During my second year at Christ Church, Clayton Bell, pastor of 4,000 member Highland Park Presbyterian Church In Dallas, and the minister for whom I was assistant during my first two years out of seminary, called and asked if I would come develop a camp/conference center for the church. This would have been a great opportunity, a fun challenge, but I had to tell Clayton that I could not come at this time as my responsibility at Christ Church was like Jell-O: all the ingredients were in the bowl, but the Jell-O had not had time to set up.
During my third year at Christ Church the men involved with the church’s family camp came and asked me to look for an previously developed facility, suitable for camps, conferences, and retreats. The senior minister gave his approval. Some time later I located what seemed to be an excellent possibility 3-4 hours away near Muskegon, Michigan. When I talked with the men involved, they suggested that I visit the facility and at least one of them would go along. I called the realtor and told him of our serious interest. He became very quiet. Then he said “I wish I had known – it sold yesterday, and the owner had hoped it would be purchased by Christians.”
Two hours later I received a call from Glen Hinckley, a member of Highland Park Presbyterian Church. He was on the Board of Sky Ranch, and they were in need of a new director. Clayton Bell had suggested me, but told them he did not think I would come as he had contacted me the previous year. Glen went on to tell me that Sky Ranch, a summer-only camp for children/young people, had been in operation for 18 years, and was located just North of Dallas. People were moving in around the camp so it had been sold. A large piece of property had been given to Sky Ranch and plans were underway to develop a year around facility, including a 70-acre lake. Young Life had already agreed to use the facility on several non-summer weekends. With no notice, the past director had turned in his resignation. This was November and the new camp needed to be up and running on June 1. I asked how serious he was, and he assured me “very serious!”
I told him that Sally Jo and I had blocked off the next few days to go to her brother’s farm, thus we could be gone and we would not be missed. The next day we were on a plane headed for Dallas. We were soon learning the ministry plans and reviewing the land development and architectural plans for the lodge and a typical camper/retreat/family cabin. Sally Jo and I could both see problems with the building designs which had been developed by an architect who specialized in plans for country clubs. We said nothing.
The next morning we headed out to the new property, located about 2 hours east of Dallas in Van, Texas. The location was excellent, but it became increasingly evident that the camp board did not have a clear picture of the program or what the total facility should be.
I declined the invitation, and explained we were not comfortable with their vision for the camp/conference/family ministry and facility. The next morning, as we headed for the Dallas airport, I was asked if I would develop a program plan with ideas for a suitable facility. If they agreed with my suggestions, would we seriously consider coming? I said “yes”.
We returned to Chicago and that night we went out to dinner as guests of an older couple from Christ Church. They took us to a restaurant with good food, a German band, and a belly dancer! Crazy. Fun! During the evening we shared with them the events of the week. “What did they think?” They knew us and of our love of camping. We respected their experience and wisdom. After some discussion their recommendation was “go”.
Sally Jo and I had some very serious conversations. We agreed that I should develop an extensive proposal. I was very forthright. We wanted no misunderstanding. When members of the Sky Ranch Board called, we talked a long time!
Bottom Line: we agreed to go, believing that God had directed our path. Proverbs 3:6. “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph.2:10 We experienced God’s peace.