Editor’s note: This week marks a year since Bill “Red Baron” McKenzie, our founder, passed away. Here is a tribute written by Bill “Surf” Hendricks celebrating God’s faithfulness through one man’s heart to serve Him.
One Friday when I was about 10 or 11, my dad (Howard Hendricks) told my brother and me he had a meeting at Pine Cove. Would we like to tag along? I was all in because I’d heard that Pine Cove was a magical place, and I’d never been there.
We drove out I-20 to Canton. Then down Highway 64 and some other roads until we were out in the middle of nowhere. The soil had turned iron-red and there were vast stands of pine trees.
And then… we were there!
I must admit, I was a bit underwhelmed. There was a small cottage overlooking a cattle pond, along with a couple of out-buildings they called “cabins.” But to me, they looked more like Motel 6 units on concrete slabs.
As we got out of the car, three or four men emerged from the cottage. A red-haired man among them energetically greeted us as if he owned the place. And I knew he did, too, because I’d met Bill McKenzie as a boy whenever Dad went over to preach at McKinney Memorial Bible Church (now Doxology Bible Church). Bill—my dad called him “Mac”—and his wife, Sharon, were members there.
I never really knew exactly what Bill McKenzie did, except that he liked to fly. And that he was “involved in real estate,” whatever that meant. And that he’d grown up in Tyler, which made sense to me because his hair was pretty much the same color as the red dirt around Tyler.
When the men started heading toward the cottage, Dad gave my brother and me “the look” that was our cue to make ourselves scarce. Which we had no hesitation in doing. Two boys and a bunch of unexplored timberland? Suddenly Pine Cove seemed a lot more interesting!
On the way home, Dad told us that he and the other men were talking about turning Pine Cove into a summer camp, with counselors and activities and horses and Bible studies and campfires—just like Sky Ranch, where I had been going. That sounded good to me, except I kept wondering how were they going to do all that with just a cottage and two “cabins.”
What I didn’t know then was that God is the God of small beginnings. He’s the God who stirs up faint inklings in the mind and imagination and heart of an individual—crazy notions that somehow He wants to do something special and unexpected through that person’s life.
What I didn’t know then was that Bill McKenzie had felt that still, small tug of God on his heart. Not once, but numerous times, through a series of encounters with men who had left their familiar and secure circumstances to follow God’s purposes for their lives.
Bill wanted to live with that same sense of abandon. It was a longing to follow God with all of his heart, not just a part of it. He didn’t view it as “surrendering” to God’s will. “You surrender to an adversary,” Bill would say, “but you yield to someone you worship and love.” Bill didn’t exactly know what God’s will for his life would be, but he didn’t care. Whatever God’s will turned out to be, that’s where Bill wanted to be.
The journey wound its way through a successful (and safe) career as an aerospace engineer, then into unfamiliar (and anything but safe) waters as a real estate entrepreneur. Those jobs paid the bills.
Meanwhile, Bill and Sharon threw themselves into investing in people’s lives and souls—especially young people and young families. That led to inviting groups out to some land near Tyler that Bill’s father, Alex McKenzie, had owned since 1944 and had a modest cabin.
In truth, that was the original Pine Cove—an engineer and his wife with a handful of teenagers on weekends, the guys sleeping on the porch and the girls inside. Activities included swimming and rabbit hunting. Then the engineer and his wife would teach from the Bible.
All in all, it was pretty small and seemingly insignificant. But as an old adage says: do not despise small beginnings! More importantly, never despise the still, small tug in the heart as inconsequential, because it is God Himself doing the tugging—to will and to work for His good pleasure.
That was in the 1950s. Bill faithfully kept building airplanes, building his family, building his faith, and building into people’s lives. He also kept placing himself in opportunity’s path to meet more men who were sold out to God. He was like a sponge, soaking up whatever wisdom and insight they offered about God, about family, about life—and increasingly about something called Christian camping.
My dad was one of those men. Dad adored Bill McKenzie. To Dad, Bill was a hero because he was an everyday Christian who took God seriously and simply did whatever God asked him to do. Dad’s calling was to train future church leaders, and he had an extremely clear vision for their mission: “Make disciples!” He would point to guys like Bill McKenzie and declare, “That’s what we’ve got to produce. That’s the test of whether or not your ministry is effective.”
By 1964, Pine Cove had a name and had moved to the cottage and cabins I saw on my first visit. Right there, Bill could have claimed success. But the tugging in his heart continued. He could not stop dreaming of something bigger. Not because Pine Cove needed to be big to be significant, but because Pine Cove needed to be bigger to be adequate to the need and the potential. Bill saw the rising generation of Boomers starting their families. How would they know how to build their homes on a godly foundation?
Bill kept praying, asking God to make things clear. What did the Lord want him to do? He kept dreaming and scheming. One by one, the lights kept turning green. His trusted friends were confident that God was in this thing called Pine Cove. They formed a board, incorporated as a 501(c)(3), and hired one of Dad’s protégés, Don Anderson, as the camp’s first executive director.
But was God really in this new venture? Yes, He was, but the telltale sign that Bill had a heart wholly devoted to God was the hesitation he felt as he read passages like Proverbs 16:1: “We can make our plans, but the final outcome is in God’s hands” (TLB). Bill found himself second-guessing what God wanted him to do.
Then one day in 1967, as he crossed a newly constructed bridge at what is today the Woods Family Camp, Bill heard a voice—not an audible voice, but actually much louder than that: “Bill, I am going to bless this land with a showplace for my glory.” In an instant, Bill knew exactly whose voice he had heard. And in that moment, all reservations and hesitations evaporated. God was behind Pine Cove!
Pine Cove launched summer camping in 1968. In the dining hall that first night, there were 14 children and 21 staff. I know because I was one of them. I was 13 years old and on the work crew. Most of the campers had last names of board members and major donors. By the end of the week, we were up to probably 18 or so campers strong!
Again, pretty small and seemingly insignificant—but the faith of a man is never insignificant because we serve a big God. And that God never takes faith lightly: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matthew 17:20, NASB).
What matters is not the size of one’s faith, but the presence of faith. With God, all things are possible. The question is, do we believe that? “Believing” means stepping out from the familiar and the safe into the realm of, “Whatever your will turns out to be, Lord.”
Bill had felt the tug of the Spirit in his heart and he began dreaming and asking. And God showed up. The God for whom nothing is impossible. The God who “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, NASB).
Notice the layers of increase: God is able to do what we ask or think. He is able to do all that we ask or think. He is able to do beyond all that we ask or think. He is able to do abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. He is able to do more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
Is there any limit to what God can do?
The summer of Bill’s passing, Pine Cove served 42,000 campers at multiple sites with a summer staff of 1,906. It would appear that God has made good on His promise to Bill: “I am going to bless this land with a showplace for my glory.”
Bill McKenzie went home to His Lord at the end of August 2019, leaving behind a legacy that with God, all things are possible for those who believe in Him. He is the God of small beginnings. To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen!
Posted Aug 25, 2020