For more than 50 years, Cono Christian School, located in the corn fields of rural Iowa, ministered to young people from around the world. Started as a local ministry of Bible Presbyterian Church of Cono Center, a congregation that became part of the PCA in 1982 through Joining and Receiving, it developed into a boarding school that served international students, missionary kids, and students from churches around the country.
Among Cono’s more than 350 graduates and 900 former students, scores went on to become doctors, lawyers, journalists, and educators. Many more became pastors and missionaries, and two Cono grads — Mark Belz and Joel Belz — have been elected moderators of the PCA General Assembly.
As Iowa’s rural population dwindled, so did the membership at Bible Pres. As a result, the church’s ties to the school became strained, so much so that Cono’s connection to the PCA was nearly severed. But through the efforts of Iowa Presbytery, the PCA regained control and ownership of the 200-acre campus with its 17 buildings.
To ensure that the property would continue to be used for God’s kingdom, the presbytery recently voted unanimously to offer it to Ridge Haven, the PCA’s camp and conference center. At its October meeting, Ridge Haven’s board voted, also unanimously, to accept the gift, though the board established several important conditions that must be addressed before the transfer of ownership of the Cono property and assets could be agreed to and finalized.
Ridge Haven management — anticipating final approval at Iowa Presbytery’s upcoming meeting — is beginning to develop a program for summer camps in 2018.
“We are unbelievably excited about this new opportunity,” said Wallace Anderson, Ridge Haven’s executive director. “From our founding at the 5th General Assembly, there has always been a vision for regional Ridge Havens around the country. Now we’re on the brink of establishing one in the Midwest.”
Anderson and the board are moving forward to resolve the contingencies set forth in the board’s action. Most of these are related to the transition of the property from a boarding school to a camp and retreat center, which involves new and stricter building codes. Anderson said that such concerns have made the decision to accept Iowa Presbytery’s offer difficult.
“Satan has put up roadblocks,” he said. “Much soul searching has gone on as we have tried to determine the Lord’s leading.” Anderson notes that through each roadblock, the Lord has provided.
He looks forward to hundreds of youth in Iowa and the nearby metropolitan areas being served at the newly-acquired campus. “It will thrill my heart to see kids having their devotions under the tree groves all around the Cono campus,” he says.