AYDEN — Like a proud parent, Sammy Hudson has seen The Refuge grow from a needy infant into a thriving 10-year-old.
There have been many miracles along the way — large and small — intertwined with much prayer and sweat to mold 165 rural acres in Greene County into a retreat and camp that is transforming lives. In the day-to-day busyness, the time to appreciate or even notice the growth spurts often escapes Hudson, executive director of Son Set Ministries, which operates The Refuge.
Harvest 2017 on Sunday provides an opportunity to him and the surrounding community that has either had a hand in the nurturing process or wants its first look. Activities at The Refuge, located at 1380 Lower Field Road just off N.C. 903, begin at 2 p.m.
Son Set Ministries and The Refuge director Sammy Hudson and his wife, Desta.
“We celebrate these 10 years, not because of what we’ve been able to do or churches have been able to but what God has done through so many different people,” Hudson said. “It’s a time for us to pause, praise God for his provision and to also pray that He would continue to provide in a way that only He can.”
Harvest 2017 will include fishing, disc golf, pumpkin decorating, a seed-spitting contest and cornhole. Food and music from local churches will be provided before a 5 p.m. gathering for worship led by Jason McKnight from Grace Fellowship in Kinston, who spoke at the first Refuge service a decade ago.
Hudson said the gathering is intended to “celebrate growth, prayers being answered, development and lives being changed.”
“But we’re not just about praying for the camp,” he said. “There’s a world that is hurting, a lot of things going on, and there’s a lot of families that are struggling. So what does it look like to pause and to pray as a community of believers, not from a particular church or a particular denomination, but as a community of believers?”
The Refuge has four renovated farm houses available for overnight retreats.
A community believing in the mission helped sprout The Refuge from a vision into a campus with more than $2.7 million in infrastructure in its first 10 years. Hudson, a former golf professional, assistant camp director and church youth director, began his journey in 2001 when he was asked to serve on a board of a group seeking to establish a Christian camp near the White Oak River in Swansboro.
Five years passed without much progress, then Hudson was invited to view some secluded property in Greene County, just over the Pitt County line. Owner Chuck Stokes, a fifth-generation farmer, brought with him 10 typed pages and a dream of turning what had become a meeting ground for drug dealers and prostitutes into holy ground.
The Refuge would be born two years later. Hudson and his wife, Desta, took a leap of faith to raise it from infancy.
“When my wife and I stepped out to do this 10 years ago, we knew this was the rest of our lives, that in 10 years we wouldn’t be finished building camp,” Hudson said. “Even camps that have been around 70 years still have building programs going on. For us, we said we probably won’t even see this camp finished, but lives are going to be changed because of what we’re doing now through Christ. He is the one that has provided the strength and the wisdom, and He’s picked us up when we’ve made mistakes, and He’s taken the mistakes and turned them into things that are pretty amazing.”
A seven-acre lake provides opportunities for fishing, canoeing and swimming.
A drive or stroll down the dirt path winding through the property unveils an amazing transformation. Five renovated houses are complete — an office and four cabins that can sleep as many as 68 people — and one is under construction. The campus also features a pavilion with basketball courts, a kitchen and rest rooms; boat houses and storage houses; a challenge course; and several recreation and sports areas, including a seven-acre pond.
“Board by board, nail by nail this place has been built over the last 10 years,” Hudson said. “And there have been miracles along the way. People showed up at the right time to help us with a project, and they had the skills and know-how, and we didn’t even know who they were or ask them to come. They just showed up, and they could do what we needed at the time.”
Church and civic groups, college students, businesses and individuals throughout eastern North Carolina and nine other states have pitched in to bring nearly $3 million worth of development. Almost all of the work and materials has been donated, and Son Set Ministries has never had a day of debt.
Along with the farm houses, donations have ranged from playground equipment to heating and air-conditioning units to $170,000 worth of water lines provided by a local contractor. Nineteen Eagle Scouts also have completed projects at The Refuge.
Hudson said all the helping hands have been a blessing.
“I think the Lord knew when he asked me to be a part of building this place, He knew I couldn’t take credit for it because nobody would believe Him. I don’t know anything about building or construction and development or water lines or sewer or electricity, but I do know who to ask to receive it,” he said. “And the Lord calls on the people that know how to provide what we need. It’s been so much fun developing partners and friends over the years of people that we would have never met otherwise and now call this place part of their home.”
The sun sets behind the cross overlooking the lake at The Refuge.
Hudson hopes many of those partners and others will join in The Refuge’s NOW capital campaign, an effort launched in the spring to raise about $2 million for adding amenities, including a swimming pool, high ropes course and completing renovations on the Orchard House. The Refuge also has its eye on an adjacent 44 acres that are in foreclosure and has plans for The Refuge Seed Co., with meeting and dining space for 300 people.
“That’s an awful lot; I get it, but we worship a big God,” Hudson said of the campaign goal. “We’re about a fourth of that into the project. I don’t know where it’s all going to come from, but I don’t know where the $2.7 million came from what we have here now. The difference is the $2.7 million we have here now was done mostly through renovating old buildings that people could work on. We can’t renovate a commercial swimming pool or renovate a worship building. Those things have to be built, and so there has to be capital raised for those.”
The ultimate goal, Hudson said, is providing more chances for more people to come in — and go out — to grow relationships with Christ. Along with summer camps, The Refuge offers retreats for couples, ministers and groups; teens struggling with alcohol and drug abuse; team-building and leadership development; day and overnight canoe trips; and missions days in local communities.
It even has become a destination for weddings.
“The camp is a tool,” Hudson said. “The goal is lives changed for Christ. Certainly we love having the tools. We hope to continue to refine the tools we have and to add more tools to our toolbox, but with no tools Jesus turned the world upside down. He didn’t have a camp to work with, but He was God in the flesh walking on the Earth, and we have his spirit. We have everything we need to turn the world upside down.”
And The Refuge hasn’t even reached its teen years.
“We’ve been here 10 years, and we feel like we’re just starting,” Hudson said. “I think the most joyful part about all of it is watching the people come alongside us and say, ‘You know what, We’re going to walk with you. You’re not in this journey alone.’
“The Lord provides what we as we need it,” he said. “We’re excited about what the next 10 years is going to look like. Who knows? Only He does.”