially fun because it's on the spot. It helps build a toolbox for acting," he said. "It's really cool to see the diversity. How God has given us each a deep creativity and to see how many people are so good at different things."
Gordon and Sherrie, who met at Milligan College in East Tennessee and have been married nearly 50 years, have four children and 17 grandkids. Members of The Bridge Fellowship in Lebanon, they live on Beasley Bend Road.
Gordon served 20 years in the Army, flying helicopters, parachuting from planes, working at the Pentagon and commanding an infantry company in Europe. He later worked in electronics security service and in financial services.
The couple moved to Wilson County 19 years ago, hoping to build a youth camp on their property. That didn't pan out.
"We found this property, but we couldn't build a camp because we couldn't get the right zoning. It's practically a one-lane road and we would have to have widened the road at our own expense," he said.
"So we partnered with Barefoot Republic Camp, based out of Nashville and incorporated out of Kentucky. We built their dining facility, recording studio and other meeting rooms, all one structure, and they gave us use of the property through 2021."
Sherrie, a homemaker and volunteer, has worked with youth ministries most of her life. It was while members of Wheaton Bible Church in Wheaton, Ill., that the inspiration for Masterpiece Ministries came to light.
"Our daughter, Christa, came home from college. She was playing in a group with Bill and Gloria Gaither's son. They came to play at our church and while staying at our home, Christa said to me, 'Mom, you know what the church needs? It needs a summer camp for creative kids.'"
(Their daughter, Christa Wells, wrote the Dove Award-winning song "Held" for singer Natalie Grant.)
After hosting the camp in Wisconsin and Illinois in the early years, they staged it at Cumberland University in Lebanon for three years. "They were wonderful, but it just didn't have the same feel as being out in the country," said Sherrie.
"The greatest thing I think that comes out of this ministry is kids who are seeking relationships with Christ. There is the most beautiful sense of community these kids go home with. They are finally with people who are like them from the day they walk in the door. There is a creative sense. They can talk about their art. If you're a singer or actor, other people don't understand.
"We have professional instructors, adult working artists who are Christ followers. We want the kids to know if God chooses this for you, he can take care of you and provide for you.
As for the personal reward she receives from running this unique camp, Sherrie says the best part is, "We have seen miracles in some of these kids' lives. They have been transformed. They know they are part of a community that loves them. That God is present and has gifted them and there is a purpose. It's been an incredible journey.
"At the end every year from parents and kids the response we get is, 'This is the best camp ever.'"
The faith-based group offers a week long camp each June and July to help high school students identify and develop their God-given gifts in the arts. Studios are offered in songwriting filmmaking, photography, dance, drama, improv, visual arts and creative writing. For those interested in camp next year, go online to masterpieceministries.org. The camp is held at Barefoot Republic Camp near Scottsville, Ky.