Southern Baptists unite at Falls Creek to pursue lostness

The new interactive Missions Trail at Falls Creek Conference Center in Davis, Oklahoma, officially opened May 10 with 50 people bowing their heads in prayer. Attendees gathered at the trailhead and asked God to work in the lives of tens of thousands of students who will trek through Falls Creek’s Centennial Garden this summer. They also thanked God for a unique partnership that brought this missions trail to life. 

Erin’s Hope Foundation (EHF) partnered with the International Mission Board and Oklahoma Baptists to create an interactive prayerwalk experience which encourages people to learn about, pray for and consider their calling to missions.  

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Missions Trail highlighted the cooperative work of the Erin’s Hope Foundation, Oklahoma Baptists and the International Mission Board. All were present to participate in the inaugural day. OKCB Photo

Chris Swezey told the gathered crowd he never imagined the project would turn out so well. Eight wooden pergolas dot the scenic trail overlooking the Arbuckle Mountains. The representative for Erin’s Hope Foundation explained the trail means a lot to his family. The foundation honors his sister, Erin, who passed away after a car accident in which a drunk driver hit her. This project puts feet to her dream of going to the mission field.  

Erin Swezey was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. Her family created the Erin’s Hope Foundation which funded the Missions Trail at Falls Creek Conference Center, Davis, Oklahoma. OKCB Photo

“We feel like this place allows her to do that in a way,” Chris Swezey said, pointing to displays under every pergola that educate on missions and challenge participants to pray and respond. “Our prayer is that God would use this project to help spread the happiness that comes from a life lived under Christ.”

This hope is exactly why the International Mission Board joined the endeavor. Ed Herrelko, the IMB’s vice president of marketing and communications, explained lostness is the only problem with an eternal consequence. He told the crowd that they were experiencing the best of what Southern Baptists do together — pursue lostness. 

“Our hope is that thousands of youth will start to think about how many people don’t know our Savior Jesus Christ or how many people don’t even have access to the gospel,” Herrelko said. “Our prayer is for a passion to ignite in our youth and they will start to think about the lost and how they can impact lostness.” 

For many missionaries who grew up in Oklahoma, Falls Creek was a place they first recognized God’s calling on their lives to reach the nations. Todd Fisher, Oklahoma Baptists executive director-treasurer, spread his arms and told attendees they were standing on sacred ground where special things have happened for the past 106 summers. This is the place countless children, youth and others came to know Christ and where countless young people were called to the ministry. 

“This trail brings a richness to this area of the camp,” Fisher said pointing to the trail winding along a path to three white crosses.  

Top right: The entrance to the new Missions Trail features a mission statement from Erin Swezey’s life that the Erin’s Hope Foundation prays will resonate with the thousands of youth who will walk the trail this summer. Top left: Stephen Rummage, senior pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church and IMB trustee, dedicates the Missions Trail on May 10. Bottom: Each pergola features an educational display about missions and how Southern Baptists are pursuing lostness.

The idea for this missions trail was actually years in the making. A parent of missionaries had an idea to help children know how missionaries live and work. He suggested to Erin’s Hope Foundation the idea to create some “steps” for children to walk through with information about countries and missionaries. 

As a former children’s minister, Erin’s mother Dixie Swezey found the idea appealing. She spent years taking Erin and other children to camp. She knew these experiences can be a special time in a child’s life where they learn to walk closer with Jesus and heed His call. It was at camp where Erin learned to spend daily time in God’s Word. Dixie also remembered Erin sending a letter from Falls Creek as a seventh grader filled with the excitement of leading someone to faith in Jesus for the first time. 

“I’d see kids go to Falls Creek and maybe have questions or consider making a commitment to serve but didn’t know how to flesh out this calling,” Dixie explained, pointing out that many campers come from rural churches where resources might be limited. “Our prayer is that those who walk through the missions trail will see the needs and learn there are many ways to serve.” 

The goal of the Missions Trail is to educate participants on lostness around the world and how they can respond. Each pergola features three information displays on different parts of the world. IMB Photo

These tidbits of information spread throughout the trail stood out the most to Stacie Sherry and Cindy Boyd, who attended the ceremony. Each pergola provided fun facts, statistics, photos and information about different regions of the world. They were blown away by the large numbers of lostness around the world.  

  • Close to 59% of the world’s population, or 4.9 billion, are considered unreached.
  • Among the Asian-Pacific Rim Peoples, 46,470 die daily without Christ. This is similar to all the visitors at Disneyland in one day.
  • For every 1,000 Central Asians, only one might know Jesus.
  • 72 million culturally Deaf have almost no access to Scripture in their heart sign language. 

“As I stand here reading about the many Deaf around the world who don’t have access to the gospel, all I can think about is the youth in my church learning sign language,” Boyd said, noting that her own daughter will soon walk this trail. “I’m praying for our church’s youth to see this and commit to this type of ministry…I’m praying for my daughter’s heart to see the lostness around her and respond to the need.” 

Dixie Swezey, checked dress, explains the vision for the Missions Trail. Erin’s Hope Foundation is a memorial to her daughter who dreamed of going into missions. Swezey said the trail created a “full circle” moment as it was this camp where Erin first learned to heed the call of God. She prays many generations to come will do the same. OKCB Photo

Responding to this call is exactly what Dixie had in mind for this trail all along. She wanted students to know about all the ways God calls His people to serve—by praying, giving, going and sending. She knows not everyone will have the ability to give. Not everyone will have the ability to go. Not everyone is a prayer warrior. But it takes everyone discovering their calling and gifts from God to truly honor Him.  

Dixie saw that come to fruition with her daughter Erin even hours before her death when she interviewed to become a summer camp counselor at CrossTimbers, a children’s missions adventure camp near Falls Creek. During the interview process, she shared her testimony and passion for sharing her Peace, her Creator, her Sustainer and Protector so that everyone may know the happiness that comes from a life lived under Christ. 

“I feel like we’ve come full circle,” Dixie said. “What started with Erin as a 6-year-old seeking God at a children’s camp brought us right back to the same camp praying the same thing happens for many more generations to come.” 

The Missions Trail ends at the foot of three cross in the Falls Creek Centennial Garden. The creators of the trail, Erin’s Hope Foundation, IMB and Oklahoma Baptists, planned it this way so participants have a place to reflect on their place in God’s plan for pursuing spiritual lostness. IMB Photo