With my home town having been wiped off the map in a violent tornado, I have been thinking a great deal about growing up in Northeastern Oklahoma.
When people think of a Baptist campground in Oklahoma, they usually think of Falls Creek Baptist Assembly near Davis. Falls Creek is great! However, I have always preferred the Grand Lake Baptist Assembly campgrounds in Northeastern Oklahoma.
There are many reasons why I prefer this smaller campground; one being the fact that it is smaller. Sense of community is important to me, and the churches of the Northeast Baptist Association which own the Grand Lake Baptist Assembly have always managed to maintain an intimate relationship with each other in a way that I think most associations fail to achieve and nurture. This is the association in which my father spent most of the 50+ years that he pastored. I have always wanted to pastor a church in this association, but now that I’m an old guy with a b’jillion kids it is unlikely that will occur.
Well, I’m rambling. This post is part of a series on PLACES I WANT TO RETURN WITH MY KIDS. So, why do I want to share Grand Lake Baptist Assembly with my children? What makes it special to me?
Reason 1 – Grand Lake Baptist Assembly is where I got my first real kiss.
I was fourteen and like most fourteen year old boys I wasn’t afraid of anything — except pretty girls. I wasn’t just afraid of pretty girls, they petrified me. I could not speak around them, I could not eat around them, I could not think around them, I could not even breathe around them.
At this particular youth camp one of our sister churches from Fairland had only one camper that was going to be attending. So, rather than them opening their cabin and someone taking a week off from work to be the counselor for a single camper this church asked if their camper could go with our group. Sure.
Well, when “J” showed up at the cabin to join our group she was wearing a cute little white dress that I can still recall after 30 years. And, she was not just cute, but downright beautiful with hair cropped short and a neck that belonged on a marble statue. When I saw her I knew that I wouldn’t be speaking, eating, thinking or breathing for a week.
Word got out that one of the guys in our cabin had caught “J’s” attention. It was me! Now what was I going to do?
Well, to cut the story short, she and I spent some time together and on Tuesday night before cabin devotions this older woman (she was one year older than me) walked me out into the woods and gave me my first real kiss. WOW!
The whole world looked differently after that. We spent two great days hanging out together and then . . .
She dumped me for a guy with a car.
It was brutal. But, I forgave her treachery long ago. All I want to remember are pleasant thoughts about that week.
Reason 2 – Grand Lake Baptist Assembly is where I met my first real girlfriend.
The summer of my fifteenth year I again attended youth camp at Grand Lake Baptist Assembly and several of the guys and I ended up spending time with some girls from Miami Immanuel. It seems that a certain “JM” spent all week walking on her tiptoes and it definitely caught the attention of some of my friends.
Well, several months later I was invited to a hayride for “JM’s” birthday. I wasn’t sure why I was invited. After all, I was the guy who avoided pretty girls and was for the most part invisible in any boy-girl group. It turns out that one of “JM’s” friends, a certain “G” had an interest in me.
My memory is a bit shaky, but as best I remember it “G” became my first real girlfriend nearly a year later. We dated throughout my senior year in high school. There are several great stories that could go here, but let me just say that “G” was a truly dedicated Christian and her influence on me probably has as much to do with me being in Christian service today as does the fact that I grew up as a PK. I am thankful that I met her at church camp.
Reason 3 – I learned to love reading the Bible while at Grand Lake Baptist Assembly.
When I was about 16 or 17, there was really not a man in our church that could go to serve as a counselor at junior camp. Ordinarily my Dad would have done so but my grandmother was in the hospital in Columbia, Missouri. So, even though I was young they let me go as the counselor.
However, there was a woman counselor in the cabin behind ours that took a liking to me. Okay, I know the girl stuff is old by now, but I have a non-girly reason for sharing this. I really wasn’t interested in this woman so I spent most of the week hiding in the cabin. Through most of high school I read at least four or five books each week, however, I had not expected to have much reading time so I had only brought one book with me (a Jack London title). When I completed the book I went looking for something else to read and the only thing available was my Bible. Oh, no!
I spent the next several days reading my Bible and that is when I discovered just how enjoyable the Bible is to read. Sure, it is God’s revelation of Himself to man. Sure, it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, and instruction in righteousness. But, that week I discovered that it is also great literature. From that day, I have really enjoyed reading my Bible.
Reason 4 – I invested blood, sweat, and tears on the campus of Grand Lake Baptist Assembly working alongside my Dad.
I remember my Dad telling me once, “When it comes to things, they can always be repaired if you want to spend the money and time that it takes. However, people are a different matter. Only God can repair them.”
Dad has lived those words every day of his life. If you could break it, he could fix it. For that reason he was always elected to serve on the Northeast Baptist Association’s executive committee with responsibilities for the association’s buildings and grounds.
Once a year we would have an association wide work day at the Grand Lake Baptist Assembly to get it ready for the summer camping season. Representatives would come from most of the churches to participate.
Several more times a year Dad would round up a group to work on problem areas.
But, most of the time, it was just Dad who did whatever it took to get things ready to go. And me when I could not find a way to escape.
I spent many hours with Dad working on support pillars for the old tabernacle that used to be on the grounds, working on the swimming pool, spraying insecticide, and anything else that happened to need our attention.
I still remember one brown bag lunch we shared while working on the old tabernacle – a sandwich, a few crackers, and a plum. Why do I remember the contents of that brown bag lunch from thirty years ago but I can’t remember what I had to eat yesterday? The answer is obvious,– working beside my Dad at the campgrounds was a meaningful experience for me.
Reason 5 – I had shared experiences with many great friends there.
We had fun! Lots of fun!
Just one example and then I must press on with what is rapidly becoming as lengthy as a Russian novel.
The old outdoor tabernacle had metal posts to hold it up. One of those metal posts managed to come into contact with a wire from the speaker located above it such that anyone who touched it had a shocking experience.
My friends and I would hold hands making a long chain of misfits. Then, when someone coming from the swimming pool would pass by, the person at the end of the line would reach out and touch them just as the person standing next to the pole would grab on to it.
The electric current would then pass through everyone in the chain and only the unsuspecting person grabbed at the end would be shocked. Great fun!
Reason 6 – I think of Grand Lake Baptist Assembly every time I put on my socks.
I could have left this one off the list, but I might as well throw everything into the soup. I was wearing flip-flops on the assembly grounds and accidentally tripped on the tennis court ripping the nail off of my left toe pinky. Nasty business. I had to drive in to the little hospital in Grove, Oklahoma to get it fixed.
Anyway, my left toe remains a little deformed so I am reminded of camp every time I put my socks on. (I really should have left this off my list.)
Reason 7 – It is where I first really considered the possibility of full-time Christian ministry.
Like most PKs I had a chip on my shoulder with regard to the church. Even though I started preaching in various places at the age of sixteen I did not want anything to do with full-time Christian ministry.
Then, David James brought a group from the Baptist Student Union at Northeastern Oklahoma A & M College and had a little get together for those of us who were high school Seniors at youth camp. We ended up playing a little game that I think was called Nexus. It involved discussion of the spiritual gifts and some personal sharing and discussion. It was that night that I think the walls I had thrown up between me and ministry began to come down.
Reason 8 – Oh, just the huge treasure house of memories that I have of the place.
I’ll share one more memory then close with reason #9.
I must have been about 14 or 15. It may have been the same week that I met “J”. Many of us were standing outside the cabin talking when we heard screams from the girl’s side of the cabin.
It seemed that one of the girls had feinted in the bathroom? No, it was much worse than that… she wasn’t breathing.
It seems that the pilot light for the water heater had gone out and her lungs had simply shut down in response to the gas . . .
She was lying naked on the bathroom floor and was not breathing. My Dad who was serving as the male counselor grabbed a large beach towel, wrapped her up in it and carried her out to the car. He threw me the keys to the Toyota and we headed for the hospital in Grove. City people won’t understand a man trusting his underage unlicensed son to drive 100 mph to the hospital. However, country people probably will.
Anyway, while I drove faster than I thought a Toyota Corolla would travel, Dad gave here mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. About half way to the hospital she started to breath again and became conscious.
Scary, but all turned out well.
And, finally. . .
Reason 9 – I saw God reach down and draw many people to Himself while they were on the grounds of Grand Lake Baptist Assembly.
I still tear up when I think of the many people I saw respond to God over the years at Grand Lake Baptist Assembly.
It has been many years now since I have set foot on the assembly grounds. I understand that much has changed. The tabernacle that Dad and I worked on is now gone and has been replaced with a temple (metaphorically speaking). Some of the churches have turned their little cabins into luxurious accommodations. What was once a summer-only encampment is now used year round.
But, I trust that one thing hasn’t changed. I trust that God still chooses to use the Grand Lake Baptist Assembly grounds to draw children, teens and adults unto Himself. Someday I hope to return there and walk the grounds with my children and tell them about the things I saw God do there and maybe even share a few of the things that I did there of which God probably did not approve.