On April 4, 2005, I started on an eight-month journey as Director of Timberline Ranch that has lasted fifteen years, to date. How the years have gone by!
I was young and inexperienced in camp directing. Although I had been in numerous leadership positions and had spent many years in camp ministries, this role was very new to me, and I had little idea what I was about to face. Yet I believed in camp ministry and wanted to make a difference that truly mattered.
My wife Leanne and I had been married for nine years, and our kids, Ben and Lorelle, were six and four. We initially said "no" to the position, as it made no sense to move our family to Maple Ridge for eight months, and I had little experience with horses. But as we prayed, we believed that to be obedient we needed to go.
Little did we understand that we were moving into a battleground, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. In the months prior to our arrival, there had been some firings and some resignations, and the staff was rather divided. Some were very welcoming, while others seemed to resent our coming. That first year, especially, was one of the hardest of my life.
I would be lying to say that these past fifteen years have been easy. Then again, worthwhile ministry is never easy. Until you are responsible for a large organization like Timberline, I don’t think you can comprehend the daily challenges that arise, seemingly out of nowhere. There never seemed to be an important decision I made that wasn’t scrutinized, and my "true" motivations for my actions were often called into question. At one point, it was even rumoured that I was planning to sell all the horses!
If people only knew the sleepless nights and dreaded days I spent agonizing, praying, and working on their behalf and for the betterment of Timberline, perhaps they would have been gentler. It is so easy to stand back and throw stones instead of becoming part of the solution. Yet looking back, I realize that, by far, most people were very supportive and encouraging. They were serving here for the right reasons, and I am so thankful for them. Unfortunately, the hurts seem to stick deeper in our memories. My physical health limitations and chronic illness (Crohn’s disease) were additional challenges.
Perhaps the worst part of being a leader is the constant self-doubts we face. So many times, in the face of criticism, I believed that I was inadequate for the job, that I had failed, that I had said or done something wrong. In leadership, our flaws always come to the forefront, and I know my own faults far better than anyone. I spent my first few years afraid that I simply wasn’t good enough, that sooner or later I would be found out for the “fraud” I was, pretending I could handle this position.
There were always things that came up that we didn’t expect. Some were funny (then or later), and some are still not so funny! I think back on canoeing over fields and roads during major flooding, close encounters with bears, three robberies in a row, a fire in the Lodge, unexpected visits from police, health inspectors, and the SPCA, dramatic rescues by the fire department, a shooting on property, raccoons in the Lodge, an onsite ex-staffer who refused to leave for two months, horses getting loose and running down the road, a squirrel in our fireplace (just last week), a guest group leader who refused to pay, horses stuck in the ditch, being yelled at by parents, medical emergencies, and even now, laying off most of our staff due to a deadly virus. I used to wonder, "What next?" Now I don't want to know until it happens!
God is in control. He is building this ministry! I also received great solace from 1 Corinthians 15:58.
"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
So, Leanne and I gave ourselves fully to the work of the Lord – she mostly with the kids, and me mostly with the day to day work of directing a camp. Because of God’s faithfulness and goodness, our labours have seen much fruit. Thousands of children come every summer and throughout the year, and so many have their lives transformed by the gospel and by the love and acceptance they find with our outstanding staff. But even beyond these campers, what excites me the most is the staff members, many just volunteers, who come through our programs, and I have the privilege to be part of the significant growth and development they experience.
Fifteen years is like a lifetime in ministry. These years have been so very rich, probably because they have been so very hard. I have seen my own children grow up, involved in ministry first-hand. Now in Bible College, they have no illusions that ministry is easy or just for fun, and I hope they will see clearly why Leanne and I have given our lives to this work and the impact we have been able to have over these years.
Most of the struggle and pains of ministry do fade with time. As I take a little time to reminisce, what comes to my mind is all the faces. Some names have faded from my memory, but I see the faces of those who have stood with us, side by side, on this battleground, year after year. Some were here for a short time but have made their mark. Others have persevered for so much longer. But I will remember and love these people forever, and more importantly, their work at Timberline has not been in vain! Their service to the Lord will last throughout eternity.