God’s Plan – Seen in Retrospect #82

I have just worked through Sally Jo?s daily diary from 1975 and found the following:

  • February 8 – Dam construction to create 70 acre lake begins
  • March 3 – Our family has picnic on lake bottom
  • At some time:
    • Eleanor Briley arrives in Dallas, stays with friend June Hunt in Dallas, begins staff hiring
    • J.C. Hawkins hired – maintenance – lives mile from camp – builds fences, prepares riding trails
    • About 30 unproven horses/tack begin to arrive at camp – bought by Lonnie, new wrangler from W. TX. His instructions: horses must be safe for campers to be around, all suitable for trail rides, some must be trained for barrel and other races within rodeo corral – also buy necessary tack & other needed equipment. He had two months – very tight budget! Good horses, great program!
  • May 10 – Six repossessed mobile homes (cheap!) pulled in by bull dozer for staff housing & office-1st cabin framed in May 13 – Heavy rain. Concrete truck gets stuck – pulled out by bull dozer – no more deliveries until things dry out. Randy, the cook, arrives – stays with us in Dallas while working on menus, food suppliers.
  • May 18 – Stoves from old camp put in temporary kitchen under our 12X12 dining tarp
  • May 19 – Staff arrive in rain – sleep in mobile homes – no water, sewer, electricity – staff training in uncompleted barn
  • May 20 – Water running off tarp onto burners and griddle. No refrigeration. Only water source across lake. Desperate situation! Decide to pray for 24 hr – set up schedule: “Lord, Please Stop The Rain.” The Lord Stops the Rain! – for area of about 3 miles around us
  • May 21 – Call general contractor. “The sun is out at Sky Ranch” Calls 7 sub-contractors – no other dry place to work.
  • May 22 – 7 sub-contractors/their crews arrive – I have movie of their arrival – workmen everywhere – working together – Larry Brooks, art teacher from Middle Tennessee State U. arrives with wife/daughter to run craft program
  • May 25 – Lake full – copperhead snakes into camp up from lake bed (kill 28 during summer) scorpions abound!
  • June 1 – workable camp – home type refrigerators/freezers are all we had for 1st summer. – first campers arrive – fortunately a small number for the first session.
  • June 3 – Sally Jo and our 3 kids join me in mobile home. Still no electricity, thus no AC – over 90 degrees inside. While swimming with kids in lake sees snake – likely a water moccasin – very sobering.

Each session more cabins are completed – and filled with campers registered months before. During summer over 1000 campers had been at the new Sky Ranch – as many as attended old ranch in a peak year.

  • If there had been no intense rain, the lake would not have been filled.
  • If there had been no intense rain, the Sky Ranch staff would not have experienced God stopping the rain over the camp
  • If there had been no intense rain, the sub-contractors would have had other places to work.

As Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way never lacks for God’s supply.”

Dr. V. Raymond Edman, President of Wheaton College said: “Go as far as you can go, even if you cannot see how necessary things will happen. If it is God’s work, God will keep a step ahead.”

God again proved Himself faithful. I kept going forward, and God was continually going before us, providing the resources as needed to do His work. This was true in the area of staff hiring, supply purchasing, building design, site selection, and construction. Living In Partnership With God is a reality we can experience. It takes faith in action.

The Bible gives many examples of how God desires to work through people who take God at His word: building the ark, fighting battles, Gideon’s battle, training to be a king, preparing for Jacob’s family to survive through Joseph’s being sold into slavery, food and water for Israelites in desert, Nehemiah’s building the wall around Jerusalem, Esther’s intervention, Daniel as prophet.

Reality Sets In #81

Billboards in and around Dallas featured a beautiful lodge with the words “Sky Ranch.” This lodge was to be located on the highest point in the property – with a great view of the lake. This lodge is where the dining room, kitchen, offices, meeting rooms and large deck were to be located. The reality was that there were no significant contributions for the construction of the lodge. Time to swallow hard and scratch the lodge.

Three months until the campers were to arrive – no buildings & no utilities under construction. Campers were registering. Staff was being hired. The old camp was gone. No turning back now!

The re-designed craft building had a loft and a very open feeling. This looked to be the only building of any size which would be built in the first year. It could work as the temporary kitchen and dining hall for 150 people — tight, but by using the loft, it could work. The barn loft, if fully separated from the barn and properly insulated, could become the location for the craft program. This very closed in, almost windowless area would be just the opposite of the open, bright feeling of the anticipated craft building, but reality was reality.

A building designed for use by small groups was redesigned into one large room which could seat 150 on the floor. The front deck was expanded to handle 150 people. This building/deck would meet the indoor and outdoor program requirements — it would work.

We had to scrap the maintenance building – not essential for the summer. Ouch – no building to adapt for this purpose.

George Christian became the “go-to” person for the construction of the new ranch. We walked the new property hour after hour, selecting and marking the site for every building and activity area for present and projected plans. To do this we had to keep in mind where utilities would be available, where the trail rides should be located, how people would travel from one building to another in clear or rainy weather, where to park 100 cars, where to locate the road for deliveries to the camp store, kitchen, and barn. Road access to each sleeping cabin was a challenge ? and each cabin, being a duplex, needed two parking spaces for retreat weekends. The challenge was huge — but we did it!

Don Hill of Tyler, TX was hired as the general contractor for building construction and he blocked off the entire spring to build the fifteen planned buildings for camp. When Don realized the central lodge was not going to be built and that other buildings were still in the design stage, he took on other construction projects. Don Hill had no problem finding work — he was good! Reality: when the building plans were finalized, Don had his men working on other projects. At least the construction of the dam was on schedule.

To have peace and patience in the midst of this mess was truly a stretch for all of us! Nothing was going as anyone had planned — except for the construction of the dam. At this point living In Partnership With God was challenging and exciting ? but not fun! Abraham, Moses, David, Nehemiah and many others expressed similar feelings.

The Sky Ranch situation was a great example of Hudson Taylor’s words: “God’s work done in God’s way never lacks for God’s supply.” Something was not right! Everyone now agreed: the plans for the beautiful lodge had to go – others modified. Insufficient funds!

The result? Sky Ranch was becoming a much more “camper friendly” place. The dining hall would not be beautiful, but it would be functional due to its openness, and bright because of the many large windows. The craft shop would feel “tucked away” – a place set apart, cool and comfortable. And there would be an excitement felt when 150 campers and staff are packed into a room, or sitting on a deck – to laugh, sing, and listen.

Trust in the Lord. Wait patiently for Him!

A Rightfully Angry Donor #80

One of my jobs as Director of Sky Ranch became fund-raising. As I visited committed or prospective donors, I come to know a variety of people. Sometimes these visits took surprising turns.

One afternoon I went to meet with a financially successful business man, a Christian. I could see instantly that he was not happy. He welcomed me – then turned away and looked out his window. Nothing was said for what seemed to be an eternity. When he turned back to me, he managed a weak smile. After another quiet stretch I asked him if he would like to talk about what was troubling him.

He then dumped the whole load.

He started his monologue with “It is wrong! It is just wrong!!! I gave $100,000 to a Christian organization, and they act as if I did something special – and now they treat me as if I am a special person. I am not special – that $100,000 really cost me nothing! Nothing!”

“The people who are really special are those who give generously out of what little they have! They are the special people, not me.”

His face was so sad. What I wanted to do was to take a step forward and give him a huge hug! He understood. He got it right.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two farthings, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on” — Mark 12:41-44

This man lived in partnership with God’s people – In Partnership With God.

The Reality of Physical Work #79

I believe God provided the home we were able to buy in an excellent neighborhood near a very good school, and a ten minute drive from the Sky Ranch office. God provided the billboards which made Sky Ranch instantly known throughout the Dallas metropolis. God was doing this work, and I was along for the ride, with a very thankful heart. When lunches were arranged for business leaders, my work was to put on a coat and tie, show up, eat good food, and speak for 15 minutes. No physical work.

However, soon after I became the Executive Director of Sky Ranch, I faced a very different type of work – physical work. It was necessary to take what was valuable and movable from the old Sky Ranch in Denton, TX, to the new Sky Ranch, three hours away in Van. This included boats, dock sections, beds, and kitchen equipment. The moving was somewhat urgent as the men subdividing the property wanted to get on with their work. At the new property, the existing road was to be replaced by a temporary road while the dam was being built, and this would take months: the 500’ earthen dam was to 25 feet high.

There was a fork lift to get things up on the flat-bed truck, but each item had to be moved to where the fork lift could get to them. Once on the truck, everything had to be put in a position to tie down. The days were long, the work very hard, but this very physical work had to be done.

I think the only time I have fainted from pain in my life was when I was up on the truck and one of the large, wooden dock sections slipped in the loading process. I was able to get my body out of the way…except for one thumb. As soon as it was squished, my thumb began to swell. I jumped off the truck and ran over to an old drinking fountain, put my thumb under the cold water, and shortly thereafter passed out, flat on the ground!

I remember the challenge of getting a large Hobart mixer out of the kitchen to where it could be picked up and taken to the truck. This was an old army mixer about six feet tall. There was no way the few of us working could lift the machine or even move the machine very much. We figured out that we could tie one end of a strong rope to the machine, take the other end across the room and out a window and tie it to a pick up truck which then pulled the mixer across the floor. When we needed to pull the mixer in another direction, we put the rope through a different door or window. We soon had the monster through the door.

When I was growing up, my father, who was a medical doctor, thought it very important that my brother and I know how to work. I think our first job was cleaning the garage. Our dad cleaned the garage with us so we would know how to do it right. He often said: “if you know how to work, it will help you whatever you do. Soon keeping the garage clean was our responsibility. When I was 12 and my brother was 14, my father and Mr. Van Kampen bought a farm so their sons would have a place to work. I learned to hoe the corn out of the soy bean field – required as there was crop rotation, and the corn picker would leave kernels on the ground. I learned to drive a tractor, back up a farm wagon, and disk a field. I was almost as big then as I am now, and when Mr. Knecht realized I could stack hay bales five high on the wagon behind the baler – this is pretty much where I lived all summer long. And the same baler was used across the road on Mr. Camas’ farm and “somehow” I ended up going with the bailer. Dad always picked us up on his way home from his office. One day, when he came by, I was still out baling hay. He knew someone would bring me home when the job was done for the day. The next morning, when my dad woke up, I was still not home. He drove out to the farm just as the sun was coming up, and I was still on the wagon stacking bales. The rain was coming and the work needed to get done before the rain came. I loved the work – and the fact that I was treated as a man.

It often comes to my mind that Jesus was a carpenter – he worked with his hands. Solomon said “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” Ecclesiastes 9:10. The Bible is full of examples of hard, physical work – the ark, the temple and its furnishings, the wall of Jerusalem. When we live In Partnership With God, much of life is just hard work, be it mental, physical or both.