Sunday, July 25, 2010
118th Warner Family Camp (camp meeting)
“Do you know, Brother Byrum, since enjoying this beautiful spot I have been thinking what a wonderful place this would be for a camp-meeting grounds.”
Noah Byrum describes that June morning in 1891 when he and his companion walked along the railroad tracks headed north toward Grand Rapids, MI. They were actually heading for Lester Lake, a mile and a quarter to the north, expecting to enjoy a day of fishing.
That hike took them through a sixty-acre tract of lumber stretching south from the lake. Making their way to the east side of the lake, they anticipated launching a boat and enjoy the day.
In the midst of the woods, Byrum’s companion, suggested they stop for a while and “enjoy this wonderful music that is being given by these feathered songsters.” Sitting on a log, young Noah Byrum and D. S. Warner watched the first faint lights of the coming day.
The February 25, 1892 Gospel Trumpet carried an editorial announcing the purchase of that sixty-acre tract of lumber. Work days would follow and on June 14 A. B. Palmer preached the opening service of the new Grand Junction Camp Meeting and Warner’s dream became a reality (Byrum/The Book of Noah/132).
Yesterday, I returned home from the 118th annual camp meeting at GJ. It is no longer a national meeting, but I did visit with my German friend from Edmonton, Alberta, CA, Kurt Pudel, and we enjoyed the international aspects of Warner Camp.
I started attending GJ more than 80 years ago. The 60 acres now include 192 acres and a year-round retreat and conference center under the gifted administration of R. A. (Doc) Stevens, my nephew by marriage.
In one of those earliest encampments, a man walked some 170 miles from Ohio to attend. Secular Historian Larry Massey reports as many as 10,000 attenders at some of those early events. There, I heard evangelists like W. O. Moon, W. T. Wallace, C. Lowry Quinn, H. M. Riggle.
I think it was 1932 when Hershel Rice preached the camp meeting on his honeymoon. A decade later, I had my first love affair there. I met her on the last day and did not see her again until the following year, only to learn she lived just 20 miles distant.
It was there, the three Story boys and I hitchhiked into South Haven (11 miles) and lugged a watermelon back to camp (their mother was a sister to F. G. Smith). It was there I made my initial commitment as a Christian--1939.
For me, Warner Camp holds many memories and life-shaping events, so it comes as no surprise I am still involved. I have served about every elected position available and a few non-elected jobs. Younger people now carry those jobs but we (my wife and I) still work in the Dining Hall as support staff to “Amazing Grace” Selent Ratzlaff.
Ray and Grace Selent pioneered as first resident camp directors. When we returned to MI in 1973, we recognized their calling and gifts and began supporting them and forged an unbreakable friendship.
Services this year averaged a bit under 500, mostly resident campers. The camp did not pay for itself financially, but it paid huge spiritual dividends in people‘s lives. Beyond the changed lives and other benefits, the church discovered a new and gifted evangelist--a relatively unknown pastor from the Midland area named Jeff Eckman. This young man has his head screwed on right!
It was a pleasant surprise to learn that my former parishioner, Dr. Scott Edwards, was helping coordinate youth activities this year. I shall never forget that Sunday when I warned the congregation, “One day you will address this kid as Dr. Scott Edwards!” He stood out at Three Rivers High School and at AU and today he has his own practice as a Clinical Psychologist, but he took a week out to do youth ministries at camp (what a benefit to those kids!).
Someone said Scott was the finest youth president our state ever had. I could enlarge on other youth like Matt Salas, Kelsey Arnett, Jeremy Erskine, and Corey Gothberg (Corey just returned from a New Zealand missions trip). They are Summer Core Staffers from North Avenue church where I attend, but I got to know them at Warner Camp. On the other end of the age spectrum were our Prime Seniors, Dr. Leslie Ratzlaff (95) and wife Grace (90+)
And if I were to tell you of our numerous visitations, friendships et al, there would be no end to this blog--a weekend with Craig/Susan Stace, home from Idaho--or hours of conversation with Rudy and Helmut Holz from the Ukraine via Detroit.
It was a full and blessed week, invigorating to say the least. This is Warner’s World and I am