“You don’t have what it takes to make this happen,” said Russ Hodge, Principal of The Hodge Group. Russ was hired by Camp Siloam to coach Jason Wilkie, Executive Director, through the capital campaign for a new dining hall. “With the giving history of Camp Siloam you can’t raise the funds you need to construct what you envision for the camp.”
“But we need to feed 1,000 kids in an hour; 3,000 meals a day,” replied Wilkie. The current dining hall was the Masonic Lodge for Siloam Springs in 1923. Wilkie had been told by a structural engineer, a health inspector and the Fire Marshall that the building needed to be replaced. A comfortable dining hall that fit the architectural design of the camp was critical to the long range plan for the camp.
“If that is your goal, then you will need a transformative gift from outside of your network of people,” said Hodge. The staff had laid their long-range plans before the Lord and they felt their goal of $3.4 million was what was needed. So they began to pray. For 20 months the year-round staff of Camp Siloam asked the Lord to touch the hearts of someone who was not in their base of donors.
“Our campaign consultants had an excellent strategic plan for the dining hall,” said Wilkie. “but the need was big enough that we needed God to work.” Little did Wilkie know that God had been at work in the lives of the family of Charles and Genevieve Bonner, of Conway, Ark. long before the need of the camp was even known.
Charles’ family left the Pine Bluff family farm and purchased the Community Theatre in 1930 just after sound had been introduced to black and white films. Charles literally grew up and worked at the family theater. “Movies came to the theatre ‘cash on deposit.’ I recall when a movie would be delivered to the theatre my mom, dad and uncle would gather change from their pockets and purse to pay for the movie,” said Charles. “My dad used to say, ‘if you don’t have it in your hand, then you don’t have to have it right now. I think that was instilled in me from an early age.”
Their first date was just like a scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Genevieve had come home from Louisiana College and didn’t have a date for Central Baptist Church’s Sweetheart Valentine’s Day Banquet. Genevieve’s mother called Charles and asked if he would take Genevieve to the banquet. Charles did and in 1962, three years later, he married her.
When he returned from college and the service in 1961, he was offered a job at Southern Federal Savings and Loan. He eventually went to work for Simmons Bank where he did investment training for 20 years. “Having worked in a bank, I believed very much in saving money and watching it grow,” said Charles.
During his work in Pine Bluff, Charles became friends with David Moore. When Moore became President and CEO of the Arkansas Baptist Foundation he nominated Charles as a Foundation Trustee. “The help we’ve gotten from the foundation for our accounts have been so good,” said Charles. “David was so instrumental for Genevieve and me.”
Charles was serving as a Foundation trustee when Bobby Thomas became President and Chief Executive Officer. Thomas led the board through a process of evaluating the philosophy of the Foundation when the Lord began to touch Charles about his estate.
“Bobby has continued what David started. He encouraged us to consider not just leaving the money in endowment, but putting the funds to work; thinking of the future, not knowing when the Lord will return,” said Charles.
Thomas said, “Charles was serving on our board at a time when we were evaluating our philosophy as a ministry. We were talking about storing up treasures in heaven, not here on Earth, and using resources for kingdom ministry. Those conversations spoke to Charles and created an opportunity for us to have discussions about how that applied to them specifically. I was able to encourage them to consider making gifts during their lifetime so they could experience the joy and generosity of giving and be an example to their two adult children.”
“Bobby gave us a book, (The Choice) about the importance of acting now. After reading that book and talking to Bobby, we made a decision to activate some of those funds now,” said Charles.
During those discussions, Thomas invited Arkansas Baptist agency directors to present information about their organization and to describe needs. When Wilkie made his presentation to the Foundation Board, Charles was moved by the camp ministry.
“I had given that same presentation to hundreds of people,” said Wilkie. “In my presentation I talk about how state assemblies were birthed out of the Cane Ridge Revivals and how many of the elements of revival were still part of camping today. The Lord simply touched Charles’ heart for the Kingdom work God does through camps.”
“I know the importance of a camp and how God can use counselors to share the Lord,” said Charles. “Revivals, as I grew up in are not as plentiful as they once were, but at camp kids have a revival-like experience.”
In September, the Bonner’s called Wilkie and asked if they could tour the camp. Wilkie remembers getting the call. “We give lots of tours of the camp,” said Wilkie. “I love telling the stories of what God is doing here. I had no idea how God had been working in the lives of the Bonner family.” The Bonners toured camp with their adult children, Charles Richard and Jana Lynn, who were excited about the opportunity to give.
On October 1, the Bonners told Wilkie they wanted to make a $1,000,000 gift to the Feed My Sheep Campaign. “Jason gave his time for us. He laid out the vision for the camp. We heard the history and heard his enthusiasm of what could be done, even in such difficult times,” said Charles. “But it was a life or death need for the ministry of the camp.”
“When the Bonners visited, I was having serious discussions about reducing the scope of the campaign,” said Wilkie. “I hate to say it, but I was having my doubts as to whether we had misunderstood God’s vision for the camp. The Bonner Family’s gift to the Feed My Sheep Campaign was the transformative gift that the staff had been praying for.”
“The Bonners chose to honor God with all they had in the fullness of His provision with assets they had been careful to steward throughout their life,” said Thomas. “Many people aren’t willing to make that step. People accumulate wealth and say, ‘it’s mine.’ The Bonners took that final step of obedience.”
Thomas said that the support of their children and the unity of the family is unique. “One of the beauties of the Bonner’s generosity is that it didn’t create an adversarial relationship with their children. Their children are excited about it.”
“Charles Richard and Jana Lynn have always supported whatever we gave to the Lord’s work,” said Genevieve. “They think this is wonderful.”
Through the generosity of many people who love Camp Siloam, the Feed My Sheep campaign has raised $2,063,175 toward its $3.4 million goal. There still remains $1.4 million to raise to reach the goal.
“We would not be where we are without the generosity of over 600 Arkansas Baptists giving to this campaign and the support of our churches. There is no doubt that God is at work at Camp Siloam. It is my hope that the Bonner Family’s gift will inspire others to use the Foundation to bless the ministry of Arkansas Baptists and its agencies,” said Wilkie.