By H. Haveman
About twenty miles south of Gallup, in Vanderwagen, New Mexico, rests Broken Arrow Bible Ranch. It’s a faith ministry that has roots as deep as the Ponderosa pines among which it’s nestled. For decades, the ranch has been operating as a camp, focused on Native youth in the surrounding areas and reservations. It is a project of United Indian Missions International (UIM) and relies on the support of friends, churches and organizations for its continuation into the future.
The ranch’s providential story began long before it was called Broken Arrow Bible Ranch. Over one hundred years ago, Andrew and Effa Vander Wagen came to the Southwest from the Netherlands via Grand Rapids, Michigan. They established a permanent mission in Zuni on behalf of the Christian Reformed Church and opened a trading post there. Though they did not stay in Zuni permanently, they remained devoted to spreading the Gospel. Andrew formulated plans for a mission that would focus on multiple tribes, but passed away before his vision became a reality.
In 1956, United Indian Missions was incorporated by three couples involved with Navajo Bible School and Mission in Window Rock, Arizona. They adopted Vander Wagen’s doctrinal and purpose statements and set out on a faith adventure. Less than ten years later, in 1965, Ms. Cena Gibb’s, a Vander Wagen descendant, sold her forty-six-acre Summer Park Ranch to UIM at a fraction of its value. The ranch was dedicated to providing a youth facility for missions and Gibbs stayed on as the camp nurse.
In 1981 Summer Park Ranch was renamed Broken Arrow Bible Ranch (BABR), evoking a Native symbol of peace. Over the years, the camp grew, adding land, facilities, and enthusiastic campers and staffers. BABR is now at the end of a busy summer season, during which 150 youths and about 60 staff members and volunteers occupy the camp during each of eight weeks.
From mid June to early August, kids arrive, along with church groups that supplement the permanent staff, ready for a week of fun, fellowship, and faith development. Every day, campers eat together, attend chapel and rotate through activities including, horseback riding, riflery, archery, floor hockey, human foosball, Frisbee golf, crafts, go karts, and BMX biking. The lodge, A-frame gymnasium, craft/snack shop, and surrounding grounds are hardly ever empty.
Fall, winter and spring provide other opportunities for ministry. Staff member, Anna Farrow, conducts the Mailbox Club, a correspondence and discipleship program that hundreds of campers participate in during the off-season. The ranch hosts men’s and women’s retreats, as well as a winter teen retreat after Christmas. Churches, schools and organizations use the facility for picnics, banquets, and conferences.
Full-time staff members also find time to get involved with other mission-focused activities throughout the area. Ruth Douglas, one of the camp nurses along with Phyllis Herlocker, started with UIM in 1957. She contributed to church-planting efforts in Ft. Defiance, went on hospital and home visitations, and taught Bible classes in many communities. In the early 1970s, she transferred to what is now BABR, and has been serving there, in addition to her other ministries, ever since. Ann Kontz, current administrator, is another with a long history of service in the area. She came to the ranch for the first time in 1972; in 1980, she began working full-time. In the late 1980s, BABR’s director Steve Knox, came with his family. During his time at the ranch, and with support from many, UIM has added new facilities and a wastewater treatment system has been put in place as part of a long-term plan for the camp’s growth. With a staff that demonstrates such devotion to and joy in the ministry at BABR, it’s no wonder campers return year after year!
While another summer season comes to an end, God’s faithfulness is celebrated and plans for the future are prayerfully considered. Long-term and deep-rooted dedication to sharing the Good News with young people from the surrounding communities and reservations is still, as ever, obvious at Broken Arrow Bible Ranch.
For more information about Broken Arrow Bible Ranch, please call (505) 778-5526 or visit www.brokenarrowbibleranch.org.