Sowing Seeds for Future Generations

Britney Winn Lee
February 22, 2022
 
  • The Wesley Center is constructing a new bunkhouse; a gracious gift from Rev. James O. Evans
  • We recently interviewed Rev. Evans about his gift and why he chose to support the Wesley Center
  • It's all part of the 'Count Me In' campaign, the Wesley Center's capital fundraising campaign
     
Eric Weiner, in his travelogue Man Seeks God, defines the Celtic Christian term “thin places” as “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses.” We all likely know moments and spaces that can be described as such: a hospice bedside, a root-laced creek, a meal with good friends, the cushion of an altar. We feel the palpable presence of the here and not yet with certain songs and lighting, invitations and friendships. It is here, in these liminal settings, where we change.
 
Many a Methodist has had a number of these “thin place” experiences at 2350 Methodist Parkway in Woodworth, Louisiana. From attending confirmation weekend and Jr. High Retreats, to returning as worship leaders and pastoral candidates, quite a count can confirm that their faith-miles were marked here. Maybe yours were as well.
 
Perhaps you wore a fundraising apron at a Sr. High Retreat or attended a Crusillo event? Or maybe you met the bishop at a Day with the Bishop or walked the labyrinth with your local church leaders? Maybe you gathered for your ordination interviews in its classrooms or sang blessings for spaghetti around the dining hall? Some might have received vocational direction at the foot of the lakeside cross or even had an experience of holy revelation sitting on the rockers on the back porch during a day-long meeting.
 
Sacred spaces, thin places: the Wesley Center has been drenched with them for decades.
 
This is largely why it is such a great honor to share about Rev. James O. Evans’ recent and generous donation through the Louisiana United Methodist Foundation for the Wesley Center’s bunkhouse.

Rev. Evans is a retired United Methodist pastor, who has served as a minister in the Louisiana Annual Conference since 1956 (as a UMC Elder until ‘88 and then Spiritual Director for Kairos and Epiphany Prison Ministry in retirement).

Years ago, Evans owned a fruit farm located in Ruston. He fondly remembers naming the farm Evans Eden because of the beauty, peace, and sanctuary he found there. He eventually sold the farm and ultimately decided that he wanted to invest some of the proceeds toward a different kind of fruit, young people.

Rev. Evans, who is 97, lives with his son Rev. Wayne Evans. Wayne sat down with his father recently on our behalf to ask him some questions about his extraordinary gift.
Rev. James Evans and his son Rev. Wayne Evans


Q: Rev. Evans, your generous gift to the Wesley Center comes at a time when the world and the church are hurting and experiencing great uncertainty for the future. Can you share a bit about the hope that drives your investment? 
 
A: The hope that motivates my gift to the Wesley Center is for youth and young adults to attend events to connect them with others to listen for God’s invitation “to serve the present age, their calling to fulfill.”  When I was youth coordinator for the annual conference, I saw youth and us adults growing in our faith when we attended camps, workshops, and retreats.
 
Q: What has the Wesley Center meant to you or to those for whom you've cared over the years? 
 
A: The experience my wife Dorothy and I had at Cursillo #55 gave us a fresh vision of the difference it can make to be part of a Christian community.  That led to our involvement in Kairos Prison Ministry for the next 20 years. I want others to be touched with the grace of Christ as we were when they come to the Wesley Center. 
 
Q: You are sowing seeds into future generations. What scripture comes to mind when you think about this? 
 
A: The scripture that comes to mind about sowing seeds for future generations is Mark 4:8 “Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” After I retired from active ministry in 1988 we had our fruit farm near Ruston called Evans Eden. We saw the importance of planting seed in good soil. If you skimp on the amount of seed you sow, you won’t get much back. I believe our family’s gift of the bunkhouse is some of the best seed I’ve ever planted. I’m standing on God’s promise of a bountiful harvest for Christ’s kingdom.
Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold
Mark 4:8

 
Q: What words of wisdom can you offer to the United Methodist body of Christ right now in Louisiana for investing in an unknown future?
 
A: None of us brought anything into this world, and none will take anything with us. If you want something to last beyond your lifetime, invest in the work of Christ. Our Lord said, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20-21)
 
Even Rev. James Evans’ words feel like thin places, do they not? As he, with humility and conviction, describes the almost-stubborn hope that drives investment into the church’s future amid heavy and changing times, it is hard not to be hope-filled as well.
 
These have been painful days and burdened years. We have known strain as a world, rage as a nation, loss as a state, and anxiety as a church. There has been trauma in our pews, exhaustion in our homes, and more gatherings than we can count (like those we would typically have had in the yard, chapel, and lakeside of the Wesley Center) have been canceled or postponed due to COVID. And yet.
 
And yet. This is not how it will always be. There is still a story ahead for the people called Methodists in Louisiana, still a story ahead for 2350 Methodist Parkway and those who visit her.
 
Rev. James knows this. Maybe that is the kind of wisdom that 97 years will get you—the kind that says, by the grace of God, we keep going. The kind that recognizes this grace as manifesting both through mystery and investment, through prayers for our future as well as in our ability to become the answer to said prayers.

This wisdom knows that there is a church ahead, filled with thin-place mile-markers of conversions and callings. And this wisdom knows that there is a church ahead because we are tilling the soil to make sure it is so. If we find ourselves asking, how can we be expected to sow in such tumultuous times, we may do well to take a page out of James’ book and ask, how can we not?
 
“I believe [this] is some of the best seed I’ve ever planted,” he says.
 
Maybe you’ve been formed by God through the Wesley Center just enough to believe it, too.
 
Rev. Evans, on behalf of the Center, the Conference, all those who have come before, and all those who will come after—thank you.


The Evans Eden Bunkhouse


The bunkhouse will have 2 bunk rooms, each with 10 or more bunks, bed space for at least 40. The bunkhouse will be equipped with ADA showers and bathrooms.

Adjacent to the bunkhouse will be a meeting room and kitchenette making the approximately 4,480 square foot building perfect for hosting youth groups and summer camps. 

This new construction will be located on the left side of the existing sports field. 

Below is a photo of an example of the type of bunkhouse to be constructed.  


 
A capital fundraising campaign for various improvements at the Wesley Center was launched in early 2020. 

Through many generous donations and pledges to the ‘Count Me In’ campaign, mattresses have been replaced, room lighting has been improved, and device charging stations are to be added soon. The bunkhouse is the final phase of this campaign and is being made possible now because of Rev. Evans' support.

More gifts are needed to complete the ‘Count Me In’ campaign.  If you are interested in making a pledge, go to www.TheWesleyCenter.com to donate.

If you feel called to help please click the button below or send your check (marking it as Count me In!) to the Wesley Center, 2350 Methodist Parkway, Woodworth, LA 71485. 
 

Donate Today
 

The Wesley Center


The Wesley Center is located in Woodworth, LA, just south of Alexandria.  There are 64 hotel style rooms with a total of 143 beds.  Multiple meetings ranging in size from intimate group gatherings to large groups of 250 can run concurrently.  Amenities include a challenge course, climbing wall, zip line, prayer labyrinth, walking trails, fitness center, large pavilion, two chapels, and a swimming pool.
 
In 2019 and prior to the pandemic, the Wesley Center served 11,600 guests during 223 events.  Those events accounted for 9,375 overnight stays and 30,450 meals and snacks.  Since 2014, the guests served on an annual basis has increased by 25%.  Trends indicate that the Wesley Center is well situated for continued growth and the addition of the Evans Eden bunkhouse will be a welcomed resource for meeting future needs.
 
 

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