RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Jim Henry first set foot on the grounds of LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center at age 13. Today, the retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., looks back on a lifetime of rich memories not only for himself, but also for his wife, children, grandchildren and members of his congregation.
As a Ridgecrest summer staffer in 1953, the 16-year old Henry was assigned to the library and media department, where he ran a slide-show projector in Spilman Auditorium during Sunday School Week, Woman’s Missionary Union conferences and other gatherings.
He met people from different cultures, backgrounds and states — and witnessed God’s work in their lives.
“I was exposed to great preachers and missionaries; this opened a whole new world to me,” Henry recalled. He also met some “tremendous young men” on staff who modeled serving others.
“Seeing God at work in nature and watching people serve were powerful influences on me as a young man,” he said. “I saw Christ modeled in staff’s lives and said ‘I want to be like that.’”
Years later, after he was married, Henry became director of visual aids at Ridgecrest while his wife Jennette worked in the library.
What makes Ridgecrest special from other conference centers he has visited throughout his long career as a Southern Baptist preacher is its spiritual atmosphere, Henry said. He recalled one occasion when preaching at Ridgecrest and no one moved when he dismissed them. “God’s spirit was so strong there. Years later, people still remember and recount that experience.”
Henry recalled another time when he was scheduled to preach at a marriage retreat at Ridgecrest. A pastor friend who was engaged approached him and asked if he would marry him and his fiancée during the retreat, to which he agreed.
“After I finished speaking about marriage, I said, ‘Now we’re going to put this in practice.’” The bridge and groom came forward and the groom gave his testimony. Henry performed the marriage ceremony, pronounced them man and wife and “everyone cheered!”
Another favorite memory is hearing his then-seventh-grade daughter Kate sing in the auditorium at a talent show. “She looked like a child, but when she started singing she really connected with people.” Her performance ended with a standing ovation and launched her singing career, which today takes her all over the world.
Henry also remembers losing his high school ring in the woods at Ridgecrest after going running. He prayed he would find the valuable keepsake. “The sun came through a tree and I saw it shining. I thanked God that He would care enough to help a high school kid find his ring in the woods.”
Last October, Henry was on hand when an auditorium at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center was dedicated as The Dr. James B. “Jim” Henry Auditorium.
“People who come to Ridgecrest have a great opportunity to have an experience with God,” Henry said. “I saw it happen so many times; Jesus met them in a special way at Ridgecrest.”
The occasion of Ridgecrest’s 100th anniversary generates not just nostalgia for Henry but also anticipation.
“I am thankful for its past,” he said, “grateful for its present and excited about its future.”