(Author’s Note: This personal reflection was written on a summer trip home to Arkansas back in 2001. I have not updated it, preferring to keep it as a sort of time capsule. In the years since, I can now add the state of Virginia to my resume. My thoughts here are those of a man entering a new century. Now, with more than 20 years into the 21st Century, it seems my thoughts were true. Stephen Phifer July 9, 2022.)
Scenic Highway 7
The road twists and turns beneath me, winding its way through the Quachita Mountains toward Hot Springs, Arkansas. I am on a pilgrimage to the scene of important milestones in my spiritual journey through adolescence—the Assemblies of God Campground. Distant mountains behind me stretch to the horizon, like the 30 + years of pilgrimage since my Youth Camp days. Mountains before me beckon like the future of my church, promising much but revealing little. The winding road is like the life I have lived: Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida; or other places I’ve been like Classical Pentecost, Charismatic Pentecost, Praise and Worship—so many mountains, valleys, turns and twists.
Since I am driving from my wife’s family home, north of Hot Springs, Highway 7 will bring me to the campground from the opposite way I came back in the 1960’s—from Hot Springs. I used to wonder what lay down the road past the campground. Little could I have known that my future awaited me there, the brown-eyed girl with the real smile and the magic fingers that could make pianos talk.
The campground is still nestled in a little valley next to the creek in which we used to wade and swim. The old dorm is gone, replaced by a new much larger one that surely must be air-conditioned. The memory of all those steamy nights with fans moving hot air around and cooling nothing is still fresh and stifling. The old chow hall is gone, also replaced by a new, bigger version. A gym sits where we used to play basketball under a stand of trees. I remember Jim Bennett, now a missionary, playing with a cast on his foot.
Now the oldest building is the tabernacle. More than 30 years ago it replaced the old wooden tabernacle. I have vivid memories of each building, one as a teen finding God’s will and the other as a young minister doing His will.
Memories of a Young Man
The “new” tabernacle is smaller than I remembered, a steel framed, spartan construct with exposed insulation in the walls and ceiling. So many memories:
- our youth choirs warming up in a side room and singing so well in competition,
- the teen talent kids,
- my license test,
- leading worship at District Council,
- our choir from North Little Rock singing for Brother Zimmerman, the general superintendent,
- a couples retreat led by Dr. Raymond Brock,
- a CA Reps seminar with such a powerful move of the Spirit,
- Freeda getting the mumps at CA Convention,
- me teaching Jr boys at a Kid’s camp, (not a good idea)
- realizing that “horn blows” (everybody comes running to the sound of the car horn, first team there wins the points) was an adult device and not a kid’s game,
- the “pants” councils where women in men’s apparel was the hot topic,
- umpiring girls’ softball games, and
- the sound system committee for the tabernacle, my introduction to district politics.(A committee member’s relative sold sound equipment.)
High School Memories
This steel building sits on the same spot as the old, open air, wooden Tabernacle. That is a whole different set of memories, those of a teenager:
- the missions service where I went to the altar,
- playing tetherball in the parking lot,
- playing clarinet with lots of people,
- falling down and tearing a hole in the knee of my pants getting to a horn blow,
- making the all star softball teams,
- morning classes on Revelation,
- evening vespers on the levy,
- being baptized in the Holy Spirit all by myself, flat on my back in the choir loft, at age 14—the summer of 1964,
- being called to preach during communion at CA Convention—November, 1966,
- the guys cleaning up with lots of cologne of varying vintages,
- the girls trying their best in the time allotted to look good for evening service and some of them succeeding quite well, (Later I would be reminded of these ladies when I worked at Headquarters.)
- singing “I belong to the God of the mountains” and “We’ve got a great big wonderful God” in the choir with Sister Lednicky looking so angelic as she conducted, (Years later she would sing in my choir in the new tabernacle for Brother Zimmerman.)
- Brother Lednicky’s voice intoning the seriousness of it all, but with just a glint of fun twinkling in his eye, (He would later dedicate our first daughter.)
- Mountain Valley Mineral water dispensers along the back wall of the Tabernacle, and
- The people, many now pastors and missionaries and the wives of the same, all over the world.
So many, many memories.
Thoughts on the Cusp of a New Century
Now I know that as I was coming up in the 1960’s the modern world was breaking down. It has been replaced now by a post-modern world where image and symbol say as much or more to today’s young people than words did to us. While I perform my pilgrimage, young ministers are setting up the stage and the sound system for next week’s youth camps. Teens more than 30 years removed from my youth will be here to seek God’s will for their lives. The music will be different, as will the stage, and the format and even the language used. But God has not changed. He will meet them here and fill them with His Spirit and call them into the ministry. He will arrange for lifelong friendships and even marriages. Hazy, distant horizons stretch before these young people. The life-road of their ministries will be filled with unpredictable turns and twists. But God will lead them just as He has us.
Highway 7 isn’t the only scenic road to travel.
Stephen Phifer, July 6, 2001 Assemblies of God Campground, Hot Springs, Arkansas.
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