Camp History

Luke 5:4b, “…Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”

Psalms 78:19b, “…Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?”

In 1956, Oscar and Gladys Cunningham and their three children moved to Ava, Missouri as rural missionaries of the American Sunday School Union. For seven years they labored at the Hammonds Mill camp near Dora. During this time, God began to lay a burden on their hearts for the young people of their own community. They began contemplating the possibility of starting a camp closer to their home in Ava, but raising their family on a limited income made the building of the new Bible camp a dim and unlikely possibility.

As the Cunninghams struggled between faith and reality, God began working in each of their hearts independently to launch out and trust him.

Oscar: “Even with Bible schools and camp work in other places, the burden continued to grow until we felt the need, and God opened the door to build Camp JOY.”

Gladys: “The Lord kept dealing with me about 'Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.' I was home praying and I just said, Lord, whatever you want we will try to do.”

As the Cunninghams simply trusted and obeyed, God began to show His provision. The exact amount of money to purchase the property adjacent to the old Vera Cruz church, the very grounds for which they had earnestly prayed, was donated. With this assurance, the Cunninghams began letting down the net. Oscar recalls, “We had several people say, 'Oscar, I think you have good intentions, but I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.' But even the ones that said they didn't think it would go, got in and helped us many times.”

The building began in 1963 with hundreds of individuals, businesses, and organizations donating building materials, money, and countless hours of labor. The task of clearing the wooded lands soon gave way to construction of the cabins, washrooms, the dining hall, and the chapel. As supply met demand, the building continued at a steady pace, completely free of debt. Some of the building materials came hundreds of miles from Illinois, completely free of charge. God provided money and material just as it was needed. He was furnishing his table in this wilderness.

Being finished and completely paid for, Camp JOY opened in 1964. Youth from miles around attended that first year, as did many cooks and counselors who had previously worked at Hammonds Mill.

Since that time, more than 10,000 young people have come through the gates of Camp JOY. Thousands of lives have been changed, hundreds more have accepted Christ as their Savior, and many others have been called to serve as pastors, teachers, and numerous other full time services.

Among His dealing with the youth of Camp JOY, God began preparing a young camper, a dedicated worker that would one day be the new director of Camp JOY. This day came about in May of 1994 when, due to Oscar’s failing health, the camp was sold to Van Kelly who is now the current director of Camp JOY.