A Story of God's Provision
November 24, 2009: During our annual planning meetings with our entire staff, we discussed the possibility of a "Family of Camps." Ironwood is coming to a place where we will probably not add a bunch of bed capacity, and one of the ways to grow would be to get involved in a camp start up. There are many ways to expand, but we settled on the picture of a family in which a couple who is mature (although maybe not totally ready) have a baby and work for the next 20 years to train the child to be ready to go out on his own. Our hope was to someday instill in another camp the mission, core values, philosophy and processes that we have here at Ironwood.
February 19, 2010: Our board considers the concept of a family of camps as a possible strategy for growth in the future. It is obvious that the strategy is not the best way to build your camp bigger. But if you are wondering what is best for the campers, a local camp whose desire is to serve is a good thing. Our goal is to further God's work. The board asks for more information about how it would work and what it would look like. A strategy for growth is something that may take 20 years to realize so we begin the process of figuring out the details.
March 25, 2010: A discussion with Jon and Audrey Moore goes over the dream of a family of camps. They volunteer for the rest of the spring, join our summer staff team, and then join the resident staff team at the end of the summer. One of their goals was to learn what it takes to direct a camp and, if opportunities open up in the future, they would be willing to serve at that camp.
September–Early October 2010: Several discussions about family of camps result in a 12-year, 4-stage plan (venture stage, pioneer stage, planning stage, and foundation stage). Much like the training of a child begins with lots of control and slowly lets go, our hope was to begin with lots of control and slowly hand over responsibilities. At the end of the twelve years (give or take a couple), the camp would have its own board, identity, and character. Our goal would be that it resemble Ironwood but not be a clone.
October 18, 2010: Pastor Ron Perry, former Ironwood staff member and now a pastor in Folsom, identified a possible rental property for a future men's retreat. Jon Moore, Jon Bladine, and myself head up to northern California. We meet with up with Pastor John Labins (uh-huh, 3 Jons and a Ron). We visit the camp, look over the facility, and are excited about our first venture camp.
October 19, 2010: We (Sam, Pastor John, Jon and Jon) took this day to look at other camps that may be candidates for future rental camps. A rule for family of camps is that the new camp could not be closer than eight hours to Ironwood. A few days before we picked a city on the map that we thought would be a good place for a camp—a place within four hours of major populations, a place accessible year-round. We chose the town called Grass Valley, then looked for a real estate agent in Grass Valley that could begin to let us know if a camp ever showed up for sale. We met with him in the morning. He told us there were no camps for sale in the area but gave us several camps to visit for our rental options. Wolf Mountain was one of the camps mentioned but we chose a group of camps that were close to each other. We called Wolf Mountain, but there was no answer. At one of the other camps toward the end of our tour, we heard that Wolf Mountain had let go some of their staff. We decided to visit the camp even though they had no idea we were coming.
At 4:30 pm, the four of us just showed up at Wolf Mountain. When we arrived the Executive Director, Dave, and the Property Manager, Joe, were standing there in the parking lot. We got out and shared that we were looking for rental camp options, they took us to their dining room and wanted to show us a DVD of some of their activities before we toured. The wrong DVD was put in; it was a story of how the camp had been used as a tool of ministry in the lives of campers and of Derrick in particular. Part way through, Dave realized it was the wrong DVD, but we realized that what they were doing with camp is exactly what we were interested in. A common desire to see God do a work in hearts began to open up the conversation about the needs of Wolf Mountain and the ultimate goals of a family of camps.
Just a few days before, the Castlepoint Board (Lucerne Christian Conference Center) had sold and closed on their camp property. My Dad Walt and I were scheduled to visit with the Castlepoint Board on November 2. As Dave, myself, and Pastor Labins were standing under the moonlight in the shadows of the Buckhorn camp sign (one of Wolf Mountain's three facilities), we realized each of us had something that the others needed. Ironwood had experience, philosophy, and people wanting to do family of camps; Castlepoint had a group of churches desiring to use the camping tool and cash from the sale of the castle; Wolf Mountain had debt that was beyond their ability to continue with it but a property that was 640 acres, 56 buildings, 3 camp settings, and activities like paintball, horses, high ropes, and a pool. Only God could put these three groups together at exactly this time. Unknown to us, Dave and one of his board members, Don, had met that morning for breakfast and had given the situation to God. They told God that He would have to show them what to do. That night we prayed under the Buckhorn camp sign and asked God to guide and direct in the next few weeks. It looked like a win-win-win situation; and, honestly, it looked too good to be true—for all of us. Only God! The next few days were a scramble. First of all, just to make sure that what we talked about was still a possibility. Each group (Castlepoint, Wolf Mountain, and Ironwood) consulted their counselors and their boards. We prayed, asked some questions, prayed some more, wrote out a few lists, and prayed even more.
October 26–29, 2010: A flood of conference calls, e-mails, clarifications, and questions answered moved us closer to the point of saying, "Let's do our due diligence and see if this could work."
November 2, 2010: Sam and Walt meet with the Castlepoint board to present the family of camps concept and answer questions. The all day meeting ended with a decision to take most of the assets from the sale of the Castle and open an endowment with conditions. The conditions basically state that most of the money must be spent on the acquisition of a camp for the benefit of northern California camping. We do not consider our ministry any richer but rather loaded with a huge responsibility that we understand is a huge privilege. It is a privilege to serve and to be trusted to serve. We take the responsibility seriously.
November 3, 2010: Sam, Walt, and Pastor Labins meet with Dave and Don (board member of Wolf Mountain). This all day meeting set up the process of due diligence for both ministries and gave us a chance to tour the camp not as a rental possibility but rather from the possibility of operating it. It is owned by God. That has not changed from the first camps in 1963 when children were told about God and the truth of his Word. Our goal is to keep up this tradition for many years to come.
November 11–13, 2010: Three days of due diligence encompassing 134 specific areas. Dave, Don and Pastor Labins come down to Ironwood to go through three days of marathon sessions. Thousands of pieces of paper and gigabytes of information are traded and made available. No decision can be made without risk, but our responsibility is to be stewards of what God has given us. Any question could be asked, and every question was answered as best as could be. In essence, we realized that the Castlepoint assets could cover the debt of Wolf Mountain, and the transition plan is within reach. Ironwood committed to using Wolf Mountain as the facility to accomplish the family of camps goal in northern California.
November 15–19, 2010: Follow-up items from due diligence are finished up. Transition plans are being readied. Boards are once again consulted and all is covered in prayer. Our goal at this point is stop if God wants to stop and to go if God wants us to go. The shiny of "oh, cool, another camp" has totally worn off. The reality of work and effort is in front of us. The desire to serve remains. The win-win-win is more obvious than ever.
November 20, 2010: The Wolf Mountain board met, decided to accept the commitment of Ironwood to run a family of camps using Wolf Mountain, and resigned after electing members of the Ironwood Board to Wolf Mountain's Board. The new Wolf Mountain Board elects Jon Moore as the new director starting January 1, 2011. And now, the transition begins! The transition plan will cover the next nine months to a year. Those who have spent some time at Ironwood will recognize the Wolf Mountain mission statement: "Wolf Mountain is a home missions ministry using the unique aspects of the camping ministry to reach young people for the Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen families, and serve local churches. It is a place of decision in the areas of salvation, full surrender, and consistent Christian walk." Just saying it will not make it happen. There are many things to learn, many folks to get to know, and many challenges to address. We look forward to seeing what God has in store for us—31 days ago we had no idea of God's plan to entrust us with Wolf Mountain.