ELTON, La. (BP) – The area around the All Nations Camp Meeting has endured two hurricanes, two tropical storms and the deaths of three local girls in a car crash. Now one of the event’s organizers is in a dire battle with COVID-19.
But despite all that, the six-nights-a-week gathering has continued without a break for two years on the Coushatta Indian Reservation in southwest Louisiana.
The meeting’s second anniversary celebration in late September included a message from Bruce Plummer of the Assiniboine-Cree tribe from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana; an appearance from Terry Wildman, author of the recently-released First Nations Version, an indigenous translation of the New Testament; a sermon from Cherokee evangelist Jimmy Muskrat, who brought two men who shared their freedom in Christ, a supper of Cajun Sauce Piquant, roast hog, grilled burgers and lots of trimmings and a performance by horse whisperer Paul Daily, who tamed a wild horse.
“We are witnessing an outbreak of His Holy Spirit just as we have for 24 months now,” Pastor John Cernek said. “It is amazing!” Cernek, now perhaps the main leader of All Nations Camp Meeting, pastors Indian Bible Church on the Coushatta reservation.
That church is on property adjacent to the Coushatta tribal headquarters, where a sizable tent serves as the meeting place for the nightly gatherings that have endured through high winds, drenching rains and unspeakable tragedy.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop until the Lord comes,” said 85-year-old Laura Hollingsworth. “When we hit the year mark the Lord told me this. People are amazed at how long it’s been going.”
Randy Carruth, who at this writing is battling COVID with the help of a ventilator, is one of the meeting’s organizers. Hollingsworth recalled one night when Carruth told Camp Meeting participants one night that 998 people from 22 countries were watching the gathering on Facebook Live.
Carruth is a member of Amiable [Southern] Baptist Church. Hollingsworth attends an Assemblies of God church. The church Cernek pastors is unaffiliated with a larger group.
“What God is doing, no man could have accomplished,” said Dustin Miller, who pastors and Assemblies of God congregation in Elton. “He has united Christians from many churches, put them in one accord, one mind, one spirit. That’s what’s happening at All Nations Camp Meeting.
“It’s God. It’s a supernatural thing. I live 45 minutes away. This is not Dustin’s work, John’s work, Randy’s work. It’s God’s work. This is what He wants to do.”
Carruth connected with Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona during ministry he engaged in there. After Hurricane Barry struck southwest Louisiana in 2019, some of those Native Americans came to help. When the second group came, Carruth talked with a couple of area pastors and recently-deceased Jerry Johnson, who was then the associational mission strategist for the Mount Olive Baptist Association, about doing something for the friends who had come to help. What started as an evening service for them grew with the offer of an evangelistic tent.
Johnson said at the time, “‘Let’s put up a tent with no start date and no end date, and see what God does,’” Carruth told Baptist Press in mid-September. The tent moved from First Baptist Church of Oberlin’s property 15 miles south to the Coushatta tribal headquarters on Oct. 2, 2019. Since then, people from 35 Indian tribes in at least a dozen states have participated in the nightly services, Cernek said.
At the group’s 100th meeting on a blustery night in January 2020, the weather was offset by a couple of propane heaters and, for those who wanted more, wraparound blankets. Coffee was available at the back, but no snacks. No music either.
The service opened with a welcome, reading of a couple chapters in Romans, followed by a message led by Alec Sunrise, a Native American Mennonite pastor visiting from the Northwest Territories in Canada.
Sunrise’s testimony was one of tumult – thumping around the cesspool of life, hitting bottom – before responding to the Gospel given several times to him over the years.
“Lord, I want to know you more, bit by bit, step by step,” Sunrise said. His sermon was followed by a couple of testimonies and a time of prayer.
During the casual conversation that followed the close of the service – though no one left – Cernek said the nightly gatherings were taking a toll on him. Maybe was it time to cut back or bring the Camp Meeting to a close?
“The response was, ‘No we don’t want to cut back,’” Cernek said in mid-September. “It was like getting a second wind. We never did slow down. We never did cut back. And everybody loves it, myself included.”
Attendance ranges from 4 to perhaps 30, though usually at least 12, and it has at least once reached 80 participants, including visiting disaster relief teams, in town as a result of Louisiana’s sometimes damaging weather. The format is simple: Bible reading, testimonies and prayer. In the beginning, guest speakers preached each night, but not since April. That’s when participant Linda Langley, member of the Indian Bible Church and a Messianic Jew, began to explain the Old Testament scriptures being read each night.
By Oct. 2, the date of the second anniversary of meeting on the Coushatta reservation, participants had reached the Old Testament book of Micah. It was eerily appropriate.
“Micah was a nobody,” Langley said. “Micah has no background, no pedigree, no training. Yet he’s one of the few prophets who got listened to, so God can and will use anybody and everybody, regardless of their background or life experiences.”
Micah’s message in chapters 1 and 2 was that “destruction is coming,” Langley continued. And in response to a comment from the audience, “It’s a good time to be alive. The world is going grievously dark.”
She was followed by Cernek, who spoke of “thunder rolling in and rain starting to fall” locally as the gathering drew to a close.
“We never know for certain where revival might break out,” said Preston Nix, evangelism professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “It comes after prayer, fasting and great concern for their own family members, friends and neighbors who are without Christ, as well as for the condition of the church, the community, the morality of the nation.
“It’s desperation. If ever there was a time we need to be desperate for God, it’s now, what with the health pandemic, hurricanes, what’s coming out of Washington, D.C.”
Miller said those who attend the All Nations Camp Meeting every night are compelled to do so.
“They just have to do it,” he said, “to go to All Nations Camp Meeting every night. It’s so beautiful that they want to keep on going. None of them intended to do this. They went. They were blessed. They kept going.”