This week Marlene and I are at Camp Nathanael in Emmalena, Kentucky. If you don’t know where that is, we’re in far southeastern Kentucky, a few miles east of Hazard, not far from Pigeonroost, Topmost, Dwarf, and a few miles from a community named Rowdy. Emmalena is not a large town. It’s a store, a school and a post office along the county road that winds between the mountains.
I first learned of the camp from Miss Eva Lodgaard, a missionary sent out from Madison Street Bible Church (now Calvary Memorial Church) in Oak Park, IL in 1945. I first spoke here for a work week in the early 1990s. Since then I’ve been back three or four times.
This week is the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of the camp and its parent organization, the Scripture Memory Mountain Mission. Conditions in the 1930s were considerably more difficult than they are today. Back then the missionaries often rode on horseback, following trails to reach the isolated cabins where they would introduce children to the Scripture memory program. The camp started as a way to reward the children for their memory work.
Five years ago I spoke for their annual Bible conference. The progress since then is amazing. Under the leadership of mission director Roy Hodson, they have completed a new gym, finished a much-needed expansion of the dining hall, developed a new entrance to the property, and purchased adjoining land they hope to develop into a nature center.
All the services are held in an open-air tabernacle next to Troublesome Creek, which winds its way through the campground. We got off to an excellent start last night with 300+ in attendance. After the service there was a public dedication of the expanded dining hall. Many tears were shed as Roy Hodson named the churches that helped donate labor and money to make it possible.
We love it here. Marlene commented to me that this is one of the most restful places we’ve ever been. To reach the camp you travel east from Hazard, exit on a country road, turn left on another road that follows Troublesome Creek, and then enter the camp itself, which is built in a valley surrounded by mountains. This is part of the Appalachian Mountain range and it is also coal-mining country.
Every ministry has its own niche, and 75 years ago a man named Garland Franklin had a vision to reach the isolated rural communities of southeastern Kentucky. They did it on horseback and sometimes on foot. Today the ministry has spread to a number of counties in this area. Only eternity will reveal the true impact of this ministry on this region.