New church camp breathes life into vacant facility
Nestled in the tall pines a half hour east of Prineville, a Christian organized camp and retreat facility has breathed new life into what was once Mount Bachelor Academy.
Ochoco Christian Conference Center will host an open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 15-16, featuring hikes, educational exhibits, games and tours.
"We want the community to come and see what's there. It's a beautiful facility," says Cheree Davis, the OCCC administrative assistant and retreat coordinator. "We're just so thrilled to be able to open it as a Christian camp."
Ochoco Christian Conference Center, located 26 miles east of Prineville on the road to Mitchell, was once Mark's Creek Lodge. Mount Bachelor Academy settled there nearly 30 years ago, serving as a private co-educational therapeutic boarding school for teens. The academy expanded the campus a number of times but closed in late 2009, and the property remained vacant until this February.
John and Cheree Davis
John Davis worked for a rancher in Christmas Valley when he was 14. The rancher believed in the importance of Christian camping, so part of John's summer pay for driving a tractor was attending a camp in the Sweet Home area. John eventually became a counselor there and then went on to be involved in Christian camp ministry full time, beginning in maintenance and eventually becoming director.
He and his wife, Cheree, have been in Christian camp ministry for more than 30 years — mainly serving at three different camps, including in California for 19 years and most recently at a large camp in Colorado for three years. They have three daughters in their mid-20s.
"We've done camp all our married lives," Cheree says, adding that she has a degree in recreation camp administration.
"The power of camp is that people are out of their everyday element, and they have time to think and listen to God's voice," Cheree says, quoting Romans 1:20: "For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, his divine power and eternal nature have been clearly seen through what has been made."
Whether adults or youth are there for a program camp, which has a Christian message, or a retreat, it allows time for people to stop, listen, think and process, she says. "He speaks to us through nature."
Even though it's a short period of time, staying in a cabin with others during camp creates relationships in a powerful way, Cheree says.
"You're having conversations and meals. You're not distracted. Your cell phone doesn't work up there," she laughed.
Christmas Valley Community Church
That same Christmas Valley rancher, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted John more recently, telling him that the youth from his church, Christmas Valley Community Church, were attending a camp that was six hours away, and they wanted something closer for their kids.
The rancher purchased the former Mount Bachelor Academy property in December of 2016 with the purpose of starting an affordable Christian camp and retreat center. He wanted John's insight on the project.
"We both had our jobs in the big camp in Colorado. We weren't planning on going anywhere anytime soon," Cheree recalls. "Little by little, it became apparent that we both needed to be here. So, we left and brought our 30 years of camp experience to get this thing started."
The couple moved to the property in late February. John serves as the camp operations director. Christmas Valley Community Church Pastor Dustin Peterson is the executive director. He has been involved in both missions and Christian camps internationally for more than 25 years.
Much of OCCC's support comes from that church, as far as the board members, volunteer staff and work parties.
In late April, 80 volunteers from Christmas Valley Community Church and Eastside Church in Prineville showed up for a volunteer work party weekend. They cleaned, repaired, painted and moved furniture to get the facility ready for campers.
"God is working it out ahead of us. It's miraculous the things that are working out," Cheree says.
The goal is for the rancher to support the camp for the first two years, and then the camp is to be independent. Even though the Christmas Valley Community Church is the camp's main supporter, it will remain a non-denominational camp.
"It's just going to be an independent Christian camp," Cheree explained.
Although the property was vacant for seven years, a caretaker remained onsite.
"This place is in beautiful shape. Unlike some camp properties, they (Mount Bachelor Academy organization) had the money to build things well, and they did things well, and we are reaping the benefits of it now," Cheree said, adding that there are a few things to fix, such as broken pipes.
The site includes 24 duplex cabins, a dining hall, an auditorium, a large gymnasium, a number of classrooms and meeting rooms, activities property, a ropes course, a swimming pool and a pond. The camp is surrounded by the Ochoco National Forest, providing many recreational opportunities.
"I've never seen a camp kitchen this big and this nice," Cheree says. "Mount Bachelor did things well and kept good care of it during the time that it was sitting."
OCCC will run their own program camps this August, including one week each for high school, middle school and elementary students.
"These are our program camps, meaning we run the whole show – the speaker, the music, the games, everything. We've got just three weeks of our own camps this summer — kind of a soft start," Cheree noted.
This fall, they'll put on some men's and women's retreats as well.
"We will be running some of our own program camps, and those will be overtly Christian — that's what we're there for — but we also are open for rentals," Cheree said.
Corporate and recreational retreats and family reunions are welcome as well. Facilities include overnight lodging, food service, recreation activities and meeting rooms in the mountain resort setting.
"They can rent the facility and run their own program," Cheree said. "They do not have to be a Christian organization."
Some local churches, organizations and a quilting group are looking into booking their own retreats, and OCCC is open to bookings as early as June and July.
They will also rent out individual cabin rooms for the total solar eclipse, Sunday, Aug. 20 only. They'll provide dinner and breakfast and a private setting for viewing the rare event.
During the June 15-16 open house, visitors will be able to search for flora and fauna throughout the camp, take a family hike around the lake, do arts and crafts, and learn about microscopic life first hand. They'll be able to tour the buildings, play sand volleyball, complete a scavenger hunt, play in the gym, try their luck at lawn games, and try out the new octoball court.
They'll be able to hike a mile through the national forest to the activities property for a tour of the yurt and the ropes course. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own picnic lunch.
OCCC is partnering with Glen's Gizmos, an outdoor education company whose goal is to help students find identity, meaning and purpose in life through connections with their community, the natural world and Jesus Christ. It will include hands-on science activities and group initiatives.
"They want people to register for the open house because they're running all kinds of activities, experiments, all kinds of stuff, and they need to know how much to bring," Cheree said. "We encourage people to register so we have an idea of how many are coming."
The Davis couple say they are excited to be here.
"From all the feedback we have received from various agencies, churches and the local community, there is a lot of excitement and a general feeling that there is a real need for another Christian camp in this area," Cheree says.
They have proven time and time again over the last three decades that church camp and being out in nature is essential for a Christian's soul.
"It just creates community and gives people time to stop and listen, and reflect, and then God does the work," Cheree says.
Ochoco Christian Conference Center Open House
Date: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Friday, June 15-16
Address: 33051 NE Ochoco Highway (26 miles east of Prineville, at mile marker 46.5)
OCCC directors: John and Cheree Davis
Facebook: Search "Ochoco Christian Conference Center"