By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
Even though Julie DuVall lives in a resort area, she definitely doesn’t take things leisurely.
As a resort minister, she busily builds relationships with tourists, locals, and athletes, who live, work and play in the Appalachian Mountains in Maryland’s largest and western-most region, Garrett County.
The county is home to the state’s largest freshwater lake, Deep Creek Lake, a popular attraction for vacationers in the spring, summer and fall, and the state’s only ski resort, Wisp Resort, a popular destination for skiers, snowboarders and snow-tubers in the winter.
Garrett County also is home to Adventure Sports Center International, a mountaintop recirculating whitewater course; Muddy Creek Falls, the state’s highest waterfall (53’) located at Swallow Falls State Park; 90,000 acres of public land, more than any other county in Maryland; and Backbone Mountain, whose elevation of 3,360’ is the highest point in the state.
Native to Western Maryland, DuVall and her husband Bill, a full-time counselor, felt God’s call to return from seminary to start Deep Creek Lake Resort Ministries (DCLRM). At that time, there was no such ministry in the area.
But it wasn’t an easy start.
“When we first started it several years ago, we went to the Chamber of Commerce to see what we could do for them and just to let them know we were here. At first, they said they didn’t want anything to do with a ministry,” DuVall related.
So she began to pray about it. She learned they needed volunteers for the Autumn Glory planning committee. She volunteered and began listening for any needs they had.
Ultimately, they decided what was needed was parade spacers for the annual festival, held each October to celebrate the region’s spectacular fall foliage.
Autumn Glory has garnered national attention as the “#1 Festival in the World” by MSN.com in 2007, one of the “Top Five Locales for Fall Foliage” by the baltimoresun.com in 2008, and one of “America’s Three Best Autumn Road Trips” by Travelchannel.com for the past three years.
DuVall organized ten volunteers from area churches and the Western Baptist Association to help direct the parade.
“And because we were willing to do something for them, they were willing to allow us to minister to the children,” she added.
Volunteers put up a huge tent, where they ministered to not only hundreds of children, but their families as well. They give away walking sticks, provide free crafts, face painting, a ballooning clown, free popcorn, hot and cold drinks, a baby comfort station, and even a hand-washing station located near the portable toilets—all while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with around 200-300 people.
“We provide them with that basic need, and they are very, very grateful and open to what we have to share with them. And it’s been a great opportunity to share Christ with so many people each year,” she said.
By being a part of the festivities, “the Chamber of Commerce saw we were invested in what they are doing,” which has opened many other doors for the resort ministry, she said.
One of DCLRM’s biggest ministries happens in the summer.
“We get to see our small town transformed into its own little city. It’s really exciting to be able to be out there to minister to them at this time,” DuVall said.
With the assistance of summer missionaries and church mission teams, DCLRM leads two weekly campground worship services. They also help with construction projects at the state park, do servant evangelism for area businesses and reach out to people who visit Broadford Park beaches.
They also provide a Kids’ Night Out program on Friday nights for the locals to bring their children to do crafts, games and learn Bible stories.
“Every time we have a Kids Night Out, we share Christ, and we give them the opportunity to accept Him as Lord and Savior. And we’ve really been able to see the harvest of what God has been able to bring to us at Deep Creek Lake,” she said.
There, DuVall works hard to “find ways to build relationships with them and show them who Jesus is.”
During the ski season, she and her volunteers take donuts and juice in the morning to the employees.
“The first year we were there, they would take a donut and leave. They might say, ‘Hi,’ but they asked a lot of ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Why are you doing this?’ questions. That just opened the door for us to share Christ and that we were doing it because God loved them and we wanted to show them that love.
“And now, three or four years later, we have people who come to us and thank us for continuing each and every year and being faithful to that ministry. They’ll tell us their problems and their struggles, and they’ll ask us to pray with them. And they’re always looking for those devotions that we leave behind,” she said.
“We usually stay for half an hour. Last year, we would be there for an hour and a half! They would sit around the table. We’d have nine or ten of them just telling us what God was doing or something that they were dealing with, and they would break down in tears sometimes, and we’d be able to pray with them.”
Another area that has opened up with the ministry is with athletes who compete in SavageMan Triathlon Festival, a half IronMan race held each September in Deep Creek.
The night before an event, DCLRM hosts a prayer service for the athletes and then the next day, runs the Aide Station and cheers them on throughout the event.
This coming year, DCLRM will attach a dinner to the prayer service to “carb them up” (provide carbohydrate-rich food to boost their energy levels) and otherwise get them ready for the event. “That’s just another door that has opened up for us,” DuVall said, noting DCLRM also ministers at Gran Fondo, where cyclists ride over 100 miles in one day over the mountains of Western Maryland. The ministry does everything from parking cars to working the finish line to running an Aide Station and everything in between that’s needed.
“We have been able to have a great testimony, not only with the athletes but with the people who founded the event. They have come to just call on us whenever they need help with something. So it has been a great opportunity to share Christ with them,” DuVall said.
DCLRM also supports events held at the Adventure Sports Center International (ASCI), which is a man-made white water rapid course on the top of the mountain. DCLRM helps with judging and with other things needed for the kayak, open canoe and slalom events.
On September 8-21, 2014, the ASCI will host the 2014 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships. “These are the Olympic competitors who will be coming here from around the world to compete. They’ve already asked us to use our Children’s Ministry tent that we use at Autumn Glory to help to minister to those families.”
They are expecting to have about 6,000 people from around the world that one week.
“This is really a great opportunity to for us and for you to team up with us to send mission teams to help us reach the world from our little corner in Maryland,” she said.
DuVall is thankful for how people are beginning to open up to the gospel. A good example is a ranger at one of the state parks who helped the missions group during their first construction project.
“He was a little apprehensive about it. He didn’t know quite what to do. He wasn’t a church-goer himself, so he wasn’t sure what to do if we prayed or just how this whole relationship was going to be. He was actually really nervous!”
By the end of that first day, the ranger was really thankful for all the work the team had accomplished. Many team mission projects later, he now stands with the group when they are praying, and he asks questions.
“A few years ago, when he was going through a situation with his family, he came to the church to seek help, and that was something he probably wouldn’t have done before he met us,” DuVall added. “He is just getting closer and closer every year to becoming a Follower of Christ.”