The mission of Pine Ridge is to share and model the message of Jesus in a safe, innovative, and relational setting.
Jim & Alice Ver Lee
It was after the death of their little girl, Miriam, that Jim and Alice Ver Lee began working with children. Along with their three remaining children, they conducted the Jewel Class at Zeeland Baptist Church, formerly called the Bible Witness Hall. Their desire to serve God grew as they saw how God worked in the hearts of the children through the Bible lessons, songs, and memory verses. Alice was a wonderful Bible teacher and the lessons came alive with her teaching. Jim and their children, Jim, Richard, and Joan, helped her with everything from playing the piano to teaching the verse. Everywhere they looked, they saw children needing the Lord. Jim worked nights for the telephone company which made it possible for him to work with children during the daytime.
Their work expanded to Lakewood township near Holland where they started a Sunday School. When adults started coming, Uncle Jim taught them while Aunt Alice taught the children. It grew and is now a thriving church. After this, the Ver Lee's began another work in Robinson township, Ottawa County, with the same results. It became Robinson Road Baptist Church. They moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and started working with the Temple Mission on Division Avenue. The emphasis wherever they went was always scripture memorization.
After moving to Grand Rapids, the started working with a new organization called the Bible Club Movement, teaching Bible Clubs. Before long, they were directing the program and through their leadership the ministry grew. The impact of the gospel became evident by the salvation of many children. To reach them more effectively they started a summer program. They brought the children to Gull Lake Bible and Missionary Conference in Hickory Corners. Even though the program was excellent, the kids scattered throughout the grounds, making it difficult to keep track of them. As Joan Ver Lee DeYoung tells it, her parents were ripe for the seed that Rev. Don Holbrook planted when he asked, "Why don't you have your own camp?" They were not ones to sit still too long and before long found 80 acres on Pine Lake in Cedar Springs. It was after the first summer of "their" camp, Jack and Jill Bible Club Camp, that the Ver Lees decided to join the Bible Club Movement and become missionaries.
It was June 22, 1946. Uncle Jim and Aunt Alice excitedly watched the first campers arrive. They thought back over the past three months; so much had been done and there was still so much to do.
The Bible Club program that the Ver Lees had been directing in Grand Rapids and surrounding areas had grown to around 200 clubs. Children were being saved. The Bible Club workers recognized that to reach the children more effectively, they needed to expand into the summer.
They had been thinking about a summer camp. Whey they heard a Mr. Hutchinson tell about the things the Germans had accomplished with the Austrian children in a camp situation, they decided to start their own camp.
In March, just three months previously, they had found an 80 acre farm that couldn't be farmed successfully anymore. The farm was neglected and run-down, both the buildings and the land. At first, they wondered if it would be worthwhile to pursue a purchase. There was no electricity, an outside toilet, a pitcher pump, a beat-up barn, two chicken coops, a shed and a farm house.
The owner asked one price which they couldn't afford, so after prayer and consideration they offered $2,500. Two days later the man called and said it was theirs. They didn't have a cent. When the time came to pay for the property, all the money was there through gifts from God's people.
Then began feverish preparation. They told different groups of Christian friends who then volunteered to come and help fix it up. They cleared away rubbish, old fences and brush. They scraped, cleaned and whitewashed the chicken coops. They cleaned up the barnyard. They painted, hung paper, graded land, laid bricks and blocks, upholstered, sewed, and carried water for concrete mixing. People donated their old mattresses. The ladies cut them down to bunk size with big knives and then covered them with homemade covers. Many people came to help with this new camp. Businessmen, carpenters, a banker, a doctor's wife, pastors, and housewives all came to help get this camp ready for the children by June.
The old barn became a chapel, one of the chicken coops became a boys dorm and the other a craft room. The farm house provided a mess hall and sleeping facilities for the cooks. The cooks cooked the meals on a wood stove and a kerosene stove. They pumped their water and carried it from the pump to the house.
The cost for attending camp was $7.00, Saturday to Saturday. The campers could assist in paying their way to camp by bringing canned fruit, vegetables, and other food.
Joan (Ver Lee) DeYoung tells that one of the biggest things the Lord supplied that year was a quonset hut. It was after the war and such things were not available to civilians. The Lord knew a girl's dorm was needed, so He provided it.
God's blessing was evident from the beginning. Uncle Jim and Aunt Alice wrote about that first summer in a letter sent to people who were interested in the camp. They wrote, "180 children came to camp; 40 professed salvation; lives were touched FOR GOD by His Holy Spirit and the Word, and many decisions were made for a life of service on the mission field."
A Name Chosen
A contest was held to decide the name of the camp. The name Jack & Jill Bible Club Camp was chosen. The following is taken from a newsletter written after that first summer.
Perhaps you have wondered about the name of our Camp, why it was chosen and what it meant. The first time we went to the Camp site and drove "up the hill" the nursery rhyme came to our minds. "Jack & Jill went up the hill" and in our imaginations we saw many Jacks (boys) and Jills (girls) out on the hills of life seeking for adventure and ending in disaster. Juvenile delinquency, just as the rhyme of our own childhood days stated, "without water our bodies cannot live". This is also true of our souls, for Jesus said, "If thou knewest the gift of God..., and He would have given thee living water." John 4:10
We know that the world is full of boys (Jacks) and girls (Jills) who are thirsting for pleasure, excitement, and who do not know the "GIFT OF GOD". They do not know that He came down to bring them the LIVING WATER, and we long to tell them. "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." John 4:14
The article continues. The Camp is located on a hill. The 'Jack" stands for the boys who came and will come in the future and the 'Jill' for the girls. The children in the rhyme end in a tragedy, but we praise the Lord that it was not so at the Bible Club Camp, for the Lord Jesus was there with 'Living Water.' Forty children professed to accept the 'gift of God' and received everlasting life. Our prayers as we look into the future are that thousands of Jacks and thousands of Jills may come up the hill to the Bible Club Camp and receive the Living Water.
Jack & Jill came up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
The Lord came down, their lives to crown
HE GAVE THEM LIVING WATER
The Ver Lee Years: 1946-1970
After the success of the first year, they could hardly wait to start the next year. The biggest change that year was the installation of electricity. They wrote in a newsletter, "The next summer the Lord gave us electricity which was a big improvement as the electric pump did away with pumping water by hand."
That same year, the little old barn, was "converted" into a chapel with brick siding on the outside and a steeple on the front. Someone even gave some stained glass windows and a bell! They wrote in a newsletter (sent out with a one cent stamp), "As we heard the children singing the praises of the Lord in the morning chapel service, we thought of the lowly birth of our Savior in Bethlehem's manger."
At one of the first camp board meetings, there was a decision made regarding money. The camp fee was to be used for food, counselor honorarium, and operating costs (like gas, lights and telephone). New buildings and equipment, or capital improvement items, would be paid for with gifts. The members of the first board were James Ver Lee, Miss Bessie Traber (founder of BCM International), Miss Edith Culver, Rev. Donald Holbrook, and Mrs. James Ver Lee.
Following are some other memories from people who were part of the camp in the early years. LaDora Ploeg remembers scraping, scrubbing, disinfecting, and white washing the chicken coop, making it into a boy's dorm. Margaret Koster said her son Dan accepted Christ as Savior in that dorm.
Grace MacNaughton told how she was the camp's first lifeguard. She was also a girl's counselor and still found time to assist in cooking. She told us of getting orange crates and making curtains to around them to become stands for campers to put their things away. Grace shared that she also had the honor of helping clean the chicken coop.
Ethelyn Anderson remembers bringing her daughter to camp. She was assigned to a cabin which had no roof on it. Her husband said it wasn't possible to leave her in a cabin without a roof because it might rain. So, he got some of the other fathers together to roof it. The next day he missed church, and a week of work; results of a burned bottom from sitting on those hot shingles.
It wasn't long after starting the camp that the Ver Lee family, realizing the importance of teacher training, started offering a Workers' Conference each summer. Instructors came from as far away as Philadelphia.
Edith Gates told how important these sessions were for her as a Bible Club teacher. She wrote, "The precious part of the Workers' Conference is the Christian fellowship with those of like interest." And Virginia Fuller wrote, "The Bible messages, missionary talks and sharing of methods for presenting the Gospel are all an important part of these days. The Word of God is made the central theme of the Christ-centered Bible Conference." Mina Bosgraaf wrote, "God used Christian Leaders teaching His Word and Workers' Conference to show me, a new Sunday School teacher, that neighborhood boys and girls could be reached for Him through Bible Club." (Mina later became a BCM International missionary.)
By the end of five years, a new dining room and the kitchen with all the needed equipment was completed. They had also built four new cabins, each equipped with running water and toilet facilities. A second chicken coop was "converted" into a handcraft room. They could now care for 50 children each week, but felt the need for additional cabins to reach more children for Jesus.
It was a thrill to see how God had worked in the lives of the campers. Many children each week accepted Christ as Savior and others dedicated their lives to Him. It was exciting to see how the needs of the staff were met. Each week those of God's choosing were there. It was evidence that God was part of this new camp as His blessing was evidenced in every area of the ministry.
The campers were not the only ones blessed through the ministry of Jim and Alice; the staff was also blessed. Many former staffers are in full-time ministry as the result of the influence of Jim and Alice Ver Lee.
Margery Livingston writes the following, "I was nineteen, half-way through my elementary education program at Taylor University, when in 1960 I applied as a counselor to Jack & Jill Bible Club Camp. That summer changed my life! More than a summer job, this was a mission field. I helped children receive Christ as Savior, prayed with them, taught them Scripture, answered their questions, and watched them imitate my own walk with Christ.
The DeYoung Years: 1950-1975
(written by David DeYoung, son of Harold and Joan)
Harold and Joan DeYoung became involved in Jack and Jill before my memory can recall much of anything. Our family lived in the old farmhouse until 1956. "Uncle Harold” and “Aunt Jo" were busy improving the campgrounds with “Uncle Jim” and “Aunt Alice”. Cabins were built and two water wells were drilled. Winters involved picking a summer theme, writing Bible lessons, choosing memory verses and picking the hymn for the next summer. I can still sing those hymns today. Verses Uncle Jim taught us still echo in my mind. Moving to Texas in 1956 relegated our participation to summers, from June to September. When we arrived the first of June, everything was scrubbed and made ready. Grass was mowed, docks installed, and the raft repainted and put into the lake. In 1967, Uncle Harold was transferred back to Grand Rapids. He and Aunt Jo remodeled the farmhouse, among other things, and managing the everyday camp activities became much easier. Suddenly they became aware of many more projects to accomplish before the first week of camp and also after the camp season was over.
And then campers came. Mondays involved the campers meeting everyone, making their bunks and then, as the regular activities got underway, everyone had their time to take a swimming test and be introduced to the buddy board (a pegboard with numbered golf tees for keeping track of who was in or out of the water). Before all meals, we lined up by table groups in front of the dining hall and marched in singing “At the Name of Jesus” to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Verses were quoted after meals. After breakfast was time to clean the cabins; then for cabin devotions and studying the daily Bible verse. Then everyone gathered in the chapel for Bible lesson time, hearing the stories that would be connected to the campers’ lesson books for the week. After lunch was rest period that no one wanted except the counselors. Following rest time, groups rotated between swimming and crafts. Who remembers weaving pot holders, painting or staining plaster plaques, braiding lanyards or coat hangers? Leather donated from the Hush Puppy factory provided materials for coin purses, Bible covers or other similar projects. On one of the evenings (which one escapes me) the kids were sent out to find green sticks. The ends were split to hold a piece of bread. Everyone gathered on the sand hill behind Cabin #7 for a weekly campfire and chili dinner. The campers, using their prepared sticks, toasted their bread over the fire, placed it on a paper plate and then it was covered with chili to enjoy. Dessert was sliced watermelon. The great outdoors is great for appetites! Alas the sand hill is now gone. After dinner, organized games of all sorts were played and then everyone raced to the canteen for candy bars, snacks and sodas. Evening chapel followed all of that. During chapel, lessons were taught weaving the summer theme and God’s Word into the kids’ lives. Thursday evening chapel was special; I guess it was the precursor type of Jack and Jill’s Got Talent. Every Friday there was a campfire down by the lake. We sat in a big circle around the blazing fire singing hymns to God, with our praises echoing to the people around the Lake. Everyone got a chance to share their testimonies and say how God was working in their lives. Lives were definitely changed at Camp!
The last week of camp was Teen Week and it became a favorite when Richard (Uncle Dick) VerLee (Uncle Jim’s son) brought his Wycliffe missionary training to camp in the form of “Jungle Jump Off”. Campers came in on Sunday afternoon. Everyone gathered in cabin groups and received instructions on wielding a machete and how to hang a jungle hammock (with water proof covers and mosquito netting sides). Supplies were issued and the cabin groups went into the woods to find their perfect spot and set up camp. The first night revealed those who truly listened and observed the training - especially regarding the hanging of hammocks. Breakfast (or Dinner) supplies were packed in crates and picked up by two campers from each group in the morning (and again in the evening). They returned to their campsites where the rest of the group (hopefully) had the fire ready to cook the meal. The dining hall only served meals for lunch that week. Creative groups devised raised “fire tables”, so they did not have to squat while cooking. There were no propane or charcoal grills allowed. That week also included linguistic classes and cross cultural training, along with Bible studies and memory verses, and how to share your faith with others. Of course there were great “battles” of Capture the Flag and Cowboys and Indians. The week was topped off with a day long canoe trip down the Pine River. It was a spectacular week, even in the rain – although rain at night was not fun if your hammock was improperly hung! Young people came to Christ as Savior and learned what it meant to be a light for Jesus.
It was sad to see these “Jack and Jill” times pass, yet I am thankful for the positives that were planted in ours and the campers’ lives. I, my brother and my cousins were blessed to be a part of that sliver of time. There are collections of the photos that were taken weekly of the campers that are available in the VerLee archives at camp. Look yourself up. I am also thankful that God has seen fit to keep a children’s camp on these grounds that has expanded and grown in its ministry as Pine Ridge and carries on the original vision for the camp. I am sure Uncle Jim and Aunt Alice are beaming from heaven.
Finally, I can still hear my grandfather singing “Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul” and “To God Be the Glory” -- and if you listened closely, you heard him sing Not “Let the people rejoice” but rather, “Let the Children rejoice” AMEN!
David for the DeYoung Family - To God Be The Glory - For His Glory Alone
The Marvel Years: 1978-2000
Over the years, thousands of children and youth have come to know the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior because of the Camp's ministry. During the Marvel years, the summer enrollment averaged 700-900 campers over nine weeks of camping with an average of 125 recorded salvation decisions each summer. Many others have gone on to serve Christ with their life including many pastors and missionaries serving around the world today. The camping environment is highly effective as our staff model Jesus and the campers are loved in a fun and safe environment.
According to the 2000 census data, in Kent County alone there are over 109,000 children that could attend Pine Ridge. Historically, the vast majority of Pine Ridge campers have come from West Michigan, including both Kent and nearby Ottawa County. With the large number of youth in the area, the opportunity is great for reaching more children and youth with the gospel.
Since 1980, Pine Ridge also has served the mentally challenged population. These special camps have been 100% full for many years. Jesus loves the challenged, and the desire at Pine Ridge is to share that love with them.
There is also an urgent need to reach out to families. The cultural landscape of today is tearing this God-planned unit apart. Pine Ridge assists families by providing an environment to enjoy each other in God's creation and by teaching Biblical principles to build their lives upon.
Pine Ridge is still partnered with the Bible Club Movement, known today as BCM International. Locally, BCM conducts Bible Clubs in public schools all around the Grand Rapids region. Beyond this, BCM is a world-wide outreach that focuses on childrens' ministries and church planting. For more information on this mission, please visit their website at www.bcmintl.org
The Grifhorst Years: 2001 - Present
In 2001, Kevin & Michelle Grifhorst became the new Camp Directors. Kevin had been a camper at Pine Ridge from the youngest age on up and started working at Pine Ridge in 1987 when he was 15 years old. That first year he learned the ropes while washing dishes and serving food to campers through the kitchen ministry. Kevin went on to become a counselor for four summers and a program coordinator for ensuing summers.
Today, Pine Ridge is licensed by the State of Michigan to accommodate 154 campers in our Oasis and Ridge camp areas, plus an additional 72 in our Retreat Center.