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Center Stage with John Pearson by Stan White

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#1. What is your background in Christian camping (please include the years you were executive director of CCI/USA)?

I grew up in Seattle and my uncle, Cliff Gustafson, was the executive director of Lake Retreat Baptist Camp. My four brothers and I helped my Dad make and donate wood rowboats for the camp (in our basement), so the camp invited me to attend junior boys camp a year earlier than my age allowed. Later I memorized verses in Sunday school to earn “camp stamps” for my savings book.


I was at Lake Retreat Baptist Camp every summer from third grade through college graduation. I was on staff starting in the summer before my ninth grade year. (In high school, I also enjoyed a week at Young Life’s Malibu Club in British Columbia.) At Lake Retreat, I washed dishes, was sports and music director, then program director my last two summers. I also served as:

·        Camp Director, Camp Hickory (Illinois) – 1968 to 1974

·        Executive Director, SAMBICA (Washington) – 1974 to 1979

·        Executive Director, CCI/USA (Illinois) – 1979 to 1990


#2. What is your fondest memory of your tenure as executive director of CCI/USA?

Whew! Just one? At sectional and regional gatherings over those 11 years, I visited dozens and dozens of camps and was stunned with the diversity and creativity of camps and conference centers—many with unique regional/cultural flavors—and visionary leaders with oozing evangelistic gifts. It was a huge privilege to represent CCI/USA at international gatherings in Latin America, Asia, Canada, and probably our favorite trip (for many reasons) to CCI/United Kingdom and then on to CCI/Southern Africa in August 1987. Here is an excerpt from my favorite:

Willard Heck embodied that unique founder spirit we’ve talked about in recent months. In 1958, he and his partner bought almost 1,000 acres in northeast Oklahoma and founded New Life Ranch, a nondenominational Christian camp. (You can read more about Reverend Heck’s vision on the New Life Ranch website or in the camp’s Wikipedia article.)

The audacity of his faith—like so many of our founders—was extraordinary. A fellow camping zealot shared with me some time ago that in the middle of a tour of New Life Ranch, his eyes almost popped out upon seeing the camp’s extensive, well-equipped bakery.

“Bob, the bakery itself was larger than most camp kitchens,” my friend told me. “So I asked Willard Heck how he was able to afford such a huge kitchen, bakery, and dining hall. “You need to know that Reverend Heck, who was called to heaven in 2001, was as humble as he was filled with faith. I will never forget his simple response.

“Heck replied, ‘Well, I just showed the Lord our plans and blueprints for New Life Ranch—and the kind of foodservice facilities we needed to do His work here. I told the Lord that if He was short of money, we could cut back on the plans. But if we were to create a facility and program that truly honored Him, then this is how much money we’d need. So the Lord provided the funds.’”

#3. What ways have you found to give back to the larger body of Christian camping?

Many of CCCA’s leaders and board member subscribe (free!) to my eNews, Your Weekly Staff Meeting—which includes a review of a leadership/management or governance book, and a short commentary on one of my 20 “management buckets.”

Subscribe at:


It was also a HUGE privilege to work with Gregg Hunter and Ed McDowell in creating the CCCA Thriving Boards program—funded with grants from Murdock Trust. I served in a variety of roles for Thriving Boards from 2015 to the first Zoom sessions in Spring 2020 (due to COVID).


#4. What is the biggest change you have seen in camp and conference ministry since you first became involved?

There has been constant change (which shouldn’t surprise any of us). As the new CEO at CCI/USA in 1980, I was asked to speak on trends at most sectionals and regionals (as if a 33-year-old former camp director from a small camp in Bellevue, Wash., knew anything about trends in 1980!). I do remember one trend: I prophetically predicted that gas would increase to over $1.00 a gallon! (Leaders wondered if parents could afford to drive their kids to camp!)


But a very encouraging trend—many Christian colleges had camping majors at the time and I sensed that there was a new wave of better educated, better prepared leaders and managers for the changes that were coming (societal, cultural, spiritual, economic, etc.). And, more successful business leaders, it seemed, were starting camps and recognizing the immense value of an outdoors experience. People like Gary Fawver at Camp Tilikum and George Fox College helped us to secure our moorings back then with both theological, educational, and philosophical foundational thinking.


#5. What encourages you the most when you look at CCCA and to the future?

I’ve been trying to “retire” (whatever that means) since 2018, but amazingly Joanne has continued to give the green light to my helping a few clients—and so I’m helping two ministries with their CEO succession plans. (They are both founders—and we know that is always challenging for boards.) So…effective successions encourage me—both at local camps and nationally.


I’m so encouraged that the baton handoff from me to Bob Kobielush and from Bob to Gregg Hunter has enriched and improved CCCA with each handoff. I just started re-reading Experiencing God (2021 Edition): Knowing and Doing the Will of God, by Henry Blackaby, Claude King, and Richard Blackaby (with a January 2021 new introduction by Henry Blackaby at age 86!). I’m encouraged when leaders just follow the book’s big idea, “Find out what God is doing and then join Him.”

#6. What has been your biggest COVID lesson?

Hmmm. Good question (even though during COVID, I learned you’re not supposed to “grade” questions from other people!). Many lessons, but the most surprising one—is how much I have relied on music to keep my spirits up. Several times each day, I select some options in YouTube (or on my iPad) and crank up the TV to enjoy some deep worship experiences, plus a good dose of toe-tappers. I’ve discovered the BBC’s “Songs of Praise” series—“one of the longest running series of its genre on television anywhere in the world.” While in lockdown, I was so encouraged to see other brothers and sisters, worldwide, honor God so emphatically. I’ve also worshipped via YouTube with congregations in London, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, and Cleveland, and San Clemente. We’re blessed.

#7. What are you currently involved with?

Our son, Jason, and I are publishing a book in June, Mastering Mistake-Making: My 25 Memorable Mistakes—And What I Learned. We’ve also tagged it, “The 10 Minutes For Lifelong Learning Workbook.” And I can already hear your response: “John, just 25 mistakes? Shouldn’t you memorialize 100 or 200 of your all-time mistakes?”

I was shocked to learn so much from what I call the “mistake-making literature.” Each short chapter includes a mistakes story and then a book I read later that would have helped me avoid the mistake. So…25 mistakes, 25 recommended books. I mention Kobielush in the book, but he’ll have to buy the book to see what I said!


#8. Where would we find you and Joanne if we found you in your favorite place?

We love Palm Desert, California. But Joanne has this strange view that whatever I spend on golf, she can spend the same amount on shopping. Where’s that in the Bible?

Did you know?

Christian Camping International traces its beginnings to a meeting of 13 camp / conference centre directors at Mount Hermon Conference Centre in California in November 1950. They were called together by Dr. Fulton Lytle, the host, and Dr. Walter Warkentin and Graham Tinning to discuss mutual concerns for Christ-centred camping.

Facebook Group

We have created a private Facebook Group for the use of our members. Click the link to join!


Purpose / Use:

  • Stay connected with each other in Christian Camping

  • Encourage people in Christian Camping

  • Not a place to sell services or resources.

  • A place to pray for each other.

John, thank you for using your gifts to further the Kingdom!

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