Sunday, July 24, 2011

119th Warner Memorial Camp

Born in Hanan, Germany, William (Wilhelm) Ebel accepted the Lord Jesus as his Savior and Lord on March 20, 1892, at the age of 29. It was life changing for young Wilhelm. He met Elder D. S. Warner in Los Angeles and found a man of like spirit and was baptized shortly thereafter. In early February 1893, William accepted a call to Grand Junction, MI, where he became involved in the publishing work of the Gospel Trumpet Company. That placed William in Grand Junction at the time of the second annual Camp Meeting on Lester Lake, where Sebastian Michels and others labored.

More than a century later, the churches and pastors of SW MI gathered on July 15-22 for the 119th annual Warner Memorial Family Camp. Warner Camp has transitioned from the National Convention of the Church of God to the annual Family Camp conducted at the historic site of the former Children’s home and Camp Meeting Center. The original 60-acre farm has been transformed into a 192 acre Youth Camp and Great Lakes Retreat Center (cf.

Each year hundreds of conferees come through the Retreat Center, in groups large and small. Several hundred Michigan children and youth are hosted by Warner Camp, under the auspices of the Division of Christian Education of the Church of God of Michigan. Complementing the annual Family Camp are the hundreds of people who come for some kind of camping experience on a year-round basis, all of which is under the direction of Mr. Robert (Doc) Stevens and the camp Board of Directors.

Located four miles from the childhood home of Dr. F. G. Smith and eleven miles from the home of Sebastian Michels, the camp provided the final home of D.S. Warner (shown above)and became the place of his burial. It retains an historic, international,and multi-ethnic flavor, although the general agencies of the church later found a more permanent home in Anderson, IN in 1906.

It is not unusual for an individual or group from somewhere around the globe to visit Grand Junction as they check out our early church history. Only recently, a group of Ontario youth from a Canadian Christian school visited us on their senior trip; they were from the Restoration Church of God that publishes the Gospel Trumpet and holds their camp meeting at West Milton, near Dayton, Ohio. Danny Layne and the Gospel Trumpet Singers are a familiar sight in their old-order Amish dress. They serve God as a more theologically and culturally conservative people that loves God and the "earliest message" of the Reformation Movement.

Camp Evangelist for the 119th encampment was Gary Ausbin. A Kansan by birth, Gary went to AC where he became an outstanding basketball player, once holding the record for the most number of points scored in one game (54). Gary came to MI as pastor of the historic Kalamazoo Westwood church, once led by William (Dad) Hartman, the “unofficial bishop” of SW MI (54 years).

Gary became a Church of God leader in his own right, serving noteworthy pastorates at Westwood, Ashland, KY., and Norfolk, VA. After more than 50 years in ministry Gary (and wife Frankie) came with a loving passion; I doubt ever a man preached with more “ humane compassion” than did Gary Ausbin this past week at Warner Camp and we all sensed the presence of God.

I don’t know whether my first Warner Camp Meeting was 1927 or 1928, but I was a babe in arms. When I returned to MI in 1973 as a married minister, we became active on an adult leadership level. It has been my privilege to serve in about every elected position available, except the treasurer’s job. In our last pastorate, we finally ended up directing the Dining Room and leading a corp. of youth workers, that includes many noteworthy leaders today.

It began when we saw the value of the new camping represented by first Resident Director, Rev. Raymond Selent and wife Grace (Amazing Grace). Grace and Tommie (my wife) were a perfect fit and we have worked as couples beyond Ray’s death a few years back. Grace survived Ray Selent and Dr. Les Ratzlaff and this year this vivacious widow worked through her grieving process working with Tommie in the Dining Hall (no longer Camp Food Service Mgr). Interestingly enough, the two ladies promised each other to help each other one more year--the 120th camp.

I hope I can share a few of the beautiful things that happened at Warner Camp this week. As one who has known the camp for more than 80 years, I see how far it falls short of missing the mark, yet I find it hard to believe how far it has come. I remember our Friday the 15th arrival, only to learn of the death of Mrs. Robert Malzon of St Joseph (Washington Avenue Chog).

I felt an immediate sense of grief, a personal loss. When I had occasion to speak with Robert later in the week, when he came on the church bus, he told me of standing at the coffin and examining her hands and thinking of all that her gifted hands had done. He mentioned the 7 years she cooked at the Fritzlar Bible School before they came to America. During the week, I heard several ladies describe various creations of her gifted hands.

My wife and I served 9 pastorates in 7 states, if I remember accurately. I know of few places with a richer, more interdependent fellowship than you will find at Warner Memorial Camp, a place that has been training Church of God leaders for well over 100 years. How the Malzons found their way to America was as amazing and as beautiful as was the arrival of the William Ebel’s, who became early German-American leaders, especially when William edited the Evangeliums Posaune during the 1890s.

The village of Grand Junction now has running water, a Post Office, and I don’t know about a bank. It has electricity and numerous services not yet available when the Gospel Trumpet Company arrived in 1886. In fact, GT Co. had the first live telephone, from the publishing house in the village, out to the camp ground. What Grand Junction now has that it did not have in the late 1800s; it is the current Blueberry Capital of the World.

From Warner’s World,
If the church did as well at sharing Jesus, as the village of GJ has done with sharing Blueberries with the world, we would be well on our way to winning the world for Jesus. :-)


Dotty said...

What a wonderful story to read Wayne. Thank you so much for sharing. I know we went to Warner Camp a long time ago and I wish I had known more about its History when I did attend.

Wayne said...

Dotty, thank you; it still isn't too late to learn more about our roots ... thanks!