A Blessed Heritage

Uncle Johnnie at Shear Lake, tarpaper shack in background

The land where Camp Barakel is located today was purchased in February of 1952. There was one old building on it. Our founder, Uncle Johnnie, explaining the lack of facilities at the new Shear Lake property and telling what God was doing to change that, writes: “After our site was purchased, God continued to undertake for the glory of His own name. There were no roads, no equipment and no buildings other than the old tarpaper shack. I was well aware it would never pass inspection by the Michigan camp licensing agency. Some holes in the tarpaper were so big they’d almost allow the wind to blow a loaf of bread off the table!”

Seventeen months later, in July of 1953, Camp Barakel hosted its first campers at the new site. God had provided resources and volunteers to put up four buildings. About these early days, Uncle Johnnie writes in his book Barakel: God’s Miracle, “We didn’t put out letters or pleas in any shape or form. To doubt that God would make the necessary provision-I don’t believe that ever entered my mind. We worked as hard as we could. When someone else came to help, it made the job half as long and we were grateful for every helping hand.” Today, by God’s grace, we continue that heritage of waiting on Him for money and workers to accomplish His work.

May 31, 1913 - March 23, 2004

August 30, 1951. After a half-hour walk down the old railroad bed deep in Michigan’s northwoods, a young pastor, Holman ‘Uncle Johnnie’ Johnson, and his frail wife, Hester, stood at the north end of Shear Lake. “What we saw was a real thrill,” he recalled. “As we stood there that day, we prayed, ‘Dear Lord, unless you have a better place for us, we pray you will give us Shear Lake as a permanent home for Camp Barakel.’”

God answered that prayer, providentially moving His people to give what was needed not only to purchase the beautiful, pristine lake and 200 acres of lush forested land, but also for the buildings and equipment for a year-round camp — all without even one fund-raising drive or plea for money, and all without ever going even one penny in debt.

That prayer started a half-century-long string of miracles which continue today. Uncle Johnnie, who was widowed twice, said God’s provisions were so large and so faithful, “all we had to do was unload the wagons.” The camp now sprawls over 350 prime acres and houses two complete camps — one on each side of Shear Lake.

Today, as throughout past years, Camp Barakel is proclaiming the glory of God during youth camps in the summer, adult weekend retreats in the fall, high school and father/son, mother/daughter retreats in the winter, as well as two family camps, on Memorial Day and Labor Day. A resident missionary staff of 15 families and short-term staff volunteers, numbering 600 a year, perform kitchen, construction, waterfront, programing and various other duties. In a year’s time, more than 10,000 adults, youth and children pass through Camp Barakel either as retreaters, campers or volunteer workers.

Only God knows how many people have heard the gospel of Christ proclaimed while at Barakel. Camp Barakel is represented throughout the world by men and women who were saved here or made commitments to lifelong service, and serve as dedicated lay people, missionaries, pastors, youth leaders, and Christian education workers.

To walk the well-groomed footpaths anywhere in camp is to sense the presence of God. His hand brought it all about through the submission, faith and prayers of Uncle Johnnie, whose vision for reaching youth was born when he was a fledgling pastor, recently graduating from Moody Bible Institute. “I just knew that camping was the tool for God to reach those kids’ hearts for Himself,” he emphasized with conviction — and that commitment and burden for reaching children never waned. Always seeking God’s will and God’s way, he trusted Him to act on the promises in His Word. Every building on the site and the provisions of people and materials have followed Uncle Johnnie’s prayers that the “dear Lord do it His way.”

Johnnie himself was a consistent example for those who have followed him. Always giving credit to his ‘dear Lord’ for all that has transpired, he sought truth, guidance, peace and direction from God’s Word. His sons David and Tim went through their dad’s Bibles looking for a special verse to share at his funeral. Eventually Dave says, “I gave up. His Bibles are underlined with notations on nearly every page. He lived in the Book, and the Book lived in him.”

At a children’s camp just before he died he commented: “All these years we just operated by the grace of God. It is a great thing to trust Him, enjoy Him, and love Him with all your heart.”

If you would like to read more of the story of Camp Barakel, please request a copy of the book that Uncle Johnnie wrote in 1989, BARAKEL—God’s Miracle. You may purchase it at the Camp Barakel Trading Post for $12, or through the mail (postage paid) for $17.

In 2004, Kevin VanOrman wrote a short essay about his memories of Uncle Johnnie from when he was a staff kid growing up at Camp Barakel. We thought you might like to read it.