By Brad Dupray
In addition to spending 35 to 40 weeks per year on the road supporting the work of Person to Person Ministries (www.P2PM.org), Kerry Allen serves as director of Hillsboro Family Camp in southwestern Ohio. Meeting at Restoration Acres, Hillsboro Family Camp has grown from a gathering of a handful of families in 1972 to a convening of thousands of people from all generations today. Kerry earned a bachelor’s degree from Bluefield College of Evangelism and a master’s degree from Louisville Bible College. Kerry has been married to Mona for 32 years. They have two sons in ministry, Wade and Chad.
OK, so I show up at camp. . . . What are you doing?
Answering a lot of questions <laughs> from “Where do I park?” to “Where’s the Wal-Mart?” Any questions a person might have, I’m the person they feel they can get an answer from!
There must be a lot more to it than that.
Yes, I preside over all the adult sessions, just like a camp dean at youth camp. I’m the overall director of Family Camp, but I delegate responsibilities for other parts of the program. I take care of the adult program. I submit a list of prospective people to the board of trustees for approval and then from the prospective speakers’ list I put our adult program together.
What kind of staff support do you have?
I’m full-time and Derek Stump, our administrative assistant, is full-time. We also have a part-time caretaker. We have events going on throughout the year: a men’s clinic, preaching camp, men’s seminars, and short-term classes. But Family Camp is by far the largest event we have each year.
It must take an army of volunteers to do this work.
This is truly a work of God. We have literally multitudes of volunteer helpers. They come and help with building projects, mow the grass, and tackle many other physical projects—this work is done by the grace of God with the kindness of these people. I can’t say a loud-enough thank-you. Our first-aid staff, security staff, and youth and children’s staff are all-volunteer.
With thousands of people descending on the campground, do you feel like you’re “herding cats” sometimes?
First of all, you can only do it by prayer. My morning starts between 5:00 and 5:30 and I retire about 1:00 to 1:30 in the morning. It makes for long days. I really don’t know how we do it, because we don’t know what we’re going to face—everything from weather crises to injuries. We never know what situation might come up. We might have to find a lost child or help someone ill or injured. And then there are program situations, too. In large groups you have people with different preferences. So we never get bored! I physically get exhausted, but spiritually it’s so exhilarating. There are multitudes of people whose lives can be influenced for eternity. You can’t put that into words.
Why should someone come to Family Camp?
The purposes of our ministry are biblical. At Hillsboro Family Camp, first of all, we are going to preach the gospel—the good news of salvation through Jesus. Second, we are going to do whatever we can to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ. And third, we want to help the whole body of Christ to keep the faith.
Why do people come to Family Camp?
There are a variety of reasons—as many reasons as there are people who attend. People come to Family Camp because they believe they are going to have a true encounter with the Lord: through preaching, corporate worship, and personal fellowship. That’s what I want to be the overriding factor. We are regarded in the brotherhood as a preaching meeting. Every day we have seven preaching sessions for adults and then one other family session that starts each morning—a 30-minute family worship. We don’t have workshops like you have at conventions; ours are all “main sessions,” three in the morning, two in the afternoon, and two at night. That much opportunity to be immersed in the Word and corporate worship is incredible.
The fellowship aspect is another compelling motivator. One of the advantages of Family Camp is the actual campground. For this entire Family Camp you live right beside some of your friends or fellow church members and actually interact in each other’s lives for a period of time. Over the course of several days, as you camp with people and walk to sessions together and make s’mores together and wash your dishes together, a lot of worship takes place beyond the gatherings—we’ve really bonded together.
Do people come more for the fellowship or the Bible teaching?
I think initially people hear about the program, and then they’re moved by the fellowship aspect to stay with it. I don’t think it’s either-or. It’s one and then both.
Is Family Camp a reflection of the old “camp meetings,” or is it a new wave?
It’s just people coming together to worship and preach. I don’t believe anyone in the beginning of Hillsboro Family Camp had any idea of what it would become. The design of camp was never anything other than to provide a place where families could come and we could have a family camp program. There wasn’t any historic perspective. It was really designed to meet a need for the family. Our brotherhood has been a pioneer in youth camping. Fortunately, some people saw the need and didn’t stop there.
What facilities do you have for people to meet for the preaching sessions?
We have open-air pavilions. In 1976 a pole barn was built that would hold a few hundred people. In 1982 a metal pavilion was built that would accommodate 1,800 people. At that time we thought it was all we would ever need. In 1992 they built the one that accommodates 3,500 people. Now in some of our evening sessions the big pavilion is at capacity and we have people spilling out the sides. When you fill that large pavilion, and you get those thousands of people singing with a concrete floor and a metal roof, it’s incredible! Not everybody who attends is from a megachurch, so when they get in that atmosphere it’s a very special time. You’re there with nature and it’s special.
What do you see as the primary challenge facing today’s church?
One of the greatest is the challenge that Jesus will not be seen as the only way of salvation. Pluralism, tolerance—the gospel of the age is a gospel that says you can believe what you want to believe and I can believe what I want to believe but we’re both equally right. If we hear that long enough we will believe it. From my humble perspective (I’m not a scholar in the pure sense of the word) one of the greatest threats the church faces is that we’ll believe there are ways to God other than Jesus. We must encourage the church to keep the faith. We need meetings like family camps and other venues for that purpose, to come together as the body of Christ and encourage one another to keep the faith.
It appears the camp started with just a few families, how did it transition to the size it is today?
It’s been steady growth with periods of accelerated growth. When it first started on Marvin Wilson’s farm there would be a few campers and some people from the local area who would come for the evening sessions. Word of mouth is how this meeting has grown to what it is.
How do people find out more about family camp?
They can visit us online at www.P2PM.org. They can invite us to come and share at their church. Just call (937) 840-9071 and we’ll send brochures, but we would love to visit your church or missions ministry and tell you about Family Camp.
When is camp?
Family Camp is held during the week of the last Tuesday in July. We offer Sunday school and a morning worship service on the Sunday before the meeting and then we host an areawide rally on Sunday evening. A Monday evening session opens the camp.
How do you register for Family Camp?
Simply contact the ministry, as I previously stated. You have to register for a campsite, but you don’t have to register for the event itself.
Just show up and have a good time?
What if a person just doesn’t have an RV or trailer and doesn’t want to “camp out?”
You do not have to stay on the campground to come to Family Camp. We do have motels in Ohio! We have multitudes of people who come for the whole camp but do not camp. The greatest experience, however, is to stay on the grounds—it’s so much different than just driving in and out to sit through the sessions.