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RV park at Pepperdine Lectures full of sojurners’ stories

MALIBU, Calif. — Late one evening, while I was packing to attend the annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I faced a vexing problem: too many clothes, too little suitcase. It’s my own fault. The night before I board the plane I can never decide which clothes I need. Will it be warm or cold?  Is this a Bible lectureship or a week at a resort? (Just kidding.)   
Stunning as the Pepperdine campus is — perched on the picturesque mountains of Malibu — the topography is better suited for a mountain goat.  Like most of the 4,000-plus folks from 42 states and 25 countries, we park our car and gratefully use the regular shuttle buses.
It’s impossible to see everything during any given year. This year an interesting new twist for us was the discovery of Pepperdine’s RV community, located in a parking lot next to the Lovernick Apartments on the university campus.
It’s dry camping — meaning there isn’t any electricity or water available.  But the fee is only $20 for four nights — a generous Pepperdine gesture.
When our children were small, we purchased a hard-wall, pop-up Apache camper and took several memorable vacations to national parks, Washington, D.C. and other places. I’ve never recovered from my fascination with all vehicles recreational.
Pepperdine’s RV village has been around for years, the old-timers tell me. Eighty rigs preregistered this year.  Before gas prices became so “outrageous,” Kym Dildine, manager of the church relations office, told me she had heard stories of 150 to 200 rigs crowded into the parking lot during the lectures.
There’s a rich variety among the vehicles at this park. We saw the Titans —monstrous, bus-like, moveable homes and towering fifth wheels with “tip-out” rooms that extend out 3-4 feet.  Some of these mobile palaces have washers and dryers and rear-mounted cameras so drivers can back up more safely. But there are lots of smaller, one-bedroom, one-bath campers as well.
By and large, we’ve always found campgrounds to be highly democratic. People are friendly regardless of how large and expensive their accommodations. They nod and smile at newcomers or at people just strolling through the area like we were doing.
Despite the high price of fuel, Tom and Ellie Wolfe of the Camelback church in Phoenix wouldn’t miss the lectureship.  Like many of the other RVers, they are regulars, people who return to this “campground” year after year. Most are retirees in their 60s and 70s.
I talked with Wolfe, looking comfortable while relaxing on the steps of their RV.  “Five thousand people praising God!  There’s no sermon that can touch that.”
The Wolfes love coming to Pepperdine in their RV because it allows them to travel and stay on campus with all the comforts of home. After a breakfast of cereal, they grab their towels and walk to the nearby university gym for daily showers.
When their children were young, they came to Pepperdine in church vans with other Camelback families every year, and they stayed in the student dorms — as more than three-fourths of the attendees do. But during their children’s teen years, they stopped coming.
Eight years ago, they returned in their RV, and they haven’t missed a single program since.  Part of their routine includes making sure they are first in line when the gates open for the RV parking spaces. This way they can park their rig under the same tree where their friends can find them, said Tom.   “We just call that tree Ellie’s tree,” another camper told me.
Like many others RVers, the Wolfes travel with a pet: Chance, their rescued racing greyhound enjoyed nightly walks with his owner around the Pepperdine campus during their stay.
Since their retirement a few years ago, the couple has been busy doing good—often in their RV.  They have worked with Let’s Start Talking in Santiago, Chile, helped to build a church building on a Navajo Reservation in Cayenta, Ariz., and signed up people for World Bible School courses in Kampala, Uganda.
Pepperdine campers Bob and Vivian Oliver from Lathrop, Calif., like sleeping in their own bed each night at lectureship. Bob Oliver has been coming here since 1974 and was an opening night speaker during the 60’s when Pepperdine had a summer lectureship.
Retired after 55 years of preaching, they — and their friends — have “homesteaded” the upper left section of the Firestone Fieldhouse balcony “so people know where to find me if they want to.”  
Bob Oliver considers the lectureship one of the high points of his spiritual calendar.  “It’s an opportunity to see what others are thinking, an opportunity to stay well rounded,” he said. “These are the people who are making important contributions to the church, and this is our opportunity t hear them.”  They plan to be back next year.
Next door to them were Roger and Dorothy Stickler from McKinleyville, Calif., about 800 miles from Malibu.  They travel with a prissy, 8-year-old toy gray poodle named Cinderella.  I got the feeling Cinderella led a rather privileged life.
Stickler has preached for 50 years, 22 of them in McKinleyville.  Years ago he told them he would stay until they found someone else, and he laughed while noting that he reminds them of that every Sunday.
Sticker sells Medicare supplemental insurance and long-term care insurance.  Although he still preaches, he has always served where churches cannot pay. “I told the Lord I would do that if he would help me find employment elsewhere.”
“We come to the lectures because we worship in a tiny church, and we need to get away to get our batteries recharged,” said Stickler.  “I have learned I am not indispensable.”  Each year they also take their camper to the Restoration Forum in Joplin, Mo., and to a church camp in Richardson, Calif.
Filled with nearly 200 people, the campground is brimming with pilgrims who are spending their senior years seeking God and faithfully serving wherever he leads them. Pepperdine’s RV village is a wonderful experience not found on any printed program.
Happy trails, campers!

Filed under: Insight

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