Pastor works to renew camp for many uses
HOLDEN — The Rev. Mike Di Maria recalls how, while driving through busy Baton Rouge traffic in July 2010, a vision almost caused him to wreck his pickup.
“It was like bright light went off,” Di Maria said. “It was so bright I felt like I was going to drive off the road.”
Di Maria’s vision was of a youth camp along the west bank of the Tickfaw River near Holden, but it wasn’t quite the same KJ Singing Waters Ranch where he served as the director in the 1980s — not the same 75-acre place where thousands of children have attended since it was a YMCA camp in the 1950s.
The camp in the vision, he said, was a miraculously resurrected camp. Instead of old buildings damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Gustav, he envisioned a new, modern facility.
Di Maria, 52, pastor of Lifepoint Church in Denham Springs, has been working toward that new Camp Singing Waters for the past year with some longtime friends and camp staffers who also want to see it operational again.
They’ve cleared the trees felled by Gustav, mowed down the tall weeds, demolished four of the cabins that Gustav’s winds damaged beyond repair, and are getting the remaining eight cabins, the chapel, dining hall and other buildings serviceable again.
“I saw multiple ministries and new buildings,” Di Maria said. “The Lord told me, ‘This place is strategic,’ and it will have a local and global impact.”
He envisioned a large conference center which could seat 500 people and modern cabins built on a bluff overlooking the meandering Tickfaw River.
Back when the camp was part of his parent’s ministry, “Kid’s Jamboree” television program with “Uncle Sam” and Nila Di Maria, money was always a problem, Di Maria said.
This time, however, he said, “I felt like the Lord said, ‘Provision is not going to be an issue: I’m going to provide.”
After his parents sold the camp in the early 1990s to the Rev. Mike Bush of Calvary Christian Center of Hammond, Di Maria attended Reform Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., served as a church youth director and then founded Lifepoint Church with his wife, Ellen, eight years ago. Then, two years ago, the Bush, contacted Di Maria about the possibility of purchasing the camp back from him.
Several times they made arrangements that didn’t work out. Bush had several buyers, but those deals always fell through at the last minute. Finally, last fall, Di Maria and Bush signed a lease-purchase agreement and Di Maria is trying to raise around $600,000 to complete the deal.
Since many of the buildings cannot meet modern requirements, KJ Singing Waters will be only operational for day camps this summer, Di Maria said.
Several youth groups are planning to use the facility, including Life Church in Walker and Club Outreach Junefest, also of Walker.
“We’re excited it’s going to get cleaned up and be usable again,” said Becky Taylor, of Life Church during a recent visit to the camp. “It’s really awesome it will be fixed up.”
Mary Johnson, of Club Outreach Junefest, said the young people in her group range in age from 5 to 17.
“They’re really gonna enjoy it with the swimming pool and the basketball court,” Johnson said. “A lot of our kids have not been religiously taught. A lot of them don’t go to church.”
Di Maria’s mother, Nila Di Maria, was also visiting the camp and said she was glad it was being resurrected.
“The Lord is beginning to put things together that he can only do,” Nila Di Maria said. “What some people would call coincidental is not; it is the Lord working things out.”
One of the areas she is looking forward to restoring is the artesian well that, before it silted in several years ago, provided fresh water to the camp’s several ponds, wetlands and a fountain. “I used to plant flowers around it,” Nila Di Maria said.
Mike Di Maria added that when it was operational, the 1,800-foot-deep artesian well had enough pressure to shoot water 15 feet into the air and flowed year-round.
One of Di Maria’s goals, he said, is to direct a youth leadership program training young people to minister to children.
“The success of a camp is not what you and I do as adults,” rather the success comes from what happens with the high school students, he said.
“Instill in them leadership skills, and let them do all that running around, chasing the kids, running the programs, plus sharing their faith, leading a child to Christ,” Di Maria said. “Now you’re giving them gifts, you’re giving them responsibilities and you’re activating them in ministry. When you activate a young person in ministry, it changes their destiny.”
James Roan, a longtime camp supporter and friend of Di Maria since 1988, was up on a scaffold nailing a corrugated roof on a bathhouse. He agrees with Di Maria’s teen leadership idea and in fact, has his own Go International Ministries where he takes teens on international mission trips.
“My ultimate goal, which Mike’s father planted in me years ago, is to win a generation of children for Christ,” Roan said. “If you try to change adults, you lose it, but if you win children, then you win a generation, and we’re going to use this camp to win children.”
Di Maria calls the leadership program the Jeremiah Project. “The Lord told Jeremiah, ‘Before the foundation of world I knew you and set you apart,’” Di Maria said. “People need to be connected with the reason why they were created and they need to be given an opportunity to carry that out.”
Di Maria also wants the camp to be what he calls an umbrella of other ministries and services. Through a recent arrangement with the U.S. Navy, Camp Spehar was established as a portion of the camp with an obstacle course where young men wanting to become Navy SEALS can get in shape.
Goals also included eventually building an educational village to replicate circa 1790 America. Located near the highway, the village would include a school house, church, blacksmith shop and possibly a replica of Independence Hall.
“Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values and kids are not being taught that in school,” Di Maria said. “They would learn how our Founding Fathers built this nation.”
A glass cathedral prayer center is also planned and dormitories for youth missions teams and interns in future year-long Christian camping educational programs.
Di Maria also envisions what he calls “Quiet Zones” in the forest and along the Tickfaw River and walking trails through the bamboo groves that line the river.
“We’re excited to see what God is going to do,” Di Maria said.