UNLOADING THE WAGONS
I was walking around the north end of Shear Lake one Sunday afternoon, heading over toward where the beaver never seem to give up on damming a little stream connecting two ponds behind the tarpaper shack.
As I went along, I noticed a piece of notebook paper floating near shore, and I thought, “Oh, man! Some kid has thrown that in! Why’d he do that?”
So I got a stick, fished it out and read it. Scrawled in the handwriting of a young ‘peanut,’ it said, “Dear God, don’t ever let me forget the things You’ve taught me here at camp this week.”
Now isn’t that a terrific thing!
And what a tremendous responsibility that puts on us. Here the dear Lord has given us this beautiful piece of property — and everything we see here was sent by Him. It’s not the work of this man or anyone else that’s made this camp what it is today; it’s truly the provision of the dear Lord.
There’s just a wad of stuff to tell because there’s scarcely a thing in this place but what God provided wonderfully, and there’s a story behind it of His provision.
It doesn’t make any difference whether the provision is some staff member who works here, or whether it’s some material thing like the walls, the wood, or the cement. And the older I get, the more I marvel at it.
You see, the only thing the dear Lord needed here was somebody who could unload the wagons. He sent the wagons — and still is sending them — and they’ve been full of what was needed. We’ve unloaded them and stuck what He provided hither, thither and yon. That’s really all that’s been necessary. He’s sent some wagonloads for certain needs and He’s sent other wagons when there were other needs.
And whether it’s been people or materials, or whether it’s been cash — or the weather — whatever was needed, He has sent it.
Paul makes the statement in I Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you didn’t receive?” The understood answer is, “Nothing.” So he said, “Why do you act, then, like you’re so great and you’re doing everything yourself?” That’s a rough paraphrase, but it’s true.
That’s really the way I look at this — the grace of God, the hand of God, has somehow, some way, provided in ways that I don’t understand and don’t see — and I don’t think we ever could see or understand.
Some folks have the philosophy that you need special people to unload the wagons. You need to hire somebody with special qualifications who can be a cook, an electrician, a plumber or a lifeguard.
We’ve said, “No, you can do it with volunteers.”
They say, “No, you’re going to have to hire people for these key positions to build, to carry out the program, to meet state licensing requirements. You’re going to need to hire people with credentials.”
But the thing is, people with ‘credentials’ have shown up at the right time! I think that’s part of the wonder of it all, that God has so faithfully provided. And it’s been the same way with programs and other needs.
I think back to when my brother Hi and his wife, Joye, felt led to leave Camp Barakel after eight years or so. Joye had been our cook and they were concerned because they didn’t want to leave us without a cook.
We were washing the truck that a friend of camp had loaned to haul their things back to Illinois, and I stopped at the office to get my mail.
In it was a letter from a couple in Indianapolis who’d been running a restaurant, and they wrote, “We wonder if you have need for a cook.” I took the letter over to where the guys were, and Hi stood there and read it with tears on his cheeks.
Now it hasn’t always happened that way, but God has always provided. While we would wait for the materials for the job down here, there were materials for the job up there, so we went ahead and worked.
You see, it was always clearly the divine providence of the dear Lord. It wasn’t what I did or somebody else did.
The amazing thing to me is that God would talk to people and would put in their hearts a desire to be a part of this ministry. I don’t know if I can really tell you why they have given so generously of their time and money to camp. I just give the dear Lord credit for that.
And some of those things we used in the early days of camp, we’ve been able to go back and replace with things that are donated now. What has been surplus to others, God has sent to us and we have been able to use it.
I said to a man who was painting here one day, “Did anyone ever tell you that this building was a contribution of a man I’ve never seen, that we simply had a notice that this man had a building for us in Elkhart, Ind.? All we had to do was go down and haul it up.”
“No, I never heard that,” he said.
“So we really don’t know who gave it to us, except that some man, somewhere, was moved to send us word that he had a building. I don’t know how he learned about us. I’ve never met him; I don’t even know his name. Yet here’s the building, and you’re painting the door frames.”
Then there was the fellow in Illinois who brought a load of kids up to camp. He saw we didn’t have any hot air registers and he got us a whole bunch of them.
And there are scads of other things. I could take you to the place where I sat and said, “Dear Lord, it would have to rain counselors from heaven for us to have what we need in camp three or four hours from now. I need a couple of boy counselors badly.” Do you know that as I got up from that seat and started to walk away, a car drove into the parking lot and here came a couple of young guys. They said they’d been in a nearby church the day before, heard of the need, and thought maybe we could use them as counselors.
“Yeah, we sure could!” I said, and after talking with them, I gave them a quick orientation.
It still happens today. I’ve said so many times, “God will make away. He did it for Israel; we ought to trust Him, too.”
People may think that when we set out to buy Shear Lake we had the resources. Their idea of resources is money. But our only reason to believe God wanted us to have a camp was that the program we’d been operating was so fruitful. We just believed it ought to be a part of the opportunity to serve the Lord in reaching people. So we had a resource, but it wasn’t money. We had seen the faithfulness of God before.
And as the dear Lord showed His faithfulness to us, there was a faithfulness we owed back to Him. I used to say to people, “I really believe God watches to see what we do with pennies — how faithful we are with them, what sense of responsibility we have about His little gifts to us — before He trusts us with big ones. The Lord isn’t going to trust us with dollars until we show we can be faithful with pennies.”
So we went from pennies to nickels to dimes to quarters — on up the ladder. God must take into account the attitude we have toward the little provisions of life — health and strength and the air we breathe. It just seemed the stewardship of the funds He put into our hands was really important.
From the humblest beginnings of camping I’ve felt inside the dear Lord would match His provisions to how faithful we were in carrying out what He led us to do. As we endeavored to be faithful with the small things, He entrusted us with larger tthings — more and more camper — and Shear Lake.
I’ve often said, too, that anybody could have done what I’ve done. There’s nothing here that was my specialty. No big talent was needed. I don’t have any impressive leadership ability or charisma. Anybody could have done it. All you needed was just to trust God — believe God — have a heart for the ministry and be willing to work.
And you need to be ready to unload those wagons — to be used of Him in whatever way He directs. To know what God wants you to do — and that He wants to lead you — is vital. I don’t think God is disinterested in any of us. Here I am, and I say, “Dear Lord, what do you do with an old man of 76? What is there left? No church would hire a preacher and no camp would hire a director my age. They’d say, ‘Buddy, you’ve had it.’”
Yet, in my heart I’m saying to God, “Dear Lord, I believe that there is a possibility, and it’s not remote, that my best days lie ahead of me.” I know it. I sense it. And I say to Him almost every morning, “Here I am.” It’s not that I want Him to help me; I’d rather have Him just use me. Do you see the difference?
I want in my waning years for God to be able to use me and be in me in such a way that I do not become a sour old man. I’d like to be a man who’s alive with hope. I don’t want to die inside. I want to be alive inside where God is concerned and I want my life to be a bigger thing to God right now than it’s ever been in all of my life.
So we had best come in submission and say, “God, whatever you want to do with me, that’s what I want to be.” That willingness — and the degree of your willingness — will determine for you, and for me, I think, whether or not we go and do as He leads.
This work is where it is today because the Lord sent so many who were simply willing to be used, in whatever way He chose, wherever He directed.
There are a multiplicity of stories here and I would just like to have you know what God has done. You cannot comprehend what it takes. You can’t have all cooks. You’ve got to have some plumbers and electricians. You can’t have all novices; you’ve got to have some people who know what they’re doing. But the way in which the dear Lord has taken care of the needs that have arisen here is a marvel. How He has met them, in successive steps — those are just terrific stories in themselves.
And I suppose, to tell the whole story, we need to start a long way back.