Through the years, generations of families have attended the Okoboji Bible Conference. Some families have never missed or attended as a child and later returned with their families as an adult. The new nursery recently built on the grounds is a testament to this long-lasting legacy.
Ella’s House is the new home for the children’s nursery and is connected to the new multi-purpose building and near the new ADA accessible restrooms constructed just to the south of the Tabernacle. The nursery space funds were a gift from a family who has a heart for the Conference. “Every summer during Conference, the family’s grandmother brought her entire family. They rented a house in the area and enjoyed the Conference and the Lakes Community,” Executive Director Jon Pausley shared. “The lead gift was given in honor of their grandmother and in appreciation of how the Conference has impacted their family.”
Long Legacy on the Corner of Broadway
For the past 85 years on the corner of Broadway and Hwy 71 in Arnolds Park, the Okoboji Bible Conference has delivered hope. Birthed in 1935 during the difficulties of the Great Depression and just prior to World War II, the first conference was held August 4-11 in an erected tent on the grounds of the former Okoboji Middle School.
The Conference opened with over 1,000 people from nearly 80 Northwest Iowa and Southwest Minnesota communities and was led by Dr. R.R. Brown, pastor of the Omaha Gospel Tabernacle and superintendent of the Western District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The region had become familiar with Dr. Brown via Sunday morning broadcasts over WOW (Omaha) radio and welcomed his Bible-centered preaching and encouragement for Christian living. The current Conference property located across the street was purchased in 1945, and the unique Tabernacle building complete with garage doors was built in 1950.
While much of life has changed since the Conference’s early days, the heart of the Okoboji Bible Conference has been steadfast, with an emphasis on Bible teaching, deeper life, and global missions. Through the years, famous ministers and musicians such as Billy Graham, Ravi Zacharias and Dallas Willard have shared powerful testimonies, and Pausley says 2020’s theme, “Eyes of Faith: 2020 Vision” is especially fitting amidst the world’s current dynamics.
“The past months have brought us all struggles, and despite this, we want to look at life through the lens of God, in us and through us. We want to look at how we can live with ‘Faith over Fear,’ while walking with a vision focused in God’s reality,” Pausley shared. “God has allowed us to be here during this time to love our neighbors and walk with his vision; to have eyes of faith of what God can do amongst us.”
The Okoboji Bible Conference has grown immensely through the years and is open for anyone. Anyone can walk through its doors. There are no registration fees and the yearlong ministry is almost 90% ran from gifts. The Conference is not a church but an organization who partners with churches from all denominations and traditions.
“God has sustained us through a Depression, World Wars and will through this Pandemic. People who walk through the doors sense God’s presence, growing in their faith,” Pausley said. “Generations of families attend, many who come every year locally or from around the United States. They have fallen in love with the Conference and the area.”
Generally known for its family-friendly programming, the 2020 Conference will be adjusted to accommodate the current COVID-19 regulations in August. Because of the Pandemic, the dates have been shortened to Aug. 2-7, a change from the normal 10-day period, and normal children’s activities have been eliminated for 2020.
“The most difficult decision made this year was the decision to not offer any age-specific children or youth programming at Conference. We are saddened to make this decision but decided that the logistical and financial difficulties of following current regulations were not feasible to meet,” Pausley said. “This year, the services will be designed to engage the entire family. Our grounds and space provide many options for seating arrangements and social distancing.”
Another change is all services will be livestreamed, allowing viewing participation from people from all over the world. Also, in coordination with Arnolds Park Amusement Park, the Conference will host musical group “Sidewalk Prophets” on Sunday, Aug. 2 at 7:15 p.m. at Arnolds Park outdoor Preservation Plaza.
Tweaking the year’s current plans, music will only be led by the Conference Worship team and pastors like Pausley, Bob Merritt and Skye Jethani will speak throughout the week.
For the Vande Hoef family, the Conference has been a life-giving presence for their family, through the good times and the bad. Tina said, “The evening sessions have allowed us to come together and enjoy worship and teaching as a family. We also greatly value the fun that we have each year and hope our kids can always enjoy the memories that we’ve made.”
In 1995, The Okoboji Bible Conference began opening their grounds for year-round ministry. Since then, numerous ministries and churches have found a home or a place to grow on the space. In recent years, the grounds have been used by the Okoboji Middle School, as well as housed interns with Global Friends, who live on campus and serve the area’s International Students during the summer months.
The new multi-purpose building will be available year-round as rental space for meetings, groups, and retreats. The next phase of the capital campaign will continue to benefit the community, as they have plans to build a large parking lot for 120 cars in the southwest portion of their campus.
“Our desire with our campus’ transformation is to show continued partnership with our community. We aren’t just here for a few weeks; we are here to love our neighbors and be our community year-round. Parking is a huge need during the summer and will be available to the community once completed,” Pausley said.
He said they hope to have new parking completed by next summer but the campaign is dependent on giving. Once the funds are in place, the goal is to eliminate some of the older houses and cabins and transform the area into a large parking lot for the community. If anybody in the Iowa Great Lakes is interested in giving towards the parking lot fund, they can contact Pausley or visitokobojiconference.org/capital-campaign.
Another future concern is the loss of the Okoboji Middle School during Conference week. The organization has used almost the entire capacity of the building the past four decades, and Pausley is hopeful the Conference will be allowed to rent or partner the space with the new occupant.
“We are hopeful but have plans in place if it wouldn’t work out,” he added. “Most of all, we want to be another light in our community. The cross on the front of the building is lit up year-round and we want to bring hope and light, sharing with the world and our community the love of Christ.”
For more information about the Okoboji Bible Conference, visit okobojiconference.org or their Facebook page.