Homeward Trail Bible Camp (HTBC) functions as a camping ministry staffed solely by volunteers. The director of the camp has always been a full time missionary with InFaith, an american mission that was previously named the American Missionary Fellowship and the American Sunday School Union. InFaith had its beginnings in 1817. Its missionaries followed on the heels of western migration, including ministry in Nebraska in the 19th century. Early in the 20th century, InFaith launched one of its most successful ministry initiatives, the summer Bible conference program, now called summer camping.
Henry Harriger served as Area Missionary with InFaith beginning in 1944. His area centered in Broken Bow, Nebraska. Mr. Harriger immediately began using summer camping to minister to the area’s youth, using ranches, tents, and cots. Wright and Emma Chamberlin of Mason City donated 10 acres of creek bottom ground 1 mile outside of Mason City for a christian camp and it was decided that HTBC would make its permanent location there. Henry Harriger held an organizational meeting May 9, 1952 in Broken Bow’s city hall. Organizers included representatives from several of the Sunday schools managed by Mr. Harriger, including Burr Oak, Dry Valley, First Eudell, Round Hill, and Sunnyside. Organizers also came from towns all over the area and from other churches, including Broken Bow Berean church and Tallin Union church. Officers were elected to form a nonprofit corporation. These included Henry Harriger as president, Phillip Popp of Burr Oak as secretary, S. R. Dainton (Roy) of Anselmo as treasurer, Member Glen Glover of Comstock, and Member George D. Dainton of Arnold.
Henry Harriger served as the camp’s director until 1957. Volunteers from the Sunday Schools built the camp and staffed it. Mr. Harriger supervised the building of a dining hall, chapel, a large girl’s dorm, and a large boy’s dorm. Three weeks of youth camping were held each summer, as well as several shorter events.
Ralph Sawyer took over as director of the camp in 1957. Mr. Sawyer managed the camp until retiring in 1977. He supervised several building enlargements and construction of another dorm. Mr. Sawyer moved and renovated two school houses to serve as housing. He expanded the summer program to include 4 weeks of youth camping and 2 adult retreats.
Mike Chase became the director of the camp in 1977 at which time Homeward Trail served 10 of InFaith’s Sunday Schools, each supervised by Mr. Chase. These were Burr Oak near Eddyville, Cliff near Merna, Erina near Burwell, Milburn, Mount Zion near Mason City, Olive near Wolbach, Round Valley near Sargent, Sunny Hill near Palmer, Sunnyside near Callaway, Pleasant Valley near Brewster, and Bluegrass Valley near Burwell. Each of these Sunday Schools sent representatives to the camp’s annual meeting to elect officers for two year terms. Mr. Chase supervised the remodel of several camp buildings and built popular recreational facilities. He expanded the program to 6 weeks of youth camping each summer, a retreat for youth, and 2 adult retreats.
John M. Lewis and his wife Miriam became the next directors of the camp in 1993. Sunday Schools at that time included Cliff and Burr Oak. Each of the other Sunday Schools had either grown into an independent church or closed. The people who elect board members was therefore changed to financial donors. Mr. Lewis supervised completion of a recreation hall in 2004. That summer, 7 weeks of youth camping, 4 youth retreats, and 1 adult retreat were held. Church groups and family reunions from the area also rented the facility.
Cole and Jenny Leach became the fifth directors of the camp in 2013. A staff dorm was remodeled into a house and for the first time in the camp’s history the directors made their permanent residence at the camp. A major change came in 2015 when the camp Board of Directors voted to end their affiliation with InFaith and allow Cole and Jenny to raise their financial support through the camp. Due to strong local support the camp had grown to become its own self sustaining, non-profit corporation, with a locally elected Board of Directors to govern the camp’s operation.
With a background in construction and the help of many volunteers, Cole supervised many facility improvements between 2013 and 2017. A staff dorm was completely gutted and remodeled for the director’s house, trees were cleared and the ball field was doubled in size, a new backstop and recreation shed were built, a new fire pit area was created closer to the creek, a paintball course was added, the snack store and craft buildings were gutted and remodeled, two dorms were moved to the west side of the property and converted into the camp shop and garage, a new chapel was built, all new sidewalks were installed, the electrical service to the camp was upgraded to three phase, a new staff dorm called “Aspen” was built, and many other projects were accomplished. During this period the camp experienced tremendous growth and excitement as record attendance had the Board facing new challenges, how to accommodate everybody. In 2017 the camp was able to acquire 2 additional acres of adjoining land to the north where a parking lot was created and construction on a new boys dorm began.
Because of the increasing programs, rental groups and workload, the Camp Board decided to add another full-time staff member. In November of 2018, Marshall Kohls joined the camp as a full time missionary, raising his own support to work there year round. He was a camper and volunteer staff member for several years and is excited to be doing the Lord’s work at Homeward Trail and in the surrounding community.
Proclaiming the Word of God and seeing people become disciples of Jesus Christ is still the number one priority of Homeward Trail Bible Camp.