They were praying for the provision of a centre which could provide a strategic base for gospel witness amongst young people in Yorkshire and beyond. On 24 February God answered their prayers in a remarkable way. To understand the story we have to roll back around three years.
While working at The Oakes Holiday Centre, a Christian camp centre in Sheffield, Andy and Hannah Peace started to pray that God might open the door to start a similar work further north. It was a big idea. With no team around them, or money to get them started, it seemed unlikely.
But God stepped in. He supplied the people and finances to get started and in faith they ran their first camp in Easter 2013. Spurred on by a great time and delighted parents, Yorkshire Camps was up and running.
Yorkshire is quite spiritually barren. Less than 1% of the population have contact with a church. Most churches have small or struggling youth groups, which makes it difficult. However, to bring groups together not only makes it possible for Christian young people to be encouraged, but allows non-Christians to be reached for Christ.
Since that first venture, Yorkshire Camps has run over 16, hiring centres in West and North Yorkshire. Most have been full and some young people have professed faith. Older campers have returned to help out younger campers. Over the past two New Years, two groups of teens came together for three days. Reflecting on these Andy said: ‘Watching young people see in a New Year with their Bibles open, hearts soft and minds attentive to what God was teaching them, was thrilling!’
As good as these were, however, Andy and Hannah’s vision was for something much greater: ‘To grow the work, we knew we needed a place of our own. Renting sites is difficult, expensive and very labour intensive, but we still had our vision to attract school groups who would not only have a great holiday but be introduced to Jesus.’
On the market
Netherside Hall in the heart of the Dales, an expansive former boarding school, came onto the market and looked ideal. Set in 30 acres, including woodland and with access to a river, it is perfect for wide games and camp activities. The Hall has space for 60 campers and the accompanying leadership team needed.
But Yorkshire Camps didn’t have anything like the money needed. Their offers, substantially lower than the asking price, were rejected. The property was under offer from another buyer. ‘We were disappointed, but knew God was in charge. It was a few months later that we heard the sale had fallen through – it was back on the market!’
The Monday night group continued to pray that God would provide. However their offers continued to be rejected.
Up for auction
After two years on the open market, the owners decided to sell the property at auction. Yorkshire Camps still didn’t have the necessary funding to make a bid, but one of their volunteers heard of a Trust that could help. The Trust explored the idea of partnering with them, and a few months later the Trust agreed to back Yorkshire Camps’ vision and mission.
Auction day came, and with much excitement and many nerves, Andy and Hannah found themselves as part of a group bidding on a building that they had prayed about for over two years. But surprisingly the auction was over in a couple of minutes! God had heard the cries of his people. Yorkshire Camps had the use of Netherside Hall!
One of the Trustees, Roger Carswell, says: ‘In many ways, the work begins now! There is a lot to be done but then we can run camps all year round. It’s a model that has worked at The Oakes, which we will replicate – visits from schools through the week, weekend camps for youth groups and camps in the holidays. Schools will bring year groups along to have fun but also to enjoy learning what Christians believe from the Bible, as well as meeting people of faith, both of which are National Curriculum requirements. This means the centre has the possibility of reaching thousands of unreached young people with the gospel.’
Yorkshire Camps hope to recruit a team of hardworking gap-year volunteers, who will assist in the running of the camps while also receiving Bible teaching and training.
Paul Williams, vicar at Christ Church, Fulwood, has been a supporter of the work at The Oakes for a long time and shares the passion that has seen Yorkshire Camps get started: ‘It is thrilling to see young lives transformed for Christ through the ministry of residential camps. Yorkshire Camps, in the safe and faithful hands of Andy and Hannah Peace, is an exciting new development.’
Looking at the small group who gathered to pray in a living room in Leeds, it seemed an unlikely prospect that such a project could ever come together. But God has answered their prayers in an amazing way!
To find out more about Yorkshire Camps visit: www.yorkshirecamps.org.uk or 01756 753227