Tag Archives: Grace Nolt

Expanding the Vision at Pinebrook

by Grace Nolt, Spruce Lake Retreat

On October 17, 2018, Spruce Lake took over stewardship of Pinebrook Bible Conference to refine and rededicate the ministry around its founding purpose of “Pointing People Toward Christ.”

The vision now, as then, might seem crazy at the start. Dare we believe that God is not done with Pinebrook, and wants even more people to see Christ through this property?

Young people gather in front of the sign for Pinebrook’s newly established “Church of the Air” Bible Conference. Circa 1933.

Percy Crawford, the charismatic pioneer radio and TV evangelist of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, founded Pinebrook Bible Conference in 1933 to strengthen the reach of his radio ministry, “The Young People’s Church of the Air.”

 The property, located at what is now 5339 Pinebrook Road, East Stroudsburg, PA, was just what Percy and his team were searching for. “We must have it,” Percy said to the real estate man. Never mind that they wanted too much money.

Furthermore, the bank would not even consider a deal without cash, and other buyers were closing in. But the bank conceded, giving them about four weeks to raise the money. This turned out to be rough as banks were closing right and left.

“Immediately I went to good Christian friends and explained my plight, “said Percy. “The day the money was due, I walked in and placed it in the bank’s hands.” Pinebrook had been acquired for God, and for the young people of the Pocono Mountains. Immediately they dedicated the place to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Percy brought the nation’s leading Bible teachers and musicians to Pinebrook – Billy Graham, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows, Jack Wyrtzen and many others. He directed Pinebrook’s ministries for the next 28 years.

In 1968, the Bible Fellowship Church became the next stewards of Pinebrook, continuing it as a retreat and conference center with a “mission to the world.” Ongoing programs offered special ministry to the Bible Fellowship Church.

Representing PA Senator Mario Scavello, Jonathan Allotey (center) presented Mark and Jackie Swartley an award of recognition for investing in the community by revitalizing Pinebrook.

Then, on a day filled with bright sunshine and wind, over 200 people gathered at the open house service June 30, 2019, to witness the uniting of Pinebrook and Spruce Lake as one, refounding Pinebrook for “this day and this age.”

“I cannot tell you,” spoke Executive Director Mark Swartley, “how many people have stopped me since we have gotten involved with Pinebrook and said things like: I love that place!  I accepted Christ on those grounds.  I found my spouse at Pinebrook.  Those hills sing to me when I walk on the grounds.”

Pinebrook has had an amazing impact for Christ. As Billy Graham once said, Pinebrook is “where so many hundreds and thousands of young lives have been touched, and people are now around the world who were led to Christ and dedicated their lives to Christ at Pinebrook.”

Several hundred youth attended SnoGlo weekends in January at Pinebrook, programmed by the Bible Fellowship Church.

So, this is the day to carry forward the vision to reach more people for Christ through Pinebrook!

What might this look like? Spruce Lake is planning to:

  • Serve the Bible Fellowship Church and its members through its retreat ministries.
  • Invite churches in the surrounding local area and nearby states to retreat and seek a deeper relationship with Christ. As many as 13,000 new and returning people are expected through 2019.
  • Start a children’s Day Camp ministry the summer of 2021 to allow us to share Christ with Stroudsburg area children day after day.
  • Restore a ministry in this community so that it is fully flourishing – giving all glory to God for His provision and grace!

We will trust God and see where He leads as Spruce Lake continues “Pointing People Toward Christ” in the future at Pinebrook.

To this purpose we dedicate this property, O Lord!

For more information on the history of Pinebrook, visit percycrawford.com or pinebrook.org.

Mystery woman sets tone for ministry at Spruce Lake

Spruce Lake 50th Anniversary
A Wilderness Camp counselor sits with a camper by lantern light in 2007. Gerry Clemmer, pastor of Souderton congregation, said he recently went to that same spot behind the pavilion, remembering his own experience. “Forty-five years later, I knelt and thanked God for his faithfulness and love that became real to me for the first time that night,” he said.

by Grace Nolt, Spruce Lake Retreat

Al Detweiler took the call.

A woman said she had something to bring them. “I hope it’s a big check!” he joked with his wife, Kass, as he put down the phone.  Al was one of the first pastors in Franconia Mennonite Conference to serve full time. Money was tight. The young couple also oversaw Allentown Mennonite’s children’s camping program.

A middle-aged woman arrived carrying a drawstring bag.  Al and Kass had never met her before. What was her name?

But she avoided the question. Instead, she said, “I’m on my way from New York City to Cleve­land and had a layover at the bus terminal. Coming here was something I ‘had’ to do. I have some­thing to give you!”

She pulled a stitched plaque out of her bag — dark purple with white letters and three words: Watch God Work.  “Now keep this where you can see it every day,” the woman said.  “If you continue to serve God, you will see blessings in your life you never dreamed of!”

Then she looked at her watch. “Oh, I need to go now!”

“Do you want a ride to the bus station?” Al asked. (It was about a mile away.) “No,” she said, “I’ll walk.”  She went out the door and down the flight of steps, never to be seen again.

Kass turned to Al. “Was she an angel?”

“Yes,” Al said, “I think she was!”

Then they put the purple and white plaque on the kitchen counter where they could see it every day.

The mystery woman’s plaque is no longer on the counter. It disappeared, most likely during Kass’s move to a new home following Al’s death several years ago.  The words, however, have become forever stitched into the fabric of Spruce Lake as Al and Kass became the wilderness camp’s first directors in 1963.  Those words remain a testimony to God’s faithfulness as the camp celebrates 50 years of God at work in the most amazing ways!

The Spruce Lake story begins with the flood of ‘55. Land was devastated along the entire Brodhead Wa­tershed from northern Monroe County to Phillipsburg, New Jersey.  Norm Good and others from Blooming Glen Mennonite Church mobilized a large volunteer effort, catching the attention of Mr. Dalton, a Jewish gentleman with a habit of seeking ways to help others.

Seven years went by.  Franconia Mennonite Camping Association had formed (1961), and soon sent out a search team for land to start a children’s camp in the Poconos.  A For Sale sign without a phone number caught their eye.

When they stopped at the Canadensis post office to inquire, the postmaster said, “Oh, there is Mr. Dal­ton now, getting into his car!”  Practically grabbing Mr. Dalton by his shirttail as he was about to drive away, the men told him what they wanted.

Spruce Lake 50th anniversary
At Spruce Lake’s May, 2012, groundbreaking for the new hospitality center, Executive Director Mark Swartley, Dan Schantz, and Norm Good faced the future with satisfaction and anticipation. Norm has been behind practically everything over the past 50 years at Spruce Lake. He went to be with his Creator five months after this picture was taken.

Mr. Dalton remembered “the Mennonites,” their help during the flood. He said, “You are the kind of people I want to sell my property to!”  He made an offer — half the original sales price — and in addition offered 240 acres of woodland (Spruce Lake’s forest and Wilderness Camp area).  Settlement took place April 30, 1963.

Later that same day, Mr. Dalton went alone to Wilbur Lapp’s real estate office, holding out a check for $18,000 to pay for half of the additional acres the Camping Association had bought that day.

These stories from the past form our foundation for watching God at work at Spruce Lake! And so we repeat them often.  The miraculous timings, spiritual encounters that defy explanation, the uniting of the right people with specific needs, the profound changes in people’s lives over the years — we can’t begin to begin name them all.

We’ve tried to convey snapshots of these holy encounters through the storybook, Watch God Work: Tracing the Movements of God at Spruce Lake, Fifty Years, 1963-2013. It will come off the press just in time for Spruce Lake’s 50th Anniversary Open House Sun­day, May 19 — free copies will be available for anyone who wants one.

What else can you anticipate at the 2:00-7:00 p.m. Open House?  Executive Director Mark Swartley will lead tours of the new Spruce Lodge (hospitality cen­ter), projected to be finished by the end of October.  Motorcyclists in the Ride into New Horizons will roll in throughout the afternoon. Their regis­tration fees help fund the New Horizons campaign for the new building.  Guests will enjoy a 5:00 chicken barbecue dinner and lots of hearty fellowship.  Details and sign-ups for Open House and the motorcycle ride are on Spruce Lake’s new website, www.sprucelake.org, or by calling 800-822-7505.  A Wilderness Camp staff reunion June 16, new entrance signs, “birthday parties” throughout the summer, and more will be part of our celebrations in 2013.

Then, on December 13, vocalist Steve Green will present a 7:00 p.m. concert at Franconia Mennonite Church. Music will help us express what words can’t as we honor how God has worked through Spruce Lake over the past 50 years.

The future belongs to our children as they return and return to this place of blessing …  Watch God Work!

Opening new doors in the Poconos

Grace Nolt, Public Communications Coordinator, Spruce Lake Retreat,  grace@sprucelake.org

For 48 years, Spruce Lodge has been the changeless hub of Spruce Lake Retreat, but a new door to the future has opened!

Spruce Lake has embarked on a visionary yet demanding $8 million “New Horizons” capital campaign to build a new hospitality center. Ribbon-cutting is anticipated for May 19, 2013, in time to celebrateSpruceLake’s 50th anniversary.  Confident of God’s hand in the decision to move forward in spite of the current economy, board and staff see this step as an opportunity God has put into place.

Possibly the oldest building on the grounds, Spruce Lodge is well-loved, like a favorite pair of worn shoes in which we feel comfortable. It’s also a kind of holy place; many who have entered through its doors have been changed forever.

Yet the familiarity—and the patience—is wearing thin. Staff frequently serve meals for 250 people or more in space intended for 140 at best. Guests worm their way through the often crowded lobby to tiny public restrooms. Those who lodge upstairs can hear what their neighbors do or say in the next room. And there are more old boards, leaks and fire hazards than staff would want anyone to know! Spruce Lodge has even been referred to as the Achilles’ heel of Spruce Lake.

Spruce Lake has been inching toward the new dining room for 20 years. Since 1991, five different plans have been proposed. The board believes that now is the time to act on building a new Hospitality Center that will meet Spruce Lake’s program needs while maintaining a responsible budget and meshing fluently with the natural environment.

Chad Davidheiser of Bethlehem, Pa., has attended Joni and Friends Family Camp for nearly 20 years. (Left to right: Chad Davidheiser, Mark Swartley, and Jackie Swartley.) Photo by Grace Nolt

Some guests can hardly wait! Joni and Friends International Disability Center (JAF) is one such group.

“For more than 20 years,” said JAF founder Joni Eareckson Tada, “Joni and Friends has been a partner with Spruce Lake in serving families with disability. The new Hospitality Center means that Joni and Friends will be able to serve 45 more special needs families every summer. That is huge!”

JAF holds three weeklong Family Camps at Spruce Lake each year. All are full, with approximately 40 families each week. As many as 38 families are on waiting lists.

Increased accessibility will enhance Spruce Lake’s long-held commitment to provide facilities suitable for persons with disabilities.  Other features will also allow Spruce Lake to continue honoring guests with an enjoyable, inspiring and quality experience through which God can ease his way into their hearts.

In July, 2011, RIPPLE Allentown, a Franconia Mennonite Conference Partner-in-Mission, held its first church leadership retreat at Spruce Lake. That experience was just what the group needed for listening to the voice of God more clearly.  “Leaving the city to meet elsewhere was new for us,” Pastor Tom Albright said. “Some of our group had never been away from an urban setting.”

“God was present (and) we grew closer to Jesus,” Albright continued, “as we realized that we all are broken, healing, hurting, loved and forgiven people. That breakthrough has brought us to a place where we are listening to God and to each other, while being disciples of Jesus.  Our return to the city has included thanks and praise to God, and the desire to return to Spruce Lake to hear, see, taste, touch and smell that God is so good!”

As Spruce Lake moves through the door that God has opened, the $8 million needed for the New Horizons campaign is indeed a big goal. And it will require the cooperation of many hands and hearts so that future generations can also “hear, see, taste, touch and smell” that God is good!