Volume 12, Number 1, July-August 2008

Port Austin Bible Campus Update:

PABC Accomplishments Thus Far

This update is an honest effort to explain the situation as it is at the Port Austin Bible Campus. I will have to admit that both when I started Servants’ News in 1995, and when I began the work for the Christian community at Port Austin in 2003, I wrote things that left the appearance that they were more than they were. No untruths were written, but there was often not clear distinction between what existed, what we reasonably hoped to obtain, and what we were mostly dreaming about. Some problems were minimized or left out.

I thought I had a good reasons for doing this: People want to be a part of something big and successful. People are scared away when you have trouble: lawsuits, fires, financial difficulty.

The question is: is this a work of God or a work of men?

One need only go to the Bible to understand how God wants stories told. There is more in the Bible about the sins of Israel than about what they did right. Similarly, there is more in the New Testament about the trials and correction of the Church than there is about things that are going well with it. This is in great contrast to the writings of other religions which have mostly good things to say about their own adherents. Why is the Bible so widely published and read when its history is so critical of its own people? Because the Bible is God’s work and God is able to cause it to stand no matter what men may want to do with it.

The same is true for any Christian work today. Jesus laid out the principle here:

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matt 6:1-2).

The scripture says the same thing about prayer and fasting. Whatever religious activity is done to be seen of men has its reward from men. Indeed, it attracts other men who also want to be seen of men. But a work that God is doing, no matter how many trials it has or how poorly funded it is, will stand if God is doing it.

That is why any Christian leader should be as transparent as possible, even when the truth “looks bad”. If one’s own work is not of God, then one should want it to end to avoid judgment (Jms 3:1). If someone decides to help with a project that has been “oversold”, are they not likely to be disappointed and leave when they find out the truth?

So what is the truth?

If you would come to Port Austin on a typical day this year, you would find four people over 50 meeting for Bible study at 8:00 A.M., who have deep—but definitely not identical—beliefs that God is working in their lives. They struggle to maintain the 12 buildings and the grounds of the campus, but it is a holding action at best—advances in some areas are met by deterioration in others. At this time, there is little budget to buy new materials, so old materials are spruced up and put into service. You would find some buildings in fairly good shape, others need thousands of dollars of repair before anyone would use them. We have a lot of living space that is very much underutilized.

We struggle to live as frugally as possible: growing our own food, making all of our meals from scratch, using almost exclusively 2nd hand appliances, and repairing whatever wears out. We live from offerings, disability income and assistance and some part-time work. Some of us are looking for jobs, but suitable jobs are very hard to find in Michigan’s thumb. We have some involvement in local Christian and civic functions. We discuss, among ourselves and with others, dozens of worthwhile projects that could be done here—but so far nothing has come to pass that begins to tap the potential of this place.

Sometimes, we get discouraged—but we are still here.

Accomplishments Categorized

We realize that the overwhelming amount of what he have done has been preparation for the future. Only a small amount of fruit has been born. The campus looks only somewhat better than it did before we arrived. The number of Servants’ News issues and other literature written by Norman Edwards has greatly declined over the past five years. But a lot has been accomplished. We have tried to break it down into general categories, though almost everything overlaps in some way. We list them in what we consider to be the order of importance. This is not the chronological order. Also, please realize that some important things were accomplished quickly, and other comparatively simpler things took many days of work. Please see the other PABC articles (index on page 1) for a complete picture.

Spiritual Foundation

God must be in charge. This is obviously true from a spiritual perspective and is also included in the physical organization as much as we know how to do it.

1.   The Port Austin Bible Campus ministry was created with a Declaration, placing it under God. It is not a corporation formed under the state, nor has it opted to be regulated by the IRS by seeking recognition as tax exempt under section 501(c)(3). Churches and ministries are exempt from income and property taxes without these things, though few people know it.

2.   PABC is non-denominational—it is not aligned with any Christian denomination or group. It recognizes that of all those who claim to be Christians, only a fraction live as the Scriptures teach. But those people are scattered among various church groups, and some are in no group at all. The various spiritual gifts (1Cor 12-14) are distributed among these believers and they need to work together. For example, some groups may have a gift of knowledge of biblical doctrines such as the Sabbath, Feast days and resurrection of the dead. Other groups may have the gifts of healing, prophecy, speaking and interpreting tongues, evangelism, wisdom, giving etc. The lack of knowledge and gifts is not as bad as the sin of denominationalism that frequently prevents people in one group from learning and benefiting from the knowledge and gifts of people in other groups.

3.   PABC has a “Statement of Beliefs”, which explains how thorough statements of belief often stop members of a group from studying—their beliefs are already defined by their statement. Ours teaches that individuals are responsible to learn from their Creator and the Scriptures for their entire life. PABC’s Mission Statement, describes its purpose. We are the only non-denominational Christian community we know of that embraces the Sabbath and Feast Days.

4.   Norman Edwards and Bill Buckman have worked at the ministry for 4 years, going through some very lean and difficult times. We believe we have demonstrated that we have put this ministry first in our lives. We operated on the principle of Matthew 6:33—seeking the Kingdom of God first, even when other alternatives looked financially better. We expect that God will add the physical blessings in His time.

Christian Community Organization & Governance

A Christian community has a need for governance. When people outside of Christian communities have difficulties with each other they can no longer ignore, they seek resolution through whichever channels may be applicable: workplace bosses, school administrators, church pastors, government agencies, police or courts,. Many of the same difficulties arise among Christians living in a community. But when one lives, studies, works and worships with the same group of people day after day, ignoring difficulties is almost impossible—so they must be resolved.

PABC has accomplished the following organizationally:

1.   The Member Expectations document (p1 p2 p3) which has been tested and revised a number of times, from actual use within the community. It will probably be revised again in the future. It is entitled “expectations” because we realize that some people may have a great struggle with a particular point, but could otherwise be good community members. For example, a member may have a sleep disorder and have trouble attending morning meetings regularly. Another may be moving to the community for the specific purpose of receiving prayer and encouragement to help them overcome a prescription drug addiction.

2.    Solving conflicts via Christ’s teaching in Matthew 18:15-17 is emphasized in the community. This helps each person learn that they are responsible for helping their fellow brethren to grow in Christ (Gal 6:1). It helps them to understand that they make the community—not just the leadership. While many church groups advocate the use of Matthew 18, almost none of them have any means whereby a person who has not been able to resolve his issue with the first two steps can bring it before the church to have it resolved there. PABC has a Matthew 18 form. Any member who goes through the first two steps without resolving his conflict is guaranteed a hearing before the congregation. Brethren are encouraged to work out their differences informally without using the form. But in the rare cases where resolution is not achieved, the form provides proof that the person has gone through the first two steps before the congregation takes up the matter. This form does not make people or governance perfect, but it helps each person to grow in grace and knowledge.

3.    There are four full-time community members at present with a fifth person planning to arrive later this year. There have been a total of 24 people who have been members of the community—ranging from two months to four years. Most that left, moved to find jobs or to be closer to other family. Some of the young people went on to school. One recently married. Two people were asked to leave the community for continual violation of the member expectations. Some achieved the life changes that they needed to make while at PABC, others did not. A significant reason why some people left is that the mentors here did not have enough time to spend with them—they were too busy with legal, facilities and other issues. They were certainly correct. We need adequate resources and mentor-time before we bring young people here to help them. Nevertheless, this entire process has been a beneficial learning experience in biblical governance.

4.   In addition to the 24 people who have been members, 31 more people have considered becoming members at one time or another. Nearly all the people are very different: they have different strengths and weaknesses, different desires, requirements and resources that they offer to bring to help.

Solid Legal Foundation

People who are used to churches being 501(c)(3)-approved corporations frequently ask the question: “Is your method of organization legal?” The ultimate answer to that question is: “what happens when we go to court?” Federal and state legislatures make laws, and there is a historic body of “common law” decisions that have been made by courts in the past; but courts can declare laws unconstitutional, and they can, through various reasoning, reverse decisions that prior courts have made. The bottom line on any particular legal issue is, “How are the courts ruling on it today?” Thanks to the opposition that we have had in Port Austin, we now have court cases where our method of organization was recognized as “legal”.

1.   The Sacred Purpose Trust that owns the physical property was accepted by the court as a viable legal entity to own property, execute contracts, have a bank account and be a party to a lawsuit.

2.    All of the lawsuits against the trust have been resolved to our satisfaction. The judgment in the Edwards v Williams case was signed by the judge on 11/26/2007. The morning of the trial, the judge asked the parties to settle—if at all possible—in his chambers. The settlement terms specified that within 60 days, Williams be paid $1000 and have all his possessions removed from the property. Both things were done. Then, Edwards and/or the Trust (jointly and severally) are to repay Williams $44,000 more beginning January 15, 2010 at $850 per month for five years. Williams was given a second mortgage on the property. Neither party admitted to any legal wrong-doing and there is no ability to appeal this case or to file a new one on the same issues. As long as payments are made, there is no possibility that the property will be taken away from the trust or forced to be sold. The exact court documents are available at www.servantsnews.com, click on “Latest News”, then look for the links at the bottom of that page.

3.   The PABC property has been recognized in the Michigan Tax Tribunal (court) as exempt from property tax as a House of Public Worship. It took hundreds of both hours and dollars to establish this, but we have a written answer to our case and it will not likely be challenged again. The tax tribunal specifically wanted to know that our services were held regularly; that they were open to visitors; that they were advertised via signs, telephone books, and the Internet; that we produced religious literature, and that we took in homeless and disadvantaged people.

4.    We have partly established the right of a trust to be represented by its trustee in court—and not have to hire an attorney. This is important, not only to save money, but because we can see in the Bible that Christians always represented themselves in court, even though the Romans had a system of advocates somewhat similar to the lawyers of today. In the property tax case, and in a frivolous case filed by a detractor, the court permitted the Trust to be represented by a Trustee without question. This does not establish a precedent, since the question was not raised in court and no legal authority was cited. In another case, the judge ruled that the Trust must be represented by an attorney. There is no published case covering this issue in the state of Michigan. Mr. Edwards filed a request for leave to appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals, presenting what he believes to be several sound legal arguments explaining why a Trust should be able to be represented by its Trustee. The Court of Appeals declined to hear the case, as they are allowed to do. Had we lost the case because of this issue, they would be required to hear it. As it turned out, neither the judge nor the opposing attorney ever addressed the issue again—even during the negotiations right before trial, there was no mention that I would “lose the case” because I was not represented by an attorney. Attorneys obviously have an important economic interest in preventing a case like this from coming to the Court of Appeals.

5.   We have established our independence from control by the Huron County Health Department. In a few telephone calls and letters, they agreed that they did not have the right to inspect our kitchen or other facilities as they would with a corporation or business. This is not to say that we intend to be unsafe or unsanitary in our practices, but it is necessary to accomplish the goals of a Christian community, as opposed to a business. Some of the advantages include:

a. We can use safer alternatives that Health Department rules do not yet permit. For example, we can disinfect food surfaces with hydrogen peroxide, the residue of which poses no health risks, rather than chlorine bleach, which does.

b. Children, when they are determined to be capable by caring parents or mentors, can help in the kitchen and other workplace environments—just as they would at home.

c. We can avoid many expensive requirements to have the latest gizmos—which may be of little or no benefit to our situation.

6.   We have learned how to be exempt from sales tax.

7.   The legal functioning of the condominium association, to which six of our buildings belong, has been re-established. The buildings on the old airbase do not have lot sizes, roads, streetlights and other facilities that would make them legal to sell as separate properties. However, it is lawful to sell them as units of a “site condominium”. A condominium must have a member’s association to take care of its roads and other common facilities. The association was completely non-functional—no meetings, no officers—when we came. It has now been re-established and arranges for the plowing of the roads in the winter. Money has been accumulated to fix some of the roads. Norman Edwards is the secretary/treasurer.

8.   The legal functioning of the water and sewer board has been established. The former air-base buildings and a nearby campground still use much of the water and sewer systems from the old airbase. Two court cases gave a solid legal footing for the condominium association to collect fees from its users to pay for the operation of the system. The system is no longer operating with a loss as it did for many years previously. Norman Edwards is the secretary/treasurer of the water board.

9.   The recorded deeds now accurately state the correct owners and boundaries of the property. When we arrived, there were four acres of land which the 754th, Inc had never deeded to the Port Austin Bible Center (the people whom we bought from). We almost ended up with another lawsuit there, but negotiated out of it. That new survey firmly gave us the right to collect the payments for access to the radio tower on the property, about $5000 per year. In several other places, the surveyed boundaries did not correspond to the actual usage, but that has now been corrected.

10. An unfinished part of the original sale of the property to the 754th has been concluded. The original sale had a clause that required payback to the federal government if too much profit was made in the first three years—or until a final report was filed. We discovered that the final report had never been filed, so we obtained the report from the Federal government and filed it—ending possible repossession by the government.

Facilities

1.   The three main ministry buildings have been fully functional for four years. We have fixed a few major and numerous minor problems. We have kept them minimally heated and know how to keep the pipes from freezing even in sub-zero weather.

|a. The 2-story main ministry building with offices; a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment with kitchen (currently available for occupancy); and six 2 bedroom, 1 bath units (2 of which are currently available)

b. The kitchen and dining hall

c. The meeting hall, library, gym, racquetball court, and additional office building

2.   Two of our four 18-room dormitory buildings are operational and have been used all the way through a winter, though a better source of heat is still a needed improvement. We could handle an influx of 36 to 72 people on short notice.

3.   Our four-bay garage has been in continual use, though it needs better heat for the winter and quite a bit of patching.

4.   We have learned to efficiently operate both the physical and accounting aspects of the water and sewer system here. We have two licensed operators available. A sewer meter that used to over-bill us by several hundred percent has now been largely fixed. We have successfully responded to a few equipment outages without compromising the integrity of the system.

5.   We have paid the utilities for four years and know that we could have many additional people live here for only a modest increase in utility cost.

6.   We have kept the grounds mowed and snow removed for these four years. Only a little additional would need to be done if the campus were full of people.

7.   We have other buildings which we could relatively quickly convert to a new use, or sell to help pay our bills.

8.   Mr. Zaeske has fixed most of the important locks so that our buildings are secure. He has supervised other essential repairs. He had also purchased one of the office buildings from PABC which made it possible to pay off an imminently due land contract. He is improving the building so that it will be available as a residence or an office building. Mike Zaeske continues to be very interested in PABC, though he resigned his position as Facilities Manager here on May 18, 2008, because he was not able to spend significant amounts of time on campus at the present time. He is still considering moving to Port Austin at some time in the future, if, and when, his house in Kalamazoo is sold.

9.   Bill Buckman has purchased a 3 bedroom former airbase house which is also immediately available for occupancy.

10. we have been given over 1000 institutional-size cans of dried food left over from a “Y2K” disaster preparedness effort. These will not win any nutritional or culinary awards, but they would keep a large number of people alive for many months in a disaster.

Healthy and “Green” Lifestyle

1.   Our diet consists primarily of items cooked from scratch and raw items. We use virtually nothing with white flour, sugar, preservatives, artificial dyes and flavors, etc. We grow a lot of our own produce in our organic garden. We have eggs from our own chickens. We obtain some food from local Mennonite and Amish farmers. William Swenson makes biscuits almost daily from flour we grind ourselves.

2.   We are able to provide a vegetarian or vegan diet for those that desire it or see it as the way to recover from various medical conditions.

3.   We now have Angela King, a person with CENA (Competency Evaluated Nurse’s Assistant) on site with 15 years experience in home health care. We are much better prepared to take care of many elderly or convalescing people.

4.   We have made many contacts with effective alternative medicine in the area.

5.   We recycle most of our trash as compost or to metal and glass collection points.

6.   We repair most things that break, rather than discarding them and buying new things. This life-style both saves money and greatly reduces the amount of trash in the environment.

7.   We have attended local meetings and made some plans to move toward producing our own energy from wind and solar power. This is an ideal place to do it as laws are favorable since there are many alternate energy development projects under way in this area known as Michigan’s thumb. Both Michigan’s governor, Jennifer Grandholm and our local representative, Terry Brown, have promoted alternate energy in this area and referred to it as Michigan’s “Green Thumb”.

Christian Service

The actual Christian Services that we have provided thus far have been small in comparison to the preparations mentioned above:

1.   Provided a place to live for five people who were otherwise homeless. Provided a place for five more people who would have had a spiritually or physically difficult place to live without us.

2.   Held a Feast of Tabernacles for about 50 people every year and services for most other Feast Days and Sabbaths. Feasts were on an offering basis. People who could pay little or nothing were able to come.

3.   Provided access to information and encouraged about 40 church congregations to organize without a corporation and IRS 501(c)(3) status.

4.   Answered letters, prayed and provided Christian counsel for many scattered Sabbatarian brethren, some suffering greatly, with no where else to turn

5.   We conducted three music camps and produced one CD from them. (Most songs from the first camp could not be published because those who left changed their mind, another camp was interrupted by the fire.)

6.   We have produced some publications:

a. 3 issues of Servants’ News

b. 2 issues of Change in Chains, a newsletter for prisoners primarily by prisoners.

c. Several items of miscellaneous literature

We have done much of the research for many more articles and publications, but have not yet published them. That does little good for anyone else.

7.   Produced numerous Bible teachings at Spring Vale Academy, the Sabbatarian boarding high school in Owosso, Michigan.

8.   Participated in some Bible Studies and events sponsored by other Christian groups in the Port Austin area.

Summary

We realize that this was a long explanation, but we believe it was thorough. We would be glad to answer any questions. If you read all the way thorough it, you probably have some interest in PABC. Please read our article on future plans. We hope that you will pray about it and ask God to show you if you should get involved. We highly encourage you to visit during the summer—for a week or just a day or two.     &

 
Download Complete 64-page Issue High Quality PDF version (4Mb)

Back to front page
Latest Issue   Previous Issues    Literature List   About Servants' News
Directly Helping    Contact    Help   Search this site    Receive SN for free
Permission is granted to reproduce any article in its entirety
http://www.servantsnews.com