Scenic view of trees at camp

The History of Pine Cove in Central Texas

by Susan AndreonePosted Oct 2, 2018

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Twenty some-odd years ago, sitting on a six-foot cedar log deep in the midst of the cattle ranch in Columbus, Texas, Rudy Galindo, a trusted employee, friend and ranch manager of land owner Sid Terry, prayed a simple but powerful prayer with Sid’s wife, Dawn. Their desire and prayer was that the 720-acre ranch, currently operating as a working cattle ranch and deer hunting lodge located halfway between Houston and Austin, would somehow be used to glorify Christ.

When Mark and Kelly Elkins arrived at Crier Creek Ranch, Sid Terry thought he was booking a deer hunt. After taking in the stunning rolling hills, water, and premier location, Mark exclaimed, “This is it.” Terry responded, “It’s not for sale.” But God had other plans.

You see, long ago, (also twenty some-odd years ago), God placed a desire in Mark and Kelly Elkins’ hearts to begin a Christian family farm where others could come on the weekends for spiritual renewal and family strengthening. They prayed fervently about their desire and asked their close friends and family to do the same. They weren’t sure how it was going to happen, as Mark was firmly entrenched in the family business in Houston and they had no experience in land development.

In the meantime, friends told them about Pine Cove family camp in Tyler, Texas. Elated to find a family ministry, Mark and Kelly, with their two kids, registered for camp immediately and they brought six other families with them! It was all they had hoped it would be. They became faithful financial supporters and fervent prayer warriors for the ministry in Tyler.

As they continued to share their vision for a family retreat in Southern Texas, Pine Cove speaker Tim Kimmel and Pine Cove’s Executive Director at the time, Dan Bolin, embraced, encouraged, and supported them throughout their journey.

For three years, the Elkins and their friends lived and breathed this dream of the “family farm” and prayed to find the right land, which Mark felt would include between 500-1,000 acres, rolling hills, woods, and water. When their search took them to acreage that Mark felt was “too raw,” the land manager set up a meeting for Mark to visit Sid Terry’s Crier Creek Ranch in Columbus, Texas just to give him an idea of how the raw land could be developed, even though it was not on the market.

Sid was stunned by Mark’s inquiry to “buy” his ranch. Like any good businessman though, he did throw out a number. Why not? Mark was equally stunned by Terry’s response.

Meanwhile, Kelly was in the barn looking at a large map of the property, making plans for cabin placements and retreat activities. When Kelly got in the car that afternoon, she told Mark, “I think we are going to live there.”

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Mark was back at work the following week when he got the call from Terry reducing the price… significantly. In one fell swoop, God made a way. In 1997, the family business where Mark was entrenched was sold, which also created a way for Mark to focus solely on Crier Creek and the retreat ministry. The vision was realized!

Mark and Kelly continued to attend family camp at Pine Cove every summer while they developed and ran the family retreat at the Crier Creek Ranch. Pine Cove’s leadership, including President and CEO at the time, Mario Zandstra, continued to encourage them wherever they could.

Even Bill McKenzie, Pine Cove’s founder, befriended the Elkins and they became good friends often visiting the “family farm” in Columbus. They were all “Kingdom thinkers” after all, encouraging each other to fulfill God’s work.

Firmly believing that they are a vessel through which His plans are accomplished, they hold loosely to all that they feel is not really theirs to begin with. In 2002, the Elkins made an incredibly generous decision to give Crier Creek, including 700 acres complete with a dining hall, cabins and other structures, to Pine Cove so that it could be utilized for full-time family ministry.

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Later, Bill McKenzie shared with the Elkins a file folder from the 1970s that contained an old map of South Texas. On that map, thirty years prior, Bill had identified and circled an area easily accessed by visitors from Houston, Austin and San Antonio that he felt led to develop as a second location for Pine Cove’s ministry, but the timing was not right and it was never realized. The circled spot on the map? Yep, near the exact location of Pine Cove Columbus today. They both marveled at God’s hand in bringing Crier Creek and Pine Cove together.

God had placed in Mark and Kelly Elkins’ hearts a desire to develop a family ministry in South Texas in the early 90’s. Today, they still feel so humbled that God has let them be a part of this ministry as He orchestrated desires, timing and events to accomplish His work.

Their generous giving of the ranch in Columbus has flourished into a ministry that today serves campers at Pine Cove Crier Creek Family Camp AND youth campers at the Outback, Silverado, and Ridge camps.


Pine Cove is hosting its first ThanksGiving luncheon in Houston on November 8, 2018, to honor the Elkins family and to benefit Pine Cove’s ministry. The speaker will be one of our long-time family camp speakers, Tim Kimmel. Find out more information about this event here, and reserve your spot at the luncheon today!


Susan Andreone

Senior Director of Communication

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