In the small community of Mount Vernon, Texas, Keith Williams grew up with one stoplight and a tumultuous childhood. “My family life was wheels off,” Keith says. “My dad was on the wrong side of everything—guns, violence, drugs, the whole bit.” When he was in eighth grade, Keith’s dad got into a physical altercation with a friend, which resulted in the death of his friend. It didn’t take long for the shock and sensationalism to spread throughout their community. Keith’s dad was placed on trial for murder, while Keith and his mom were blacklisted all over town. “I wasn’t getting invited to anybody’s house at this point. It was like a shunning, like a scarlet letter for me and my mother.”
The wife of the judge from Keith’s dad’s trial, Kitty Ramsay, called Keith’s mom to discuss the possibility of Keith going to a summer camp in order to make friends and get some space from the difficulties at home. Kitty told Keith’s mom, “I want to pay for and send Keith to a place called Pine Cove.”
“We had never heard of Pine Cove,” says Keith. “And we didn’t have any money.”
But thanks to Kitty’s generosity, Keith went to the Ranch camp during the summer of 1990. Even though camp was already full for the summer, Kitty called Pine Cove, told them the situation, and they found a place for Keith. The associate director of the Ranch at the time was Daniel “Ambush” Wallace, and he ended up staying in Keith’s cabin that week. “I didn’t realize it at the time,” says Keith, “but they were intentionally trying to reach out to me.”
Everyone’s counselors are special to them, but Keith had an unusual run of extremely gifted men—Tugboat, Fezzik, and Opee, just to name a few—who were young at the time but went on to fulfill callings of fruitful camp ministry.
For a couple of years, Kitty paid for Keith to go to camp until he was old enough to participate in Pine Cove’s Tim Team program, similar to today’s Counselor in Training program. After serving a summer on Tim Team, Keith discovered family camp and, for the first time, began to see and consider what a healthy family could look like.
“The ripple effect of Kitty giving to me for a couple of years had a lasting effect,” says Keith. “It’s actually the reason I met my wife.”
Keith met Carrie while they were both college students at Texas A&M. When Carrie heard Keith say that he worked at Pine Cove, her eyes lit up. “I recognized that he was a person of character,” she says.
They ended up getting engaged in the old Woods dining hall and were married in 2001.
The following summer, Keith and Carrie put themselves on the waiting list for family camp, thinking it would take years to get in. But to their surprise, a spot opened up a few months later. Because they came without kids, their free time was spent a little differently than the other couples their age. While most young couples were putting kids down at night, Keith and Carrie spent time with older couples who were closer to their parents’ age. “We came into the Caribou Cafe that first night, and this group of long-time Pine Covers embraced us. They said, ‘Come on in, tell us your story.’”
It didn’t take long for the older men to recognize that Keith never had a dad, and they immediately took him under their wing, sharing openly about their marriages and their family struggles.
“It was definitely the Lord’s directive that we were there with those people at that point in our lives,” says Carrie. “They were super transparent with what was going on in their lives, and how they were handling it. We witnessed them walk through things that I naively thought Christian families didn’t go through. It prepared us for our own family.”
The family camp tradition of sharing Highs and Lows actually originated with this small group of Week 7 families. They realized that they were all going through difficulties with their marriages and kids, and sharing the highs and lows of their year brought comfort and support. “As we went around the room, everyone was honest about the tough stuff that had happened that year. It was weird for us because we were new, but their transparency was huge for us at that time in our lives,” says Keith.
For five years, Keith and Carrie attended family camp without kids, all the while observing Christ-centered families navigate their deepest challenges and celebrate their greatest joys.
When Carrie was pregnant with their oldest, the whole camp threw them a baby shower, thus beginning the journey of raising their own family. The training, prayer, and partnerships they had cultivated for five years prepared them to begin their own adventure of building a family founded on Christ.
The Williams have just completed their nineteenth summer at Pine Cove, and their three daughters have never known a summer without camp. “It’s definitely their happy place,” says Carrie. “When we ask them, ‘What’s your favorite place on earth?’ they say Pine Cove. They truly do feel like it’s the best vacation.”
“Week 7 starts our year,” says Keith. “It’s our reflection and reset time where we ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing? Where are we going as a family?’” From the freedom to roam the grounds, to the encouragement from the staff, to the zany talent shows where Keith famously break dances every year, the Williamses have forged deeper relationships with God and each other at Pine Cove, all while having a ton of fun and making lifelong family memories!
“There are certain places on earth where years and years of prayer have stretched the veil between heaven and earth very thin,” says Keith. “We sense the thinness of the veil and the glory of God’s presence at Pine Cove. The decades of prayer and generosity that people have poured into this camp have allowed us, and many others, to get a glimpse of heaven on earth.”
Posted Mar 9, 2022