The present John 3:16 Ministries at Charlotte is a sea of red shirts – residents and instructors. What does the next 20 years look like? “More souls being saved,” explained Bryan Tuggle, founder and director of the camp, hinting about possibilities for the future.
By: Andrea Bruner, Guest to the SRC
Twenty years ago, Bryan Tuggle looked around the grounds at 75 Holmes Road in Charlotte, Arkansas, and didn’t see much. He sure didn’t envision the 20 faith houses, multi-purpose building, amphitheater and more all sitting on 200 acres down a country road. Instead, from the top of the hill, overlooking the overgrown fields where only deer and rabbits had roamed for so many years, Tuggle saw lost souls like himself needing away out of their addictions. He himself had attended a faith-based ministry to recover from addiction and feltlike something similar was sorely needed in his home community. To mark the anniversary, John 3:16will host a reunion event on May 6 at the camp, with a fish dinner served at 5. Every graduate who attends will be automatically entered into five grand prize drawings: a Spar-tan Mower donated by Dale Scrivner of M&I Electric of John 3:16;and a $1,000 cash prize and three $500cash prizes all donated by First Community Bank. In addition, the sponsors will have an opportunity to win a custom Jeep, donated by Brian and Michelle Chapman from Homer Skelton Group. Tuggle said he is hoping for a great turnout to celebrate two decades of the ministry’s mission of saving lives and restoring families. Tuggle said in 2003he was in debt to a bank, who asked him to clean up and refurbish the property soit could be put on the market and sold.“ My dad and I were out working on it, and we saw a spar-row hanging upside down in the pavilion,” he said, recalling how they both assumed the bird had died in that position. They walked on down to the lake and on their way back they saw it move, so they cut it loose. “We took it down to the lake to give it some water, and that bird flew off. That’s when I said, ‘We’re taking it off the market – we’re going to buy it.’” They formed a board, named it John 3:16 Ministries, obtained a bank loan, and started making plans around the four cabins, shop, chapel and bathhouse that were there. “It was about to fallin when we got it, ”but to honor the 11years that John and Donna Steer had operated their own refuge, called Fort Steer, each of the buildings was refurbished and are still standing today. “I couldn’t see that we were going to build a kitchen or a dorm or any more rooms; I just saw guys like me down there. That’s all the vision I had to have, and God would do the rest. But I had to have me in it because I needed that
worse than anybody,”Tuggle said.—David Bulla was thefirst man to arrive atthe ministry.“I began hearingabout Bryan Tugglewhen I was in prisonin Louisiana,” Bullasaid. “My mom saidBryan had come toDesha Baptist Churchand gave his testimo-ny and shared his vi-sion about what hewanted to do.”On March 18, 2003,the 42-year-old Bullawas saved in prison.“When you get saved,you better hang onbecause sometimesGod’s plan comespretty quick. They toldme while I was in pris-on that if I could comeup with $400 I couldbe released.”Eight days laters,Bulla found himselfheading to Arkansas.He called Tuggle aboutcoming to the minis-try, and started work-ing with him to get thecamp in shape.Although Tugglewasn’t planning totake men until June orJuly, Bulla moved inon May 5.“It was just me, Bry-an and Jesus,” Bullasaid.At that point, Bullasaid he didn’t have aworking shower andhad to take showers atTuggle’s house.“We didn’t have acafeteria, we didn’tknow how we weregoing to eat, but theLord provided,” hesaid.Within a week orso, Bulla said the nextman arrived and gotinto the routine ofBible study, meal andmanual labor.“It was just so peace-ful. I was saved and Iwas looking to get myfeet on the ground andget started with mynew life because theold man was dead.”Bulla stayed sixmonths and graduatedon his birthday, Nov.1, 2003.—Tuggle said his banktook a big leap of faithon his idea, as he waswriting hot checks tocover gas and lum-ber and groceries, butthe bank kept cover-ing the checks. Tugglewent with the mento churches to garnersupport and rakedleaves.“I gained 65 poundsgoing from one lady’syard mowing and eat-ing pecan pie to thenext lady, mowing andeating chocolate piewith ice cream, to thenext one, with dump-lings. Because youhave to eat,” Tugglesaid, laughing. “Butthat’s how we madeit.”The grand openingevent was a free fishfry, not really a fund-raiser. But someonewrote him a five-figurecheck. Then the fund-raisers began.“Those three yearsof crawling aroundkept us broke all thetime,” Tuggle said.When the instruc-tors came on board,however, everythingchanged.One of those wasJames Ashley, a Char-lotte area native whohad moved to Fay-etteville and was go-ing through a divorceabout that time. Ash-ley said he turnedback to drugs “prettyheavily” and was run-ning with some oldbuddies. His mom fellill and “went downhillfast.” In 2006, he wasin jail with no hope.“I gave myself onemore shot because Icouldn’t do it on myown. Jail didn’t fix me.I came out here to trysomething,” Ashleysaid.He recalled sittingthrough an interviewat Tuggle’s house,when Tuggle asked ifhe thought Jesus couldfix him. “That was thefirst time I was asked aquestion that I didn’thave the answer to im-mediately. I thoughtfor a second and said,‘I gotta believe He canbecause no one elsecan.’”“There was alwayssomething aboutJames, something spe-cial,” Tuggle said.Ashley became the61st graduate of John3:16’s program andstayed on as one of theinstructors.Tuggle said it wasthe instructors that al-lowed for the growth -not only in those earlyyears but ever since.He knew he couldhandle 20 men, butthe need was so muchmore. There were al-ways more men tryingto get into the camp.Ashley said afterthree months there,he thought he had ahandle on his addic-tion and was readyto give up his bedto someone more inneed than himself,but Tuggle shut himdown on that quickly.“He was gettingshaky on me,” Tuggleagreed. “We didn’thave an instructor,but I was maxed out. Icouldn’t do any morewithout instructors,but I knew I didn’twant to lose James.He was too good forthe camp.”Ashley decided hewas going to stay, andwith three others be-came the first groupof instructors.Dorms, known asfaith houses, beganpopping up, but bedswere often filled assoon as the buildingwas finished.“Guys would comeon Sunday and we’dsay we don’t have abed for you – but wedo have a couch,”Ashley recalled.“And that’s whatthey were sleeping onanyway, somebody’scouch, or the floor,or their backseat, or ajail cell,” Tuggle said.“John 3:16 didn’tever fix anybody. John3:16 didn’t fix me.The relationship withJesus is what fixedme,” Ashley said.“And John 3:16 isn’t aperfect place, but weteach the perfect Oneand that’s the oppor-tunity that everyone,not just residents,who come to thisplace have to knowJesus.”He said there havebeen sisters, moms,dads, and other lovedones of residents whohave ended up chang-ing their lives, as well.“That’s because of Je-sus.”Ashley said Ephe-sians 3:20 is in away the motto of thecamp, stating God isable to do far moreabundantly above allwe ask or think.Ashley said it’s likeeating an elephantone bite at a time.“You think about thefaith houses and thebuildings and themen, but it all getsdone with one pieceof sheetrock at a time,nail at a time. Whenit is of God, it getsdone.”Tuggle summedwhat he has learnedin the last 20 yearswith Isaiah 58:11,“Where God guides,He provides.”—Over the years, theoriginal 13 acres wasexpanded to 200 asmore land was pur-chased. There wouldbe additions like achildren’s playground,a large multi-purposebuilding the ministryis quickly outgrow-ing, and a total of 19faith houses with twomore in the works,bringing the numberof residents to 260,Tuggle said.Men stay six monthsto a year, and thecamp typically grad-uates about three tofive men each Sunday,with the total of grad-uates currently top-ping 1,900.John 3:16 has evenhad a few residentsfrom other countries,including South Afri-ca. A man had cometo the States and wasworking for a farmer inArkansas when got aDUI, and his employ-er recommended hecome here.As of Jan. 21, 2018,Brent Waugh becamethe 1,000th graduate,staying on as an in-structor, as well.“As long as there’sa genuine desire tochange, there’s a genu-ine desire to help. Thatkeeps me motivatedas the next guy needsto be motivated, needsJesus. It’s a genuineneed this world has,”Waugh said, pointingout, “It took 15 yearsto get 1,000 graduates,but only five years toget the second thou-sand.”—Bulla, who hasworked for Wade’sHeating, Cooling &Electrical for approx-imately 15 years, saidwhen he visits thecamp these days, itnever ceases to amazehim how much it’sgrown from its hum-ble beginnings. “Thepeaceful feeling thatcomes over me – it’sthe same feeling now,I don’t care how big itgets.“Bryan has grown somuch since those earlydays, both of us have.Iron sharpens iron,” hesaid. “John 3:16 gaveme a foundation andset me on my path. … IfI’m struggling I go outthere and it regroundsme, reconnects me towhere I need to be.”Bulla said they couldnot imagine what theministry would belike 20 years down theroad, “But that’s howawesome God is – andit’s not just helpingguys but the familiestoo.”“For some reasonGod uses a guy thatdon’t know how tobuild a doghouse, tobuild a ministry. Butit will come to a daywhen the buildingwon’t be going on butwhat’s already therewill be doing muchmore,” Tuggle said