Thousands expected at Pentecostal Camp Meeting

By LaReeca Rucker

To win a game of chess or checkers, one must think strategically. It requires concentration, skill and the ability to act at the right moment.

Leaders of the Mississippi District of the United Pentecostal Church International are challenging Mississippians to get in the game Tuesday through Friday by attending the 61st annual Camp Meeting on the church district grounds at 10332 Mississippi 18 in Raymond.

The theme is "It's Your Move," and nightly services begin at 6:30.

"We believe God will not do the work alone," said David Tipton Jr., superintendent of the Mississippi District of the United Pentecostal Church. "He needs people to fulfill his will on Earth. God has made the first gesture; now it's your move."

Tipton said the public is invited to the annual gathering that attracts thousands.

"Entire families from across our state gather," he said. "Many elected officials attend. There could be anywhere from 2,400 to 4,000 people nightly."

The Camp Meeting will welcome three notable speakers:

The Rev. Ray Johnson, pastor of First Pentecostal Church of Denham Springs, La., will lead day Bible classes.

As pastor of a congregation with more than 1,300 members, Johnson helped found churches in Amite, Port Allen, Donaldsonville, Baton Rouge, Greensburg and Plaquemine, La., and two in Connecticut.

The Rev. Jerry Dean, of Bossier City, La., is the day evangelist. He leads a church called The Pentecostals of Bossier City.

The Texas native has preached in across the U.S. and in several countries.

The Rev. Jerry Jones, of Hazelwood, Mo., will lead evening services.

Jones, the general secretary-treasurer of the United Pentecostal Church International, began preaching in 1971 while studying at Northeast Louisiana University. He has led churches in Metairie, La., and Bridgeton, Mo.

James Nations, district secretary, said the Camp Meeting is a tradition.

"It was started many years ago when people came in with their horses and buggies and spent a week or so," he said. "It's a spiritual enlightenment meeting.

"The night services are strictly evangelistic. Many people who can't come in the daytime drive in for our night services."

"It's Your Move" encourages followers to examine how far they've come and go the extra mile, Nations said.

"It's time to move to another height in our spiritual life," he said.

Nations said Pentecostals emphasize spiritual worship.

"Many of the denominational churches have dropped the spiritual side," he said. "They have more of a programmatic type of service.

"They go through the rituals, but never get into the praise and worship like Pentecostals do. It's kind of a continuation of what many churches had back in the early 1900s."

According to the UPCI website, the church organization was formed in 1945 by the merger of the Pentecostal Church Inc. and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ.

In 1946, there were 617 churches. Today, there are more than 4,000 churches and some 4 million followers worldwide.

The UPCI emerged from the Pentecostal movement that began in Topeka, Kan., in 1901.

The doctrine embraces the view "speaking in tongues is the initial sign of receiving the Holy Spirit," and holds a fundamental view of the Bible as "the only God-given authority that man possesses."

Tipton said the Camp Meeting will challenge congregates to support their individual churches and build up the district by "moving the message through Mississippi and working together with God."

"A wise man once said organizations without movement will become monuments," said Tipton, who believes the Pentecostal church is strategically positioned to better impact the current generation.

In a November 2009 Leadership and Strategy Meeting, Tipton challenged churches with "Ten In Ten" - a movement to found 10 new Mississippi churches in 2010. Nine have been started, and 10 new ministers are leading congregations.