The King's Camp Story
I have a story for you today. Why a story? Stories are powerful! They have the power to move us, to motivate us, to make us think, to make us cry, to give us hope, to help us soar. They ARE POWERFUL. Our lives are stories, We have a movie of ourselves going on in our heads…we have a personal narrative of who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Human beings are hardwired to respond to stories. God absolutely knew what He was doing when He gave us a story about who He is and what He is like.
Stories even help us handle stress!
A group of psychologists recently studied the resiliency of children under stress and found that kids who were best able to handle stress were the ones who knew the most about their family’s history. That the more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and higher their self-esteem. These children in the study had a strong sense of ‘intergenerational self’ - in other words they understood that they belonged to something bigger than themselves.
King’s Camp is a story about a group of individuals who understood that they belonged to something bigger than themselves. They were pioneers willing to trust that God is good and that He would not lead them to foolishness but would lead them to something greater than just the individual stories of their lives, that he would lead them to a greater narrative, a grander story. It started with a prayer meeting in Baby and Clare Clark’s home in Mer Rouge, LA in the mid 1970’s. It was a meeting of an eclectic group from various walks of life, various socio-economic, educational, and denominational backgrounds. Basically, they only had one thing in common, they loved Jesus and believed that He loved them. So they would meet and pray and open their hearts to what the Lord would say to them. The living room of Baby and Clare would be filled with people praying and praising God. And, as often God does, He led them into something deeper, something beyond themselves.
One afternoon as Baby was driving out on their property where they were raising Thoroughbred horses and where her daughter Jeannie Harkleroad was living, she said she felt the Lord give her a vision of what these pastures could be. She said that God told her that they were to move the prayer meetings from their living room to these pastures. The vision she saw was lines of cars filled with people coming to worship on this property. So she went home and told what she felt the Lord had shown to her and said to her. This is an important part of the story for me because often we have a seed spoken into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, but we remain silent or we disregard God’s ability or even His desire to speak into our lives, but Baby Clark did not remain silent. She spoke the word given to her and the prayer meetings moved out to the pastures.
Now when they first started meeting, they would bring their tents and campers, eat a meal together, and worship and pray in the horse stable. Eventually, they built a tin shelter to eat under so they wouldn’t get wet and to have some shade. Later they closed that in and put a wood stove in the center of it for warmth in the winter months. An important point about this part of the story is that not all the people who met in the living room followed when the prayer meetings moved out to the pastures. This is significant to me, because I realize that usually when God calls us to something bigger than ourselves, it will often be inconvenient. Prayer in the pasture was not as easy as prayer in the living room, and not everyone was up for it, but those who were were all in. The pastures became the Lord’s. They created a non profit called Christian Life Fellowship and donated the land for the Lord’s use.
In their articles of incorporation they declared it a place for people to:
“frequently assemble in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… a place where Jesus Christ may minister in all His fullness…a place to foster and cultivate the principles of justice and humanity…a place to carry out programs of social action for poor, widowed, orphaned, afflicted, imprisoned, underprivileged persons or aged persons… a place to establish teaching and retreat centers for the purpose of conducting seminars, study groups and work-shops…a place to communicate the gospel of the Lord Jesus.”
This is a vision that sounds much like the description of the ministry of our Lord and His people found in Isaiah 61. So Christian Life Fellowship plugged along. They met every Saturday, eating a pot-luck meal together and worshiping Jesus. In the course of their meeting together over the years, many came and went, but there was always a core group…much like the stories in the gospel of crowds following Jesus.
Many people came and continue to come through those stable doors, even some very renown authors and musicians in the world of Christian literature and music. Brennan Manning author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, and The Furious Longing of God, came often to offer his message of God’s great mercy and love for us and to worship with this little band of believers.
Grammy award winning trumpet player, Phil Driscoll, one of the pioneers of Contemporary Christian music, happened to find his way through the stable doors early in his career when his flight had to make a stop in Monroe for a couple of hours. The story goes that he had to direct his trumpet out the window as he played so he wouldn’t hurt their ears, but it is told that all the cows in the pasture came up to the barn as a result.
Mostly what took place in these pastures though was imperfect but redeemed people loving on each other, sharing the love of Christ with one another. And as often happens when you love and know that you are loved, you want to share that love with others beyond your circle. And so in 1986, the crew again moved beyond their comfort zone with Molly Clark Hartrick leading the way. They wanted to reach out to the community as stated in their articles. Molly had remembered how formative camp was for her as a child and wanted to provide that opportunity to youth in the area. The first year of King’s Camp, as they called it, because it was JESUS', The King’s Camp was a day camp put on by this unlikely crew. The next year a dorm was built and they had a “spend the night camp” Every year Molly would envision how the camp could provide more opportunities for the campers…so they would build it and campers would come, a gymnasium, a ropes course, a swimming pool, an amphitheater and more recently a lodge and a pottery and art studio, always on a shoestring budget. Always the Lord would provide and make it happen. Always, God raised up people to be a part of what He was doing in the pastures.
And He continues to do so. Today, our hearts smile as we see lines of cars filled with campers waiting to register for camp, and we are reminded of Baby’s Vision of the cars and what the Lord had told her. We see over 500 young people come barreling onto the grounds in just the month of June alone. We have many 2nd and 3rd generation campers coming through the camp after over 30 years of camp. Our camp staff, many who are past campers, hail from colleges all over the state. We have camp alumni throughout the continental United States and overseas, in every occupation imaginable, many in full time ministry and mission work. Every year 10% of our campers come on scholarships provided by our generous camp community. We have campers from foster homes, missionary homes and your average American middle class homes all together learning what it’s like to be loved and learning to love one another. It’s a glimpse of Heaven itself! The seed that began as a little day camp has spread like a dandelion in the wind to travel across the continents.
The influence of the ministry extends far beyond our youth camp. The retreat ministry has increased by 500 % in the last year alone. The beautiful thing is that we are hosting various denominations, schools, teams and civic groups from all over the community and Louisiana. We continue to partner with Camp Quality to host and facilitate their camp "to let kids with cancer be kids again." As we look back at the original vision of our pioneers, we praise God that He continues to give us the opportunity to extend the love of Christ to our community and pray for His continued guidance.
We’ve seen the impact that stepping out of your comfort zone and listening to that whisper of the Holy Spirit into your heart has had and continues to have. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as having said that “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Nolan and I were recently talking and wondering if this small band of men and women, his grandparents and his aunts, this group that went from the living room to the pastures, if they actually knew what they were doing and what God was going to do when they started. Nolan said, “I really think that they just knew what was in front of them to do, the first step. I don’t think they knew exactly what it was going to look like. They were just faithful to do what was in front of them, to plant the seed. They didn’t know that those seeds would become trees that would give shade to so many.”
…..and isn’t that so like our own lives and our own stories that we are living, we take tiny steps even when we don’t see the whole staircase. Isn’t that what God calls us to…He only calls us to say yes to trusting him, to trust in His goodness, to take that first small step, and then we get to watch Him build the staircase and walk with Him on it.
May you be encouraged by these words today ~ Jennifer
The Lord will guide you continually; He will satisfy your needs in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:1
“I Love Remembering All This!”
An interview with Emmy Ogletree
Jennifer: When did you start meeting at Baby and Clare’s.
Emmy: We started meeting in 1972.
Jennifer: How did the prayer group get started?
Emmy: We were so hungry for the Lord. Anywhere we could gather and hear from the Lord we would go. The living room would be full. It was an awakening of the Spirit. The Lord was ministering to us and drawing us closer to Him. When the Spirit was moving, sometimes we would stay until 11:00 pm. We would have a teaching, songs, worship…it was so so sweet! Different people would do the teaching.
Jennifer: When did y’all move the prayer meeting out to the pastures?
Emmy: I don’t remember the exact date. After Baby’s vision we moved out there. We were in our 30’s. We went out to the pastures, and the men got the barn ready for our meetings. It was the horse stable. We would go to the barn for our meeting then go up to the campground to camp. People brought motor homes and tents and would stay the night. We put up a tin-top with poles and a dirt floor to have something to eat our meals under. Sometimes we would have the service under the tin-top. Our regulars were: John and Lucille Pruitt, Yvonne and Billy Hayman, Jerry Hatcher, the McClendons’ from Lake Providence, Khaki and Stowe Harbin, Snowdy John, Ben Byrd, Mr. Dunn, Lauree Lee and Leroy Martin, Micky Humphries, Dude and Betty Halley, Robin Hartrick.
Jennifer: Is it true that contemporary christian musician Phil Driscoll showed up one time?
Emmy: It is! He was flying to a concert and had a layover in Monroe. He met someone at the airport that told him about our meeting and he and his pilot came. They drove to our little barn and he played his trumpet for us. He directed it out the window so it wouldn’t be so loud. We also had a man who was a Bible smuggler into communist countries come and speak. He had written a book and Clare had read it and wrote to him to see if he would come speak at the barn. And he did! He had also smuggled children out of North Vietnam. Brennan Manning, the author of Ragamuffin Gospel also came often. He once told a story about his friendship with Shel Silverstein when he lived in New York. Brennan was a Catholic priest at the time and Shel was Jewish. Brennan said he asked Shel, “What is your idea of who Jesus is?” Shel answered, “Let me think about it and then I’ll tell you.” He later told Brennan that he wrote his famous book, “The Giving Tree” from that question. Silverstein became a messianic Jew.
Jennifer: What was the heart of the ministry?
Emmy: The ministry was a community. We ate together, fellowshipped together and studied the Word every single week. We would meet on Saturday night and go to our own churches on Sunday morning. We started to outreach where we saw needs. We had a men’s retreat and put up a huge tent. We ministered to pastors that needed to get away to rest. They would come stay in a camper.
Jennifer: How did the ministry of the camp come about?
Emmy: Molly came back from California and she wanted to reach out to the community. She had had camp experiences as a youth. We had the first camp in 1986. It was a day camp and we bused kids from the projects. The next year we built a dormitory and had a spend the night camp. Wayne Wiggins and Don Boyett were integral parts of the camp ministry. We continued to build buildings, an outdoor gym, the tin-top, the bath house, the King’s Servants, the Cook Shack. People would donate supplies and their labor. John Pahal built the dorm and only charged for the materials. He did not charge for his labor.
Jennifer: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Emmy: God has supernaturally preserved this place. It is His ministry and camp! The King’s Camp! I love remembering all this!