It was either late July or early August. Anyway it was after we had gone to Toronto. Around the first of the year, Johnny Crist had come to me and asked if I would organize and direct a summer camp for the Atlanta Vineyard. He knew that I had been camp director for FUMC’s Youth camp in ’88 and he said that I was the only one in the church that could pull it off. I was not inclined to do it for a couple of reasons. First, the age groups that he wanted to include were, in my opinion, too diverse and incompatible. I think the kids ranged from 3rd grade up to 9th grade. Second, I really didn’t think I was up to the task, or even wanted to do it. But Johnny was persuasive and so I agreed. All spring I worked with a good team of people. We got counselors and decided to have it at Schoco Springs in AL. I suggested the place because I had been there at Dudley Hall retreats in the past. It was a Baptist campground that would more than house all of our needs. So we were constantly meeting and planning. If any of you have ever been to camp or worked in oe, you know how much planning it takes.
Well then everything broke loose at Mother’s Day in the Atlanta Vineyard, and with what was going on at Toronto, I was wondering what God was going to be up to at camp. I got to pick the theme and design the T-shirts. The theme for the camp was “Fan the Flame” and the verse was 2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. The shirt had flames of fire on the front with the words “Fan into Flame” within. I just knew that Holy Spirit had a surprise for us, and I began to get excited about camp.
Our speakers were going to be Johnny Crist and Tony Cavener. They were both the pastors. We had a good worship team. I was the director, but I wasn’t planning to speak. I called all my friends at First Methodist and invited their children to come. Terry and Patty Cantrell enrolled their daughter Ruth Allen. I think Ruth Allen was either in the third or fourth grade. I was surprised they let her come and after what happened at camp, I was just hoping that we would still be friends.
I think the camp was scheduled to go from Sunday night through Friday Morning. If my memory is right, the first three nights were good. Worship was very good, and the messages by Johnny and Tony were very good. Some of the kids were getting saved and others were recommitting their life. It was everything that you thought a camp would be. But I knew that there was more that Papa wanted to do. Remember what I said about how Holy Spirit always seemed to wait until the senior leaders were not around before He moved. Well, He did it again. A good friend of all of us had a family crisis. His daughter was deathly ill. Tony and Johnny were both called back to Atlanta suddenly on Wednesday morning. It was so sudden and desperate that they just told me to preach or do whatever I thought was best. I was left in charge. I was excited, because I really wanted the opportunity to preach, and here it was. But Holy Spirit had other ideas.
Earlier that spring there was a big tornado in Piedmont Alabama. It went through the center of town and destroyed a number of buildings and houses. It killed over 25 people. In Piedmont there was a Vineyard church. The pastor and his wife were a little older than me. Their daughter and, I think, granddaughter were both killed in that tornado. They were totally devastated. They were so broken that they had taken a sabbatical from the ministry and were still in morning, if not a state of shock. Johnny had asked them to come to camp with us. They were not consolers or on the program. They were there just to be around the kids and hopefully receive healing. All week I had seen them, crying most of the time. Not out loud, but you know, the tears that just seem to flow some times. The same type of tears that I have become very familiar with these past few months. As I was thinking and praying about what to do, I felt impressed by Holy Spirit to ask that pastor if he would preach that night. Now, he hadn’t preached in months and had turned down every offer that he had been given, saying that he wasn’t ready. But this time he said yes. I just knew it was from God and that if nothing else, Holy Spirit would use this to help heal him.
We normally had a consolers meeting before supper. I think it was around 4 and supper started at 5. Then we had evening activities at 6 and the service started at 7:30. Well something happened at this meeting that hadn’t happened all week. When we started praying and invited the Holy Spirit we all began to laugh. The more we tried to stop, the harder we laughed. It got to a point where we couldn’t stand up. We were praying for the service and for the pastor. He began to weep and cry. I think a deep place was touched as we prayed for him. But in the midst of that , we were still laughing so much we were totally drunk in the Spirit. We could hardly stand up. When it continued and got stronger I mad a decision. I decided that instead of the evening activity, we would go straight to the service. If Holy Spirit was moving that strong in us, obviously He wanted to move in the service and I was going to do everything that I could to give Him every opportunity. We were finally able to stagger out of the prayer meeting for dinner. I was able to stay pretty composed for dinner. I made the announcement and coordinated with the worship team about all the changes.
At six we all gathered for the service. Worship was awesome, and although I knew that the presence of God was strong, I didn’t’ feel drunk or laughing like I had in the prayer meeting. I just felt a strong sense of His love and Peace. After worship, I got up and introduced the pastor. Then He got up to speak. So her he was, a broken man. Here was a man who was still grieving over his daughter and granddaughter’s death; a man who hadn’t spoken to a congregation for months because of grief. I had seen this man crying every night. Here he was about to speak for the first time. He opened his bible and tried to read a scripture. Nothing came out. He tried to read again, and he began to laugh, and laugh, and laugh some more. He laughed so hard that he fell down. For a moment everybody was stunned. He continued to laugh and then laughter began to break out in little pockets in the congregation. Then more laughter and more. Then it was almost total chaos. People were on the floor. Kids were crying and laughing at the same time. Adults were frightened, others were laughing. I had never seen anything like it. Shoot, I have never seen anything quite like it since. I knew that I had to do something. The pastor was balled up on the floor in agony laughing. I got up on stage and opened the book of Acts. 2:15
"These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. ven on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy."
Then I pointed out and said: “This is That!” I asked the consolers to begin to pray with the campers. Young people were being instantly delivered. Others were being filled with the spirit and still others were just doing it because they wanted to be like everybody else. This went on for over an hour. I then began to realize that many of the campers had disappeared and I was worried about them. I sent some of the consolers on a search. I was amazed at what I heard about when they came back. Groups of 5th grade boys in their cabin by themselves holding hands and asking God for more. Others were in groups of 2 or 3 just out praying. It’s funny as I look back. The kids were fine. It was the adults I had the most problems with. Some of them were totally freaked out and nothing I could say would help. Others were right there with me going after more.
One thing I forgot to mention. The Shoco Springs staff had been listening to our worship and loved it. They had asked to come and take pictures of the camp and we had said OK. They were coming at 7:30 because that is when we normally started. But we had started at 6 instead. When they got there, we had kids on the floor crying, kids on the floor laughing. We had adults praying with kids and adults on the floor crying and laughing. It was total chaos. This Baptist campground staff went around taking pictures. I remember calling Julia later that night. I was talking with her and getting come advice as to how to proceed. I wanted what had started to continue the next night. But I wasn’t going to be in charge. Johnny and Tony were coming back in the morning. Needless to say, I had a lot to tell them when they got back. We were all in agreement that we had received a sovereign move of God and were grateful. But there was not agreement as to how to proceed the following night. Camp ended, and we went back to Atlanta. I will never forget as long as I live what God did that night. It was probably one of the most awesome manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power that I have ever seen. I am so honored that He let me be a small part in what He did. Never under estimate what God wants to do in your life or through you, no mater what your surroundings.