Feature Story, May 2018

Pine Cove’s Camp in the City Combines Faith and Fun

Pine Cove’s Camp in the City
Combines Faith and Fun

By Susan Brown

Just being around E.J. “Pops” Hibbler is an energizing experience. He is “Christ-centered, others-focused and seriously fun” – the motto of the camp he brings to Baton Rouge every summer. Pine Cove’s Camp in the City, based in Tyler, Texas, is coming July 2-6 to the Chapel in the Oaks on Siegen Lane. It is a microcosm of effective mentoring for children: get into their world, genuinely enjoy who they are, and show them who they can become.

In the middle of the jam-packed week of water sliding, wall climbing, bungee trampoline jumping and hilarious competition, his team of college students has a mission: to teach the gospel and model a godly lifestyle. That includes a life lesson in obeying parents, something Hibbler learned when (against his mother’s stern warning) he lit a handful of fireworks behind the house leaving him with serious burns and the nickname “Pops.”

“Pine Cove exists to be used by God to transform the lives of people for his purposes and for his glory,” Hibbler said. “What kind of drives and fuels us is that we have college students who may be relevant [to kids], but they know that sin still exists and that we have to fight off that sin with the light we have in us by the Holy Spirit. ‘For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’” (Philippians 2:13).

“‘The joy of the Lord is our strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10b) when we’re jumping in the gauntlet, when we see those smiling faces and see a lot of sweating,” Hibbler said. “That’s what gets us through the summer – believing those scriptures wholeheartedly. You be wacky, you be joyful and you show them that they are loved.”

Camp in the City teams travel throughout the southeast all summer, from Texas to Oklahoma to South Carolina.

“The thing that we want them to walk away with is just identity – who they are,” Hibbler said. As trust builds, counselors have the opportunity to see the kids through God’s eyes, as important, loved and full of potential. His goals are “to instill identity, to have a church home or know a place where they can go, and to know the gospel, the saving news of Jesus Christ.”

But getting kids to open up can be tough. “First, we try to break down walls, to let them know that, hey, we don’t mind being silly, goofy, for the sake of your saying, ‘Oh, you’re crazy – and I think I like you.’”

His own story is one that tracks the steadfast love of God who works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:29). Adopted by his great-aunt when he was only two weeks old, E.J. grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi with his biological brother and a sister who “just popped in and out” of his life.

At his home church, Mt. Olive Baptist, relations became strained. His family pulled away from church for a couple of years while his mother recovered from the hurt she experienced there. Then, the House of the Lord Full Gospel Baptist Church sent a van to pick him up. “I just started growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord there, on my own, instead of grabbing onto my mom’s faith,” he said. “I knew the Lord had called me to ministry, ultimately.”

Hibbler was determined to become an engineer to earn enough money for his mom to have a better life. At Mississippi State, his friend Cortez McRaney showed him a verse of scripture that changed his course:

Two things I request of you (Deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches – Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9).

He decided to invest his life in the spiritual development of other people, something he could never claim to accomplish on his own. It was a huge step of faith.

Confident that God would provide financially, he gave up his engineering scholarship, changed his major to broadcast journalism and landed a freelance job with ESPN to help pay the bills – a job he still holds. With a student assistantship, he entered the meteorology program for a master’s degree with an ulterior motive – to stay near a girl he was dating. In the Student Union one day, he saw a Pine Cove booth and agreed to work at the Outback camp for kids.

“That’s when I had confirmation. I had a dream that the Lord was going to plant me in Texas, permanently,” he said. “Two weeks after that, I was offered a job to come and work for Camp in the City full-time. So, long story short, the Lord did it.”

Now, his prayer is to be part of God’s story: “We want them to leave with the gospel and its transforming power, that Christ came and lived a real life and walked amongst people,” Hibbler said. “He loved us so much that he died and rose up, conquering death, and he gave us a helper until the end of the days. He gave us the Holy Spirit.”

“We tell our counselors to remember what’s going on,” Hibbler said. “If there’s an issue – fear, hurt, low view of self – turn to the scriptures to talk identity into them. “Don’t blow that moment. If you have the chance for a ‘hang time,’ speak the words of life into them.”

“The second thing is knowing that there is a home within a church, because often times I think we get burned out with the same programmatic things. But these campers are coming for something more. They’re coming for Jesus.”

A pivotal moment for the team occurred in the aftermath of the July 2016 shooting in Baton Rouge. “We got a chance to see how Baton Rouge takes on racial differences and how they mend together as a city,” Hibbler said. They worried that campers from a majority African-American neighborhood would not come back.

“We prayed. We said in the name of Jesus, if you would allow these kids to get on this bus, we will make sure to love them,” Hibbler said. “We saw these campers already lined up at the edge of the road saying we will not let this separate us from an opportunity for them to hear the gospel. We will not let this moment stop our kids because they may go to a majority white church. It doesn’t matter; Christ is all that matters.’”

“These kids are in it for the whole experience – water slides, rock walls, camp cheers, team building and learning about Jesus with their peers,” said Lisette West, Kids Hope USA Director for the Chapel. “Campers talk about how their camp and life experiences relate to the Bible passages. Some make bold professions of faith and go on to be baptized over the summer,” West said.

Camp in the City draws kids from the Chapel, neighboring churches and the community, including Wildwood Elementary, a school that partners with the Chapel through Kids Hope USA. It is open to kids who are entering first through 6th grades.

“The kids are just spraying with water guns, loving these counselors, hanging onto them, saying they don’t want to leave,” Hibbler said. “So, when you come here from 9 to 4, you’re able to think about fun, Christ and being a kid. And when you leave here, you can remember Christ and look back on the fun that you’ve had.”

Pine Cove is a wonderful Christian camp,” Chapel Pastor Kevin McKee said. “This outstanding camp – when give the opportunity to export its infectious summer activities – chose the Chapel as one of the first churches to offer Camp in the City.” The Chapel has sent counselors, children and families to Pine Cove camps for some 30 years. “And God continues to use Christian camping to change lives and advance his kingdom and purposes,” McKee said.

For more information, visit

pinecove.com/city/chapel-in-the-oaks.



Family Life, May 2016

Create Your Own Journey

by Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis

TonyaHeadshotNewLord, I’m on my knees calling out to you. Can you hear me? Where are you? I need you? I can’t do this alone. I’ve tried it my way, it didn’t work. I have no guidance. I can’t figure this out. I want to trust you. I want to have faith. I want to renew my strength and identity in the likes of you but …

This is where a lot of people become stagnant. They wholeheartedly want to trust God, but fear stands in the way of faith.

There are several types of generational curses. Generational curses are behaviors that have been passed down from generation to generation and are prevalent in homes today. We all believe in a higher power, but others my call it something different according to how their generation was raised.

One type of generational curse is the behavior of non-compromising in relationships. Maybe you’ve noticed behaviors that seem not to be removed no matter what you’ve tried. There are things in your life that are not your fault. For example, my mother’s mother and father were divorced when she was young. So, naturally, my mother and father divorced when I was young and guess what, my first marriage also ended in divorce … it seems a pattern has developed. When you go to your mother and father for advice about your marriage, what are you being told?

Maybe for your family it’s teen pregnancy. Often, teens become parents because their parents were also teen parents. Or maybe it is a chronic communication issue of some kind — some men weren’t taught to talk about their feelings. They were taught to be strong and to be good providers, but not good husbands. And that’s because their fathers were taught to be good providers and to be strong, and that those things were the elements of a good husband. But if you ask any wife, that is not enough to classify someone as a good husband.

Another generational curse could be striving to be something that you just don’t want to be (career-wise). You feel the need to carry on the family legacy, which might be practicing law, because your grandfather was a lawyer and your dad and brothers are lawyers as well, but you’d rather be a fireman. Being a lawyer is their destiny not yours. So you must learn to go against the grain in a positive way in order to construct your life the way it was meant to be, which is following in the footsteps designed for you by God, not your family’s legacy.

Sometimes the foundation you have isn’t your fault. Some of those generational curses date back so far that you’re still fighting your ancestor’s demonic spirits. But all of that can change. When you are in your prayer closet, you must declare that all generational curses are broken. You don’t have to be what your parents were — you can be whom you were created and designed to be.

I know you’re wondering if you’re strong enough to break the cycle. The answer is yes, but only with God’s watchful eye. Do you believe in God? Do you have enough courageous faith to see the process through to the end? Everything in life worth having is worth praying for. So get on your knees, cry out to God and tell Him you want to receive what He has already promised you; because you’re not who your mother or father was, you are so much greater than that. Sure, things will get rough but don’t throw in the towel. Believe in yourself and create your own journey.