All posts by Rachael Osborn

Spiritual Growth Through Missions

Spiritual Growth Through Missions

What I like about Jesus is that He didn’t try to recruit people or use spin. Neither He nor His disciples ever said they were going on a mission trip, because they weren’t. He just invited everyone and said they could follow Him. – Bob Goff, Love Does

Throughout my high school years, mission trips looked very homogeneous. They only happened in the summer and involved a long van ride with my youth group friends to Tennessee. Even today the thought of such trips brings to mind the smell of old vinyl. Our church wasn’t strapped for cash, yet we were transported around in a long string of hand-me-down 12-passenger vans. You know, the kind of vehicles that have since been outlawed because of safety concerns.

Every summer our ritual was the same: to collect tools from supportive congregants and load up for a 9-day mission trip adventure. The van ride to and from our location itself was a rite of passage, like bookends on some of the most defining experiences of our youth.

I love this quote from Bob Goff because it removes all of the clichés surrounding the phrase “mission trip.” Though we used the same phrase, my introduction into the world of following Jesus through service to others was one of the most formative times in my faith. If I think hard about those experiences, they were beyond clichéd.

Our faith forms around following, and what we follow will form (or un-form) our faith. Following Jesus can take so many forms; it’s not just traveling overseas to build a school or to Tennessee to build a house. Beyond the service itself, the most important activity is taking time to be with God. Intentional, focused, faith-forming activities should not be an afterthought or even assumed. This is what the data tells us.

Mountain T.O.P. isn’t Mountain T.O.P. without faith activities. After spending a few years researching Christian camps, Jacob Sorenson writes in the Journal of Youth Development, “Our findings indicated that this aspect was not simply an extra element of the camp experience but rather that faith permeated all aspects of camp. If the faith-centered characteristic was absent or broke down, the experience was no longer recognizable as camp to the campers and staff members.” Mountain T.O.P. has decades of stories that speak to the truth of this data.

At Mountain T.O.P. we know that an overwhelming percentage of our participants (96.1% in the summer of 2017) say they learned something about their relationship with God after a week of service. Almost the same percentage said that they are more interested in service and missions because of their experience. It’s not that we do a few faith activities sprinkled throughout the day. Rather, faith permeates camp.

And I think Mountain T.O.P.’s specific formula of service plus other spiritual practices results in a huge impact. We practice receiving God’s grace through scripture, worship, prayer, solitude, service. Scripture, worship, prayer, and solitude are just as intentional as service in a Mountain T.O.P. experience.

The impact of this formula is repeated year after year: “I came to serve and found myself receiving more.” Unlocking the impact of holy habits through a week at camp can have a profound effect on us. For some reason sitting on a mountain in Appalachia, we welcome the excuse to spend dedicated time with God. We dive right in with worship on the first day of camp. This rhythm becomes ingrained in the community, a part of our identity. We follow this rhythm into the deepest places of ourselves and realize God’s presence, a presence that extends beyond the mission experience.

Getting our hands dirty not just with service, but also with spiritual disciplines keeps us real, grounded and focused. Wayne Meisel, Executive Director of the Center for Faith and Service says, “There are few places in our society where conversations around spiritual exploration and faith formation can happen in such deep, meaningful and lasting ways. The camp experience invites young people to discover and begin to define the spiritual side of themselves.” At Mountain T.O.P. we are not ashamed of repeating Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples to “Follow me, and I will teach you to fish for people.”

Our following extends beyond a camp experience. We have come to appreciate “camp’s role not as a stand-alone experience but rather as part of a much larger ecology of faith formation and character development in partnership with families and congregations.” We are here to accompany one another along in this journey. The real challenge in following is continuing what we’ve learned at camp when we go home. A Mountain T.O.P. experience is most impactful when it is synthesized within this “larger ecology of faith formation“ that includes home churches, families, and the places we do service on a day-to-day basis.

We do a disservice to our young people when we fail to recognize that a one-week mission trip – while potentially huge on impact – is just a small amount of time in an annual calendar of faith formation activities. Our faith forms around following, our following God into an ever deepening relationship. And helping our young people embrace spiritual disciplines along with service will provide the opportunity for a transformational experience that extends well beyond a mission trip experience!

(P.S. In writing about following, I have decided to follow God into a new role at Mountain T.O.P. I will be working part-time, remotely, on a couple of projects that are important to my heart! Some of my responsibilities will include leading our day camp programs, strategic planning, and community development partnerships. Mountain T.O.P. is an important presence in the communities in which we serve. You can still reach me at

2018 Summer Outcome Report

As a community we made incredible strides in fulfilling Mountain TOP’s mission.  We are proud to present the 2018 Summer Outcomes Report. This report outlines the incredible hard work of our summer staff, volunteers and community members.

Mountain TOP’s Executive Director, Ed Simmons, wrote a brief letter introducing the report. You can find the letter and a link to the Outcome Report below.

Mountain T.O.P. Family,
We are called and charged by God to make a difference in the kingdom. This report is about how we are having a greater impact across the lives of all we encounter. How do you and I make a real difference in the world through Mountain T.O.P.? How does Jesus want this ministry to have a greater impact?
It seems to me that the difference between impossible and impact is ultimately the difference between “no” and “yes.” Those individuals, partners and churches that serve through Mountain T.O.P could have easily have said, “no” when asked to get involved. I’m sure they could have come up with so many good reasons to say “no.” But they said, “yes.” They said, “yes, I will participate and invest in this ministry.”
They said, “yes,” and their investment of time, dollars and prayers were turned into the impacts you see throughout this report. And big impacts they were! This is true because when God’s children encounter God’s challenge, the difference between impossible and impact is the difference between “no” and “yes.”
As you read through these pages you will see time and time again that greater impact that results when we join together. Thanks for being with us in 2018 and taking the time to celebrate with us all that has been accomplished.
With love and gratitude,
Ed Simmons
Executive Director

My Time on the Mountain

This incredible blog post comes from Rachel Bellamy  from Myers Park United Methodist. Read about how day camp not only affects the lives of it’s participants but also it’s campers. 

When  I hear the phrase “Mountain TOP” several words come to mind-words like “community,” “perspective,” and “escape.” This was my second year returning to Mountain Top; the moment our church was heading back to Charlotte in June 2017, I knew that I wanted more than anything to go back, Mountain Top. We weren’t building relationships through texts or social media. We were building relationships through genuine conversations, and these conversations allowed complete strangers to transform into close-knit friends.

Throughout the week, we had the opportunity to build a community with the other churches at Mountain Top and the children we spent our days with. Additionally, worship at Mountain Top is truly where I have felt most connected to God- it was completely a judgement free zone. Every night at worship was filled with tears, hugs, and prayers and also a place where you felt unconditionally accepted and loved by God.

My favorite part about Mountain Top was our interactions with the children. Last year, at Mountain Top, I met an 8-year-old girl named Lydia. This year when the children arrived at the church I noticed almost immediately, but because an entire year had passed I thought it would be unlikely that she would remember me. To my surprise, she instantly ran up to me and said, “You’re Rachel, I remember you from last year!” This year, Lydia was tied to my hip- it was so hard on Friday to give her one last hugs and say goodbye to her.

Grundy County, where Lydia and the other children live, is one of the poorest counties in Tennessee. Unfortunately, a lot of children that live in Grundy County have experienced sexual and physical assault, or have a family member addicted to drugs or alcohol. It amazes me that these kids that have gone through so much and  continue to be optimistic and have their trust entirely in God.

My interaction with the children had adjusted my perspective on life and has allowed me to come back to Charlotte as a changed person. It’s hard to summarize such a life changing experience in a few paragraphs but as Jason Rhymer once said “Mountain Top is live a sliver of heaven on Earth.”

A Wake-Up Moment in my Faith Journey

“In that week,I learned more about my faith than I ever had in my life. There’s something about the feeling I got while singing praise songs, in the mountains, surrounded with endless love, that I cannot get anywhere else.”

In this week’s blog we are honored to be sharing with you a reflection from Carissa Dagon. She is an incredible MTOP  Volunteer from the Grove UMC and inspiring young adult.

Hi, my name is Carissa Dagon. I am a senior at East Ridge High School and I have two younger brothers who are both in frog here. My family and I have been going to the grove since we moved to Woodbury almost 17 years ago. I was confirmed in the fall of 2015.

The summer before, the confirmation class went to Mountain Top. for those who are not familiar, Mountain Top is a 7-day camp in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. You spend the week with people from around the country, as well as your church, doing service projects for the people in the county and growing in your faith.

Last summer, I went to Mountain Top for the third time. My week on the mountain has come to be my favorite week of the year, and I already cannot wait to go back. Through Mountain Top, I have grown closer to God and learned so much about Him and how to live as a disciple of Jesus. Three summers ago was a wake-up moment in my faith journey.

In that week, I learned more about my faith than I ever had in my life. There’s something about the feeling I got while singing praise songs, in the mountains, surrounded with endless love, that I cannot get anywhere else. This changed me. I felt my faith grow stronger by the minute, accelerating faster than I could have ever imagined. Not only did my relationship with God change, but so did my relationship with myself. I have realized that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, I am a child of God, and I am called. I am called to always be with Jesus, and this realization changed how I view myself and the world around me. I know that I was created for a purpose, and that there is nothing that life can throw at me that I cannot turn to God with.

 “Though leaving the mountain is hard for me, I find myself excited to spread all of the joy and love of christianity that I just experienced.”

Mountain Top has taught me to put my full trust in God. I am confident in His unfailing, unending love.  Because of this, returning to Mountain Top wasn’t much of a decision for me. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to once again feel the immense power of the holy spirit and serve people in need. Since I went the first time, I have sought out this opportunity to grow tremendously in my faith by returning to the mountain. I am so grateful to have been able to serve the people of the Cumberland Mountains and to connect with God in such powerful ways. Though leaving the mountain is hard for me, I find myself excited to spread all of the joy and love of christianity that I just experienced.

A huge part in that has been coming home to a welcoming and loving church community. I have loved growing up in the Grove and meeting all of the wonderful people here. The connections i have made in my years growing up at the Grove, both with people my age and with adults, are ones I know will stay with me as I experience life and its uncertainty. church is another place i find myself filled with God’s love and compassion. I was a part of creation station and frog, and now attend jolt as often as I can. I treasure the talks I have had with small groups as we explore our faith together. I treasure the games we play and joy that is shared as a community while we all grow closer to each other. I treasure Sunday morning worship, where I get to sing and hear God’s word. Most importantly, I treasure the inclusive and joyful atmosphere of this church. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of such a community that provides me with moments to accelerate my faith and grow as a child of God.

Through my incredible experiences at Mountain Top and the great church I belong to, my relationship with God is unfailing. I have sought these changing God moments, like on the mountain, but also have had it surprise me in the best way. I am grateful that the Grove can continue to be a place that nurtures and grows people, and provides accelerating moments of faith that connect us with God. I encourage all of you to seek moments to connect and grow to closer to God; I am so glad that I did.

2019 Summer Registration Packet

2019 Summer Registration Packet

We are thrilled that you are considering a mission trip with us. It is no small task to bring a group of youth and adults to Mountain T.O.P., so it is with gratitude that I extend my appreciation to the work you will be investing into this trip. Below is an overview of the 2019 Summer Registration Packet. Please review the packet and reach out if you have any questions!


We are excited to share with you some updated program details and a new program! Please refer to the 2019  Summer Registration Packet for additional information.

  1. We are lowering the minimum age for Youth Summer Ministry (YSM) and Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) to rising 7th graders. Both of these programs will include all junior and senior high grades.
  2. Day Camp registration for YSM will be capped at 56 participants per week. Spots for Day Camp are first come, first served; however, as a courtesy to groups serving in Day Camp, groups are encouraged to register no more than one-third of their participants for Day Camp. Additionally, the minimum age for participation in Day Camp is 13 years old.
  3. For three weeks, we are offering Senior High Camp (SHC). This program will be only for rising 10th graders and older. See page 7 for more details.
  4. We will be doing online registration and payment through a new platform: RegPoint. Please be patient with us as we launch this new system and discover how to customize to best meet our needs.



The Mountain TOP Baker Staff Experience- Steven Stinson

The Mountain TOP Baker Staff Experience- Steven Stinson

Being on summer staff this year was one of the best experiences that I think I have ever had. But, I certainly can’t take any of that credit myself. My personal staff, The Bake Babes, have helped me in that short time we were a group grow to become a better person, Christian, musician, and corn hole player. But the staff that God placed me with was not the only blessing I got this summer. I met awesome people in my sister staff, the Pines’ staffs, the amazing year around staff, and some pretty awesome campers and people in the service area. They are and still are a blessing to who I have become.

When I was placed at Camp Baker with my staff, I wasn’t originally sure what to think. As a camper, I went to Camp Pines more, so I was less familiar with Baker and its service area (Thank the Lord for GPS’). The staff I was with had Keeley, who loved eating anything that would be good for the belly of her. Sydney, my program manager, was one of the most hyper people I have ever seen, and had all the types of colored rubber straws you could imagine. My field manager Larissa was really chill, and a complete contrast from Sydney, and could build a ramp by herself faster than our whole staff could together. Ryan was a Ministry Coordinator with me, and we were both excited to share our musical talents. Jamie, who was also a Ministry Coordinator, had the largest collection of bandanas in the world, but was too modest to apply for the world record. And Sammy (you guessed it, another Ministry Coordinator) turned into the guy I could trust with anything, and one of the most dependable and awesome guys I have ever known.

There were a lot of memories that came from this summer. From water balloons, to mounted deer heads, to sorting the paint dungeon, and going to the House on the Hill with Buff Toddler and Ashley the Traitor, we made a lot of great memories. But I think my favorite part of the whole experience was worships. As a staffer, I got to see how all the really impactful worships I had as a camper were made and the process of deciding how everything would work. Seeing how everything was set up, it almost looked like we were just putting on a show. But as we went on, it became so much more, because it’s never just a show. It became a place for all of us to express our faith. It became a place to sing Wesley’s Prayer and mean the words. It became a place where I would watch my summer family express their views on our awesome God. It became a place where we came together under the Lord and helped people. And I realized that is what I really got out of all of my other experiences. Sure, I had some fun experiences in the service area, but what made it all was the time we got to spend with God. The people I was surrounded by helped my growth, and I cannot thank them enough for this summer.

I loved this summer. I met great people, did great projects for great people in the service area, and now have a greater relationship with my Lord than ever. I know that the God of Hope will be my source for anything and everything I need. I have learned to listen for Him, and I learned most importantly that everything happens for a reason. Just give it to God, and it will be ok. That is what I took away from this summer, and will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Welcome Loftin Davoult


Name: Loftin Davoult

Title: Ministry Intern

Where you are from: Wichita Falls, TX

Home Church: Trinity United Methodist Church

University Affiliation: Vernon College

Degree: Film & Cinematography

How Long Have you been connected with Mountain T.O.P. :  5 years

Favorite Event at Mountain T.O.P. : Youth Summer Ministry – It’s a time you get to grow in all aspects of life alongside your friends and family. You get to get out of your comfort zone and live a little.

What is your favorite part about Mountain T.O.P.?: The fact that there are four needs that we hit as a ministry. I wholeheartedly believe that in order for revival to be successful, you must hit all 4 needs: spiritual, social, emotional, and physical. The great part about this ministry is a lot of people tend to forget, not know about, or even just overlook that there is poverty in our own backyards, so through Mountain T.O.P., I am able to serve and work with people in these impoverished communities to help build a better future.

A Short story about your time at Mountain T.O.P?: I worked on the 2018 Summer Staff as a Program Manager. It was the best experience of my life. I got to connect with my staff, which ultimately became my family. I wouldn’t be in the position I am at this moment if it hadn’t have been for my staff that helped get me here. I came into a position being the new person along with the other 75% of my staff. I had never worked the Ministry Coordinator position, I have only been a camper. Same as my Field Manager, Hunter. If you would have met us both this summer, you would come to know us as Thing 1 and Thing 2. Not only did I grow this summer with my brother Hunter, but I also got to learn about the crucial need for Day Camp with my Day Camp manager, Kate. Together, we took on positions that were new to our eyes but in the end, it’s safe to say, we were trained very well by our phenomenal director, Jess. Jess helped us grow and become the great leaders that we got to be on the mountain. Now of course, I can’t leave out the importance of my Ministry Coordinators. They helped me better understand the importance of their jobs. They also helped me grow as a leader. Liz, Kara, Danny, and Elliott were amazing Ministry Coordinators and I couldn’t have asked for better people to lead. Overall, Mountain T.O.P. has groomed me up into the person I am turning out to be. It has helped me find my purpose in life as well as many others. It all started with my Pastor, Justin Miller, bringing me to Mountain T.O.P. five years ago and now here I am working with the Ministry full-time. Jehovah Jireh, the Lord provides!

Three Cheers for Day Camp

Three Cheers for Day Camp

What did bread making, storybook reading, and Fish School cheers have in common? They were all a part of an experience at Day Camp! Over the months of June and July, we hosted over 100 kids for multiple weeks of camp that included everything from prayer journaling to feeding goats.

This summer we saw a lot of smiles. A lot. “It was really unique to watch relationships and leadership qualities emerge from kids who started the week as strangers to their own community,” said Allison Waller, AIM Day Camp Manager.

Author, Josh Wilkey writes, “So many people in Appalachia have broken minds and broken bodies and broken hearts, and they do nothing more than survive because that’s all they can do.” Often we paint a picture of Appalachia as a sad one. Images emerge of a place where children are shirtless and shoeless, eating ketchup packets for lunch. While that is sometimes the case, we are also alive and thriving!

Our data shows some exciting trends. For example Day Camp children experience an increase in self-esteem after just one week at camp.  Morgan Atkisson, YSM Day Camp Manager, shares, “I saw first hand how a week of Day Camp truly changed the kids that came to the program. Some of the kids who had been very shy on Monday were the same ones who were leading songs and asking to pray at the end of the week.”

Day Camp children also feel more connected to their community. One field trip led them to the University of the South’s Summer Music Festival, which was a favorite trip of the summer. “We absolutely LOVED having them here. We haven’t had the opportunity to do programming like this until this year and it is something we really want to do,”  said Hilary Ward, Assistant Director, Sewanee Summer Music Festival.

The real evidence showed up on Friday each week. Family members were invited to an event to celebrate their child’s experience. Over and over again, parents raved about the ways Mountain T.O.P. was able to show young people God’s love through a variety of activities. At camp social connectedness was most important. Children did not have to worry about their status or level. They just knew they were loved.

And that made all the difference.

Returning to the Source: An Introduction

Grundy County

If you’ve ever spent a summer at Mountain T.O.P., you already know we serve in seven Appalachian counties across the Cumberland Plateau—but did you know we serve families our home service area all year round? That’s right! Even after Day Camp ends, AIM volunteers go home, and all the green leaves turn to brown, we continue working to meet the physical, spiritual, social, and emotional needs of our Grundy County neighbors through partnership.

The 40-plus year relationship we’ve built with our home county is one of the most unique things about Mountain T.O.P. as a ministry. Being part of the Grundy County community not only allows our partner families and volunteers to build lasting relationships with one another, but it gives our network of returning volunteers a chance to really fall in love with the place we call home. In addition to enjoying the rushing waterfalls, jaw-dropping valley views, and rich limestone walls that surround us each day, we also get the chance to steep ourselves in the area’s history and culture. We believe it is our deep connection to the people and place we serve that enables us to reach beyond physical needs, and begin the spiritual, social, and emotional growth work with our partners.

Over the next few weeks, we would like to share the fruits of our off-season labor here on our blog and give you a chance to fall even more in love with our home county and the work we do to uplift it. Below you will find some statistics about our home county correlating to our five focus areas (health, housing, community, education, leadership). As you read our upcoming blog posts and prepare to serve with us this summer, we invite you to use this snapshot as a reminder that God’s call does not exist in a vacuum—in fishing for people, we are stewarding His call to serve those in need.

By Audrey Valli

2018 Program Schedule

Early Registration Begins September 1st!

Youth Summer Ministry

Week 1: June 10th-16th// Service Project & Day Camp

Week 2: June 17th-23rd// Service Project/Day Camp & Safe Sanctuary

Week 3: June 24th-30th// Service Project & Day Camp

Week 4: July 3rd-7th // Fish Camp/NHN

Week 5: July 8th-14th// Service Project/Day Camp & Safe Sanctuary

Week 6: July 15th-21st// Service Project & Day Camp

Week 7: July 22nd-29th// Service Project & Day Camp

NEW Summer Adults in Ministry (AIM):

Have you always wanted to come to AIM but can’t commit to a whole week in the summer? Well this summer we will be offering 2 Major Home Repair weekends: one in June and one in July. But don’t be fooled we also have 2 week-long service opportunities. We’d love to see you in 2018!


Weekend 1: June 14 – 17 // Major Home Repair

Week 1: June 24 – 30 // Major Home Repair, Summer Plus & Kaleidoscope

Week 2: July 8 – 14 // Major Home Repair & Quest

Weekend 2: July 26 – 29 // Major Home Repair

Young Adult Opportunities

Who: Anyone 17 years old or older *

What: Choose between Major Home Repair projects such as large scale construction and remodeling or participating with one of our specialized day camp programs: Kaleidoscope: a music and arts based camp for children with special needs or interest in the arts, Summer Plus: a skills based camp for 12-17 year olds that allows them to explore new hobbies and to make healthy life choices, Quest: a adventure style camp empowering youth and build character through challenging elements such as rock climbing or high ropes courses.

11705430_10153378438338805_2584630888470041969_oWhen: June 24th – 30th OR July 8th-14th

Where: Camp Cumberland Pines

How much: $395 adults; $350 students

*Rising high school juniors, seniors and college students are encouraged to attend. 17 year olds must come with an adult. There must be an adult 22 years or older for every 5 under 18 year old youth. Groups may choose to work in YRGs with only members of their group.

If you have any questions feel free to contact us at 931-692-3999 or email

The Rest of 2018

Friends Weekend: February 28 – March 4

Family Weekends: March 23 – 25  // April 6 – 8  // July 19 – 22

Spring BreakOut: February – April

Baker Work Weekend: May 2 – 5

Fall AIM:

       Weekend 1: September 27 – 30

       Weekend 2: October 4 – 7

       Weekend 3: October 11 – 14

       Weekend 4: October 18 – 21

       Weekend 5: October 25 – 28 // Fall Festival October 27

Click here for the printable version of our 2018 Program Schedule.