The land where Camp Barakel is located today was purchased in February
of 1952. There was one old building on it. Our founder, Uncle Johnnie,
explaining the lack of facilities at the new Shear Lake property and
telling what God was doing to change that, writes: "After our site was
purchased, God continued to undertake for the glory of His own
name. There were no roads, no equipment and no buildings other than
the old tarpaper shack. I was well aware it would never pass
inspection by the Michigan camp licensing agency. Some holes in the
tarpaper were so big they'd almost allow the wind to blow a loaf of
bread off the table!"
Seventeen months later, in July of 1953, Camp Barakel hosted its first
campers at the new site. God had provided resources and
volunteers to put up four buildings. About these early days,
Uncle Johnnie writes in his book Barakel: God's
didn't put out letters or pleas in any shape or form. To doubt
that God would make the necessary provision-I don't believe
that ever entered my mind. We worked as hard as we could. When
someone else came to help, it made the job half as long and we
were grateful for every helping hand."
Today, by God's grace, we continue that heritage of waiting
on Him for money and workers to accomplish His work.
You can read more about Camp Barakel and Uncle Johnnie in this
article from Moody Bible Institute.
HOLMAN "UNCLE JOHNNIE" JOHNSON — FOUNDER OF CAMP BARAKEL,
May 31, 1913 - March 23, 2004
August 30, 1951. After a half-hour walk down the old railroad bed deep
in Michigan's northwoods, a young pastor, Holman "Uncle
Johnnie" Johnson, and his frail wife, Hester, stood at the
north end of Shear Lake. "What we saw was a real thrill," he
recalled. "As we stood there that day, we prayed, 'Dear Lord,
unless you have a better place for us, we pray you will give
us Shear Lake as a permanent home for Camp Barakel."
God answered that prayer, providentially moving His people to give
what was needed not only to purchase the beautiful, pristine
lake and 200 acres of lush forested land, but also for the
buildings and equipment for a year-round camp — all without even
one fund-raising drive or plea for money, and all without ever
going even one penny in debt.
That prayer started a half-century-long string of miracles which
continue today. Uncle Johnnie, who was widowed twice, said
God's provisions were so large and so faithful, "all we had to
do was unload the wagons." The camp now sprawls over 350 prime
acres and houses two complete camps — one on each side of Shear
Today, as throughout past years, Camp Barakel is proclaiming the glory
of God during youth camps in the summer, adult weekend
retreats in the fall, high school and father/son,
mother/daughter retreats in the winter, as well as two family
camps, on Memorial Day and Labor Day. A resident missionary
staff of 15 families and short-term staff volunteers,
numbering 600 a year, perform kitchen, construction,
waterfront, programing and various other duties. In a year's
time, more than 10,000 adults, youth and children pass through
Camp Barakel either as retreaters, campers or volunteer
Only God knows how many people have heard the gospel of Christ
proclaimed while at Barakel. Camp Barakel is represented
throughout the world by men and women who were saved here or
made commitments to lifelong service, and serve as dedicated
lay people, missionaries, pastors, youth leaders, and
Christian education workers.
To walk the well-groomed footpaths anywhere in camp is to sense the
presence of God. His hand brought it all about through the
submission, faith and prayers of Uncle Johnnie, whose vision
for reaching youth was born when he was a fledgling pastor,
recently graduating from Moody Bible Institute. "I just knew
that camping was the tool for God to reach those kids' hearts
for Himself," he emphasized with conviction — and that
commitment and burden for reaching children never
waned. Always seeking God's will and God's way, he trusted Him
to act on the promises in His Word. Every building on the site
and the provisions of people and materials have followed Uncle
Johnnie's prayers that the "dear Lord do it His way."
Johnnie himself was a consistent example for those who have followed
him. Always giving credit to his "dear Lord" for all that has
transpired, he sought truth, guidance, peace and direction
from God's Word. His sons David and Tim went through their
dad's Bibles looking for a special verse to share at his
funeral. Eventually Dave says, "I gave up. His Bibles are
underlined with notations on nearly every page. He lived in
the Book, and the Book lived in him."
At a children's camp just before he died he commented: "All these years we just
operated by the grace of God. It is a great thing to trust
Him, enjoy Him, and love Him with all your heart."
If you would like to read more of the story of Camp Barakel, please
request a copy of the book that Uncle Johnnie wrote in 1989,
BARAKEL-God's Miracle. You may purchase it at the Camp Barakel
Trading Post for $10, or through the mail (postage paid) for
In 2004, Kevin VanOrman wrote
a short essay
about his memories of
Uncle Johnnie from when he was a staff kid growing up at Camp Barakel.
We thought you might like to read it.