Seldom have such compelling flashbacks been concentrated for me in such a brief few hours.
I was honored to be invited as a special speaker at the 50th Year Celebration for Rev. & Mrs. Robert A. Johnson (affectionately known as “Mr. Bob” and “Miss Debbie”). On Saturday afternoon, September 18, they were honored for 50 years of service at New Life Camp—10 under the previous director, who was Bob’s father, and 40 as camp leaders themselves. This month, they turned the leadership over to a new director.
In 1963, I was invited to speak at the camp’s first Junior Counselor Teen Week. Actually, I was a substitute for their first choice, my brother-in-law, who was unable to accept the invitation. He lent me $15 for oil for my motor-worn car, and I drove 500 miles to the very rustic and remote youth camp carved out of a pine tree-covered slope near Raleigh, North Carolina. Nineteen campers heard me speak 15 times, and God blessed that week.
During subsequent years, I was the speaker at Teen Week 29 times as well as at a couple of retreats. In the early years, the facilities were rustic, simple cabins, and meetings were held in a humble screened chapel with no air conditioning. In total, I traveled 30,000 miles and spoke a 450 times, 58 of them at campfire testimony services, some lasting several hours. The decisions for Christ over those years simply staggers my mind.
Focusing all those blessings into a 15-minute message as hundreds of friends, supporters and former campers met in a splendid new gym was a heady challenge. I felt led to illustrate the camp ministry as a shipping operation. Here’s the basic outline:
Ownershipping: “…you are not your own … you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:19 & 20) We belong to God. Bob and Debbie understood that, when we are saved, we have a responsibility to honor the Lord in all we do.
Lordshipping: “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:38) Jesus is Lord not just of life but also of evangelism and outreach.
Stewardshipping: “Let a man so account of us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 4:1-2) The word “steward” is from the Greek “oikonomia” from which we get economy. Through hard work and economical measures, the camp has been improved from its humble beginnings into a larger complex that includes two full sized gyms and a fabulous in-ground swimming pool. It is prime commercial land worth millions, but they will not sell because the message of the Old Rugged Cross is worth more than all the world’s millions.
Fellowshipping: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) Spontaneous camper-initiated prayer meetings, some with up to forty kids, were often held on the basketball court before breakfast. Life-long friendships were made, and some even met their future spouses. I often prayed with Bob before meetings and was reminded that, as someone once said, “You may forget those you have laughed with, but you never forget those you’ve prayed with.”
I closed by describing the successful shipping line:
It is owned by God the Father and guided by Jesus Christ, the “captain of [our] salvation” (Hebrews 2:10). The ship sailed forth at Pentecost picking up passengers along the way. It regularly sails into port at New Life Camp picking up thousands of passengers through the years. It has wonderful crews who maintain the equipment and tend new arrivals on board. It has fabulous investors who pay for expenses. The seas are often rough, but the compass never fails and the anchor always holds. One day, the passenger list will be complete and, with every cabin full, it will sail into Home port. Until then we keep the lower lights burning so the ship can sail safely on.
As the baton passes to a new camp director, I reminded the audience of a special danger noted in Ecclesiastes 7:10, “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ for you do not inquire wisely concerning this.” The good old days should not form a mere plateau for remembering but a stepping stone to future victories.
After the celebration was over, I interviewed Shannon Scott, who was the MC, for our radio broadcast. That first year I spoke at camp, Shannon surrendered his life to preach. Since then, he has pastored four churches. His current church is just down the road from camp, and the congregation of 600 has sent out 120 full time workers into the global harvest fields. He has a radio ministry and a TV outreach. He conducts five evangelism series in other cities annually, and has a special ministry to Muslims in Nepal and Canada. Shannon is only one of thousands the Lord has touched through the dedicated lives of Bob and Debbie and the ministry at New Life Camp. I’m privileged to have been a part of it through 29 years there.
And it started with me as a substitute speaker with a $15 loan for oil. It reminds me of my great substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18), and of the anointing of the Spirit: “You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” (Psalm 23:5)