Once upon a time (in 1984), in a land far away (the United States), a group of church leaders decided to create the […]
Once upon a time (in 1984), in a land far away (the United States), a group of church leaders decided to create the first-ever all-world International camporee for Pathfinders. They made the decision, not knowing that God was already far ahead of them in preparation.
The chosen location was an empty valley in the state of Colorado. Empty, because the United States Army had abandoned the old Tenth Mountain Division camp and torn down everything they had built in the valley. “Camp Hale” was gone, but there was enough room for 6,000 Pathfinders to pitch tents, work on honors, and hold giant international worships together.
I had been asked to coordinate the logistics. “Take the old Camp Hale site,” the committee told me, “and turn it into a town for 6,000 Pathfinders and their leaders. Make sure there’s water, toilets, food, ice, a stage, sound equipment, a tepee welcome center, and telephones. Operate the camp for eight days, then tear it down so that no one can tell we were ever there.” “Got it?” “Yes, sir!” I saluted.
I lived in California, but I knew Colorado well; so I was excited about the challenges. In a few weeks I had a team of Pathfinder leaders who knew more about water, tents, and camping than I did, and we started planning.
The expected numbers grew from 6,000 to 8,000, then to 14,000 Pathfinders. Our planning team ordered more portable toilets, found someone to coordinate daily ice delivery, organized river rafting trips, designed a giant stage, and who knows what more!
* * *
Then the Pathfinder director for the North American Division called. “Dick,” he began. “I have just received a thick letter from the Department of Social Services in Colorado. These people say we must register as a childcare center before we can have the camporee. I’m sending you the packet. Fix it.”
“Right now” seemed a very good time to pray! I gathered my family and the planning team, and we prayed for God to work a miracle with the Department of Social Services in Colorado. FedEx delivered the packet.
“We understand,” the letter read, “that you are planning to hold an event for children at the old Camp Hale Army base on the Eagle River. Accordingly, you must register as a childcare center. Please review the enclosed 250-page manual and complete the appropriate application.” Signed by Mr. Frank.
There was no way we could meet the department’s long list of requirements for a full childcare license. They even required a toilet for every seven children. That would be about 2,000 portable toilets! We needed a miracle.
I called Colorado, made an appointment with Mr. Frank, flew from California to Colorado, picked up my rental car, and drove to Mr. Frank’s office in downtown Denver. I prayed all the way. “God, there’s no way we can have the camporee without Your intervention. Please take over my words and my spirit. May I represent You clearly. Please show Your power today.”
* * *
The elevator clanked and groaned as it carried me to the fourth floor. Ugly gray elevator. Uglier gray concrete hallway. It was dark and cold, and I was depressed and fearful. I knocked and prayed. The door buzzed and I walked through to the reception desk.
“I’m here to see Mr. Frank. My name is Dick Duerksen. I’m with the Pathfinder camporee at Camp Hale. ”The receptionist gave me a long, hard look, making me feel distinctly unwelcome. “Frank,” she shouted. “He’s here.” My heart dropped as a giant bearlike man with a huge black beard stood and unhappily waved for me to come to his desk. This wasn’t going to go well. “Lord?” I prayed.
“The rules are the rules,” Mr. Frank pronounced after I had explained about Pathfinders and camporees and shown him the site plan. “We can’t bend the rules, no matter how many kids you have or what they’re here for.”
My heart was crushed. “God, where are You?”
Mr. Frank had stood to say farewell. “What did you say your name was? Duerksen?” “Yes,” I said. “Duerksen. Dick Duerksen.” “Do you have any relatives in Denver?” I did. One uncle, a medical doctor who has delivered thousands of babies in California, British Guiana, and Colorado. Some people love my uncle Eddie. Others, not so much. “Yes, I whispered. One. An uncle. Eddie.” “Is Dr. Edward Duerksen your uncle?” Mr. Frank—cowboy boots, worn jeans, Western shirt, and giant black beard, now stood mere inches from my face. “Yes sir!” I smiled as Mr. Frank’s giant hands clasped mine. “Sit down,” Mr. Frank said. “Just about a year ago my wife and I were having a baby—a boy we hoped—and Dr. Edward Duerksen was our physician. The baby arrived early, and it was a very hard delivery for my wife and our son. We weren’t sure if either the baby or my wife would live.”
Mr. Frank, the giant bear of a man who had frightened me so terribly, now sat squeezing my hands as bear-sized tears slipped from his eyes. “Dr. Edward Duerksen had a special cot set up in my wife’s hospital room. He slept there for three nights, just to be sure my wife and son were OK. He’s a Seventh-day Adventist like you are, right?” “Right.” I said. “And a Pathfinder.”
Mr. Frank laughed and told me to come with him. We walked through the office, Mr. Frank boisterously introducing me as “Dr. Duerksen’s nephew,” at every desk and cubicle. Then he threw open the door to the big boss’s office. “Mrs. Elizabeth, this is Dick Duerksen from the Pathfinder camporee at Camp Hale. He’s my Dr. Duerksen’s nephew. They’ve got a great plan for this camporee here, and I think we ought to approve it just as it is.”
I called Dr. Eddie that evening and told him the story. He cried. Then he said, “Dick, I probably slept on a cot in 30 different hospital rooms last year. How about that. Maybe God still can use an old man like me!” Then Eddie and I cried and prayed together.
* * *
A permit from the Colorado Department of Social Services hangs on the wall beside my desk. It reads: “Granted a License to Operate a Resident Camp for 18,000 Children, 9 Years to 16 Years, Between July 19, 1985, and July 19, 1987, at Camp Hale, Colorado.”
Dick Duerksen, a pastor and storyteller living in Portland, Oregon, United States, is known around the world as “an itinerant pollinator of grace.”