CONWAY — The right person overheard pastor David Riley’s conversation about a need, and Camp Aeropagus in Conway is almost ready to open.
“We’ve been dreaming of this five or six years,” said Riley, pastor of Mars Hill Church of Christ in Vilonia.
Camp Aeropagus Christian Camp and Family Development Center is on 10.3 acres in Conway that were donated by Alex Lafferty, a member of Riley’s church.
Riley said that for the past 20 years, he has volunteered to direct a session at Camp Caudle in Hector. His children attended the camp, and now his grandchildren go there, he said. It’s more than 70 miles from the church, though.
“It’s not real convenient,” he said.
Riley’s vision was to have a camp closer to Vilonia, although he said he still plans to volunteer his time at Camp Caudle.
Lafferty “heard us talking about it and donated us the land,” Riley said. “He’s a great man.”
Lafferty was reluctant to talk about the donation, not wanting attention or credit, he said.
He said he heard Riley talking at church about 10 acres someone else had donated for the camp.
“He was just so excited, going on and on,” Lafferty said. “I wrote him a check and said, ‘Here’s your first donation on your camp.’”
A couple of weeks later, Lafferty said, Riley returned the check.
“He said [the owner] backed out on giving the land,” Lafferty said.
At first, Lafferty said, he didn’t think about donating land.
While sitting on his porch on a Monday morning, looking at his property, Lafferty said, he started imagining different areas where the camp might be built.
Lafferty said he started out giving 7 acres for the camp, then more for the septic system, for a total of 10.3 acres.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Lafferty said. “How else do you get that many kids’ attention at one time? Just letting them get together and have a good time in a Christian atmosphere, you can’t put a value to that.”
Riley said with that opportunity, “we began raising the money, and we’re well on our way. We’ve raised about $250,000 so far,” he said.
“We’ve been able to do it just by individual contributions. It’s just been amazing how well it’s been supported,” Riley said. “We need all the help we can get, of course.”
Camp Aeropagus is a nonprofit organization.
Retired businessman Milton Webb of Vilonia, a member of the Camp Aeropagus Board, said it is “a standalone organization, not attached to the church.”
The project started two years ago, Webb said, and Riley spoke to other Churches of Christ in central Arkansas that also supported the project.
Members of those congregations are on the board, and Riley is the president.
The camp is at 53 Iroquois Lane in Conway, about three miles south of the Eight Mile Store on U.S. 64.
Two cabins with rough cypress-wood siding are finished, each one with beds to house 28 people, Riley said.
“We’ve got the ability to sleep 56 out there now, just in those two cabins,” he said.
He said volunteer labor was used to build them, and progress on the camp has been documented on a Facebook page.
“It’s amazing what they’ve got done,” Lafferty said.
Riley said a cafeteria and activity center, large enough for basketball, will be built this summer.
“We want it to be a year-round facility; it will be something the community can use,” he said.
Webb said the plan is to hold drug-intervention, marriage and parenting seminars at the camp, too.
“We believe that the family needs supporting. … Why stop with the kids? You take them out and train them and teach them and throw them right back in the homes they came out of,” Webb said.
He said a church member was asked to come up with a name for the camp and that it comes from the Bible.
Aeropagus was a hill in Athens where the tribunal met, and it was Romanized to mean Mars hill, according to Wikipedia.
Riley also mentioned vacation Bible school and youth rallies as possible events the camp could accommodate.
“We would rent it out to a business, with our stipulations of no alcohol, no cigarettes,” Webb said.
Church camp can be held there beginning this summer, Riley said, even though there is no kitchen.
“The ladies from our church are going to help,” the pastor said, and prepare food to serve campers.
Eventually, Webb said, a pool will be built on the site.
Until then, he said, Lafferty has offered Camp Aeropagus the use of his swimming pool, as well as a skeet-shooting range.
Webb said the church camp will be for youth from all denominations.
He said a temporary baptismal will be built until a permanent one can be constructed.
Both Riley and Webb mentioned family reunions as another use for the camp facilities.
“We just want to strengthen families; it’s a family development center,” Riley said.
“There’s nothing like this in the Little Rock, North Little Rock, Conway area,” he said. “We think it’s going to be a real tool that families can use, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
More information is available by calling Riley at (501) 796-2052 or going to the Camp Aeropagus Facebook page.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.