The events of the past are building blocks for the present and an indicator of what might be possible for the future. The path that we walk on now has been worn down by those who have gone before us. If we only focus on the now or what is ahead, then the memory of precious lives will be lost and the value of our journey will be cheapened. There are lessons to be learned and wisdom to be gained if we would only take a moment to examine our history.
The following is an account of the beginning of Echo Ranch Bible Camp.
It is fitting that the center of activity at Echo Ranch is the dining hall or more properly known as McMurchie Lodge. A red colored building covered with thick spruce siding, it bares the name of Allen and Catherine McMurchie, the couple who originally lived on the property. It was their love of God and their fellow human beings that was the foundation for Echo Ranch's existence. The McMurchies saw the need for a place where youth can come and escape the harsh realities of this world and realize that God can work all things together for good.
Allen McMurchie was born in 1901, and Catherine Sherwood was born in 1899, in the state of Wisconsin. At the age of 12, Allen's father was killed in a farming accident forcing the family to move west to Montana to stay with relatives. When Catherine was 6 years old, her mother passed away and the family moved to Illinois.
At 17, Catherine's father died, meaning she would have to live with her aunts. Allen enlisted in the Army in 1929, and on a return mission from the Philippines he first encountered the beauty of the Southeast. He would later mine and log in the region for several years and eventually purchase the property at Echo Cove in 1940. Catherine would go onto college and become a nurse. In 1947, she was assigned to Juneau by the Federal Public Health Service. Allen and Catherine first met while attending Bible study at Memorial Presbyterian Church, and in 1950 they were married.
During the 1940s and '50s, a group known as Gospel Missionary Union (now Avant Ministries) was actively planting churches and ministering in the Southeast Alaska. Auke Bay Bible Church and Douglas Island Bible Church were both started by GMU. The McMurchies came to know of GMU through the Minfield Home, a children's home started by Minnie Field in 1932.
Allen had been part of an effort to keep the home running financially. When GMU took ownership of Minfield Home in 1961, the McMurchies allowed them to raise cattle on their property to help feed the children. Allen had hoped that his homestead would one day help children, and this was the beginning.
Allen and Catherine become good friends with the GMU missionaries and the suggestion was brought up that a youth camp be started on the Echo Ranch property. Allen dedicated 16 acres to the cause and helped to develop the early camping facilities. The first session of camp took place in the summer of 1964 with 55 campers staying two weeks. The only way to get to camp was a three-hour boat ride from Auke Bay via Lynn Canal. The campers slept in the hay loft of the barn and helped with the dishes. It was the GMU missionaries who ran the camp, but Catherine would often help as camp nurse. While the missionaries continued to serve in various communities in Southeast Alaska, they shared with kids about going to Echo Ranch. The camp remained relatively small until one year a fire burnt down the mess hall/staff home. The event was covered by the newspaper, and God turned the tragedy into a blessing. More people heard about the camp and numbers increased tremendously.
In their later years, Allen and Catherine McMurchie gave the rest of their property to Avant Ministries. The only condition was that Avant take care of the couple for the remainder of their lives.
When the missionaries built a ranch-style home on the property for the McMurchies, Allen looked at it and said it was too big. The couple never stayed in the house and continued to live in their tiny cabin built for two.
The McMurchies eventually retired in California. Allen died in 1979 and Catherine in 1999.
Over the years, Echo Ranch has faced trials and adversity just like its founders. But with God's help and a desire to serve others, the camp continues on in a tradition of faith set forth by the McMurchies.
Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on information on the history of Echo Ranch, check out www.echoranch.org.
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