How It All Began
Helmut Thielicke, the noted German Theologian, marveled at the cosmic integration which God exercised in the birthing of our universe. How The World Began is a remarkable unfolding of God’s intention and process.
I believe there was a special “cosmic happening” that brought together a cluster of brothers at Luther Seminary in the early 1950s. These were young men with rural roots who shared in avenues of urban service under the mentorship of Drs. Andrew Burgess, George Aus and Alvin Rogness… Oz Anderson (Wittenburg, Wisconsin); Curt Johnson (Lanesboro, Minnesota); Bob Evans (International Falls, Minnesota); Bob Nervig (Canton, South Dakota); Ed Roe (Stanley, Wisconsin); Paul Gabrielson (Glyndon, Minnesota); Jack Hustad (Helena, Montana) and Ray Runkel (Story City, Iowa). My home was Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
Each of us took on some point of volunteer urban ministry: St. Paul “Y”; Union Gospel Mission’s Ober Club; Ramsey County Totem Town; Inner-City Youth Mentoring; Glen Lake Home School and Hennepin County Probation. Drs. Burgess, Aus and Rogness urged us on. Other seminarians joined this inner city discovery and service.
Liberty Lutheran Church, in North Minneapolis, owned an “old hotel” on Plymouth Avenue. They conducted street evangelism from that site. In late 1952, and early 1953, Dr. Burgess was approached to see if Luther Seminary would be interested in assuming operational responsibility for the “old hotel” as a focus for student outreach. Dr. Burgess counseled with us about a “Plymouth Project.” Soon ideas and plans were stirring for a renewed mission; an extended concept of ministry with a Plymouth matrix. We were intrigued by the possibilities for outreach and education.
I was asked to lead the “Plymouth Project” renewal during my Seminary internship beginning in 1954. It was a huge leap of faith for all involved. At 24 years old, with wife Pearl expecting our first child, and with roots nurtured in rural–not inner city–environs, I was more than a little anxious. My Seminary brothers and professor mentors pledged prayerful support. Middler Ray Runkel agreed to serve as my associate. Vi Handahl, a gifted parish worker at St. Anthony Park Lutheran, was persuaded to join this “faith venture” leadership team. We all reached out for volunteer help at Luther Seminary, St. Olaf, Augsburg, University of Minnesota, L.B.I., Fairview and Deaconness Nurses and assorted parishes. A remarkable mix of education, counseling, worship, arts, recreation, community outreach…and camping…emerged. The near North Side neighborhood was receptive–even enthusiastic–about our presence with a Spirit-based program. To many, it was a sign of hope and healing within a troubled, transitional community.
This was a remarkably tense yet creative time. We were focused on the work in the inner city. We also had extensive mentoring relationships with troubled and at-risk teens. Involvement at Red Wing State Training School, Totem Town, Glen Lake and County Probation suggested that intensive camping experiences might be helpful in redirecting some lives.
There was no doubt in our minds about the values of camping: the time apart…new adventures…clean air and blue waters…sharing with friends…fishing…campfire singing and sharing…swimming, etc. Among seminarians, Bible Camp was frequently spoken about as a time of spiritual awakening and growth. Many said it was pivotal in their “calling” to pastoral work.
Bob Evans and Oz Anderson had pulled together a group of eight teens with diverse backgrounds for a week-long canoe expedition in 1953. Joel Anderson, Oz’s brother, and Bob triggered another crew into the BWCA a couple years later. Two St. Olaf athletes, Ray Miklethun and Mark Reinertson, were Guide/Counselors for yet another pilot venture with troubled teens. All post-trip reports were positive. The kids were open to new learning and touched by the Spirit. Adventure shared in small groups with committed young adult leaders seemed to be a natural vehicle for connecting to kids at the edges.
The camping opportunities thru PCYC widened. Associate Ray Runkel was chosen to inaugurate the newly opened Camp Knutson, a Board of Charities site at Manhattan Beach near Brainerd. Dozens of inner city, younger PCYC kids were thrilled at their chance to be at Camp Knutson. Ray recruited volunteers to serve as PCYC/Knutson counselors. A most important connection.
In 1955 and 1956, Bergit Anderson brought yet another challenge to PCYC and its Board. This northside school teacher had a vision for summer outdoor education at an old family farmstead near Bigfork/Effie, Minnesota. Soon, FRONTIER FARM was serving inner city kids in “long term” adventure and work camping. Dave Borreson worked closely with our staff in launching a dynamic, “bootstrap” venture. The nearby Bigfork River served well as a water resource. Again, the Spirit moved thru a camping enterprise.
In what must be seen as an early providential journey, Pearl and I visited with Russell and Eve Blankenburg at Seagull Lake during the summer of 1954. We now know that our preliminary suggestion of an outpost for PCYC resulted in the identification of Fishhook Island as a potential site. The Lord certainly had a “huge hand” in it all. The Blankenburgs were open to further discussions… if in fact, there was a firm desire to launch a WILDERNESS program.
I am persuaded that convergence of Luther Seminary brothers and mentors, the Blankenburgs openness to the acquisition of Seagull lands, the collective energies of a dedicated staff, our campers, and the generosity of friends who enabled this ministry, did indeed have cosmic dimension. God somehow brought it all together. This is truly “how it all began.”
– Ham Muus (Founding Director)