In 1977 a couple in our church (Three Lakes Community Bible Church), Ellis and Ida Stewart, donated a portion of their property 13 miles south on the Bull Lake Road. Stewarts wanted the property to be used to minister to children and young people, to reach them for Christ and to help establish them in their faith. Ida had been both an orphan and a widow and God had cared for her as Psa. 46:9 promises. He protected her and met her needs and one day introduced her to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and she was born again into the family of God. At that point, because of her background, she had a burden for the needs of others, especially children, so she and her husband Ellis gave some land to start a Bible camp for children and young people.
So, as soon as the snow melted in 1978, my wife and I, along with the Stewarts, Volkmanns, Ray Sampson, and Lou Auge and a few other folks from Three Lakes began clearing the property and burning brush. A concrete slab was poured and a kitchen/cafeteria was erected with homemade trusses and the roof covered with handsplit shakes from cedar donated by the Oakes and Rider families from the Sylvanite mill. Tent sites were cleared, outhouse buildings were constructed, a wash stand erected, an outdoor chapel built into the hillside and a fireside constructed. Marshall Warrington brought his backhoe to do most of the excavation for us. Wiring of the kitchen was done by Gale Fister Electric with an underground cable stretching from the highway up to the kitchen. (Gale was president of Rocky Mountain Bible Mission). Water lines were run from the adjoining creek to provide water to the kitchen.
The name selected for the camp was “Elohim Bible Camp.” Elohim is the name of the Creator God in Gen. 1:1. The first camp was held in July of that summer. I served as camp director with other missionaries from Rocky Mountain Bible Mission (to which my wife and I belonged) helping out. (Staff included Erv and Linda Volkmann, Bill and Sue Smith, Brenda James and Kit and Lorraine Hardy). The counselors were recruited from Bible schools throughout the U.S. and Canada. They would come for the month of June to teach Vacation Bible Schools in the area and then spend the month of July at Bible camp, starting with a work week during which they also prepared lessons for camp. Initially there were just two weeks of camp for teens and junior age, but soon a third week was added. A family camp was also held late in August. Ida Stewart was head cook with help from Bertha Olson and many others. Ida’s specialty was huge, yummy cinnamon rolls. Ellis acted as camp caretaker.
Steve and Pam Rodgers of Libby donated a trailerhouse that initially served as the camp book store and snack shack and was run by Kathy’s mom, Irene Kutz. The trailer later became the craft trailer. Kit and Lorraine Hardy, another couple with RMBM, donated a log camper which was turned into a nurses station with Lorraine serving as the first camp nurse.
The campers slept in large army tents on pallets made from 2×2’s. There were close to 30 teens and 50 juniors for camp the first summer. There were Bible classes each morning taught by the counselors. Chapel services were held at noon and in the evening each day, taught by staff. Campfire was held each evening after the evening chapel. In the afternoon the campers got to do crafts, play sports on the recreation field and go swimming at Bull Lake. Once a week the campers were taken on a hike. Campers were broken up into teams for a contest that ran all week long. They got points for lessons completed, verses memorized, sports, etc. For dishes at meals, blocks were drawn to see what team got the duty. There were also daily inspections of the tents, with reports at the evening meals.
In 1983, the camp was turned over to be run completely by RMBM as I resigned to be the full-time pastor of Three Lakes Bible Church. In 1990, the mission sent Clyde and Pam Miller to be the full-time directors of the camp and to build it into a year-around facility. The name was changed to “Elohim Bible Camp & Retreat Center.” Ellis and Ida were the full-time caretakers and Bill and Linda Colson the full time cooks. Later, Warren and Michelle Edson and family moved to Libby from California and assumed the duties as camp directors, continuing to remodel and add buildings, including a gymnasium and dorms for the campers to replace the big tents. They, with the help of Don and Vicki Stevens, also from California, began a Bible Training Center which provides a three-year Bible Course that was developed initially by Dallas Theological Seminary for pastors.
Well, summer camp just finished its 35th season. Over these years, the vision of Ellis and Ida Stewart to provide some property to be used to minister God’s Word to children and young people has impacted thousands of lives, with hundreds giving their hearts to Jesus for the first time and hundreds more making commitments to serve Christ with their lives. We have had counselors at camp who ended up married other camp counselors and now serve as pastors, as missionaries, as heads of large missions and even presidents of Bible Schools. And many of the campers have gone on to serve the Lord faithfully as well in many capacities. This past Sunday we visited at Three Lakes Church where I had pastored and heard a testimony of how Colton, Ellis’ grandson, had committed his life to Christ at camp. How exciting!! Over the years many of Ellis and Ida’s grandchildren have attended Elohim and many have made decisions for Christ. Ida’s vision to help children and young people has reaped a bountiful harvest. Ida is now with the Lord and I’m sure is rejoicing at each heart that comes to Christ at Elohim Bible Camp. I’m reminded of the promise in Gal. 6:9: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.”
Here’s what Elohim Bible Camp meant to one of our counselors, Gilbert Burgers:
“Its not just the mountains capped with snow,
the falls, the streams, the rivers that flow,
the daisies, lupines, and other wild flowers;
the sunshine, the clouds, and occasional showers.
It’s the caring and sharing and singing praises
to the wonderful God who our heart up raises.
It’s not just the wonderful meals of ‘tators and ham,
or the squirrel, rabbit, moose and bear,
or the robin that sings in the thin mountain air.
It’s the sharing work together for one common goal,
to bring the message of Jesus to some little soul.”