Sisters Sabrina and Sarai Stansberry have been familiar faces at the annual Louisiana Baptist Youth Encampment for more than 10 years.

“I was a tagalong with my mom and older sister since I was about 9,” said younger sister Sabrina Stansberry, 19, a graduate of St. Joseph’s Academy and a junior at Loyola University in New Orleans.

This year, Sabrina served for the first time as camp president for the five-day event that concluded Thursday at Southern University and Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 9700 Scenic Highway.

About 300 students from throughout the state attended the camp that featured dance, poetry, oral interpretation, mime, music, drill teams, sports, drama and daily Bible classes for ages 12-21. Classes centered around the theme “Faith is the evidence of” taken from Hebrews 11:1, 6.

The camp returned to Baton Rouge after three years in Alexandria.

For the Stansberrys, this year’s camp represented not just a return to Southern, where the students were housed in dormitories, but having their church and its new Family Life Center serve as host for most of the events made it even more special.

“I’m really excited to have youth encampment back in Baton Rouge,” said Sarai Stansberry, 23, a graduate of St. Joseph’s and Xavier University who returned this year to work as a sponsor. “I started going to youth encampment when I was 12 years old, and I continued until I was 17. Then I started working in preparation for college. And now that my sister’s the president and I moved back to Baton Rouge, I’m really excited.”

Sabrina Stansberry said she wanted the camp to be as she remembered in her hometown.

“That was actually one of my goals as being president was trying to bring camp back to the old ways and what better way to do than to bring it just where I first started,” she said. “My pastor (the Rev. Jesse Bilberry) and my church were just so welcoming (with) the new facility … It was meant to be. It’s less stressful, because this is my family, my church family. “

The Rev. Calvin Woods, the camp’s director, said it’s a thrill to be back at Southern.

“We’re back home now,” said Woods, the pastor of Greater Liberty Baptist Church in New Orleans. “We take pride in the opportunity to come and support this university. We always thank God for Southern.”

Southern allows the students to get motivated about school after staying in a college campus setting, Woods said.

Despite the opportunities for fun and games, performing and meeting new people, the Stansberrys said the camp is most of all an opportunity to grow in God.

“It’s a week of sacrifice,” said Sabrina Stansberry, noting that there are no TVs, and cellphone use is limited. “It’s really about consecrating your mind and your body and channeling on our relationship with God and that’s the whole thing.”

100th birthday celebration

The Rev. Sam Marshall Johnson, of St. Francisville, said it is only “with the help of the Lord” that he has been around so long.

The retired minister will be honored for his 100th birthday at 1 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Afton Villa Baptist Church in St. Francisville.

“I’m very excited,” Johnson said. “A hundred years. That’s a long time. I really excites me that I could live that long.”

The event will consist of speakers and music, said Johnson’s daughter, Lucinda Jordan. St. Francisville Mayor Billy D’Aquilla is also expected to present a proclamation on Johnson’s behalf.

Jordan, 68, said her father has blessed her life and her brother Sam Jones Johnson, a minister in New Orleans with spiritual leadership and wisdom.

“He always taught us to be careful of what you say, what you think and what you do. He said to treat everybody equally,” she said.

Johnson was born in 1912 at the Afton Villa Plantation, where his mother and father worked.

Johnson’s father was also a minister and Johnson was called to preach in 1947. After working as an evangelist, Johnson became pastor of Afton Villa and St. Peter’s Baptist churches in West Feliciana Parish in 1957 and served both churches until he retired in 2003 at the age of 91.

Saving ‘soles’ for souls

Dressed in his white Nike Air Jordans, the Rev. Michael Smith, 39, was one of the many people in sneakers Sunday at New Covenant Christian Center in Baker.

Church members and visitors were asked to wear their favorite sneakers as part of “Sanctified Sneaker Sunday.” Many brought an extra pair of new shoes to give to students in underprivileged families to kick off the church’s back-to-school drive.

“Everybody was in sneakers to kind of get the kids in the mentality of going back and getting their minds prepared for school and for education, because we know that education is important to our kids,” Smith said, a Clinton native who has been the church’s pastor for nine years. “I told my leaders you don’t give away something you don’t wear yourself, so when we were buying the sneakers I was pretty adamant that they buy sneakers they would wear themselves or they would put their own children in … just because it’s for the less fortunate, you don’t reduce your standards of what you give someone.”

The “sanctified” event was a way for church members to put their faith into action, Smith said. “We believe in sanctified living, which means being set apart of the things of God for God to use us for his purpose and his glory.”

The church also wants to encourage youth — within the church and out, Smith said. “So we try to keep them encouraged to stay in church but not only that but to stay in school and get their education so they can be better citizens in our communities and neighborhood.”

Smith had hoped to give way 100 pairs of shoes. He said there will be more given away at the church, 6515 E. Myrtle Ave. Call (225) 775-3127.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Reach Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email