The dream of a Holiness campmeeting in the Angus, New Mexico area was born in the heart of Grandma (Pinkie) Skinner in the 1930’s. She shared her dream with Rev. J.S. Collins—pastor of the Capitan Church of the Nazarene and the burden for souls led him to present the idea of a campmeeting to R.C. Gunstream—the New Mexico District Superintendent since March 15, 1938. As a result, the first Campmeeting was held August 18 - 27, 1939 in the old Angus Schoolhouse. This campmeeting was a tremendous success with about 100 campers and God’s presence in the services. Facilities for camping were primitive. Campers brought their tents and live chickens-feasting on eggs throughout the week and having fried chicken on Sunday for the preachers. Bonito Creek was the main source of water along with a small spring in the upper canyon. Following campmeeting, with some encouragement from his mother, Grandma Skinner, Mr. & Mrs. Roy Skinner gave the NM District eight acres of land across the road (currently the Gym/Snack Shack/RV park area). A group of God's people gathered under a big tree and dedicated those grounds to God, asking His blessings upon it down through the years. When campmeeting ended, Rev. Gunstream immediately began building permanent structures. The following year, 1940, "We're tenting tonight on the old camp ground" was the theme with services held in a large tent.
Prior to campmeeting in 1942, the first tabernacle, an eleven room dorm and at least 21 cabins had been constructed. The campmeeting tradition continued through the difficult war years and, in spite of the rationing of gas and tires, people came to be ministered to, and God met with His people on this holy mountain. In 1945, the dining hall (west end of the Pie Palace) was added and enlarged (east end of the Pie Palace) in 1962. Growth in attendance made the building of additional rooms necessary. In 1946, the “air-conditioned” (fresh air through the cracks in the walls and no glass in the windows) dorm on the hill (Ryan Hall) was added and further expanded in 1960. A cinderblock shower area was added to Ryan Hall in 1965. In a great step of faith, a new tabernacle was built in 1956 (Peters Activity Center) to accommodate the increasing crowds coming to the annual campmeeting.
A four-room workers’ cabin (Burch Hall) was built in 1963. On August 2, 1965--the day the New Mexico District campmeeting was to begin, Dr. Gunstream died in a tragic accident on the very camp grounds that he had carved out with his own hands. A new shower house had slipped off of its foundation due to heavy rains. Before campmeeting was to begin, Dr. Gunstream wanted to ready the shower house to be used. The men had jacked up the building, cabled it for safety and repaired the stilts supporting it on Saturday prior to campmeeting. On Monday, while putting on the finishing touches, a loud sonic boom rumbling through the mountains shook the building from the foundations that had just been repaired. Dr. Gunstream was pinned under the building in a kneeling position, crushed to death in an instant. In memory of Dr. R.C. Gunstream, a chapel was built and dedicated to the Lord’s use in August of 1966. Camping facilities continued to expand as the number of campers increased. A recreational hall was added in 1967; Petty Hall in 1969; RV Park in 1970; Plunkett Hall in 1975; Morris Center in 1978; Freeman Village in 1985; Armstrong Tabernacle in 1989; Pool in 1998; Bunkhouses A & B in 2006. Gifts of land from many over the years such as Gil and Chloe Peters, LaMoyne and Opal Peters, and the Skinner family along with purchases of land from others have helped to make the dream of so many pioneer spirits come alive.
The early years were not without struggles. Water shortages and over abundance of rain were challenges in themselves. Many times, the speaker would be "rained out" as he could not be heard over the rain on the tin roof. The audience beneath would sing or visit until the rain had stopped. In 1942, when water ran short to the point of desperation, the people asked the Lord for rain, and the rains came. A visiting lady from Clovis became so tired of the rain that she offered Brother Gunstream $100.00 on a new well if he would pray for it to stop raining. The rain stopped and a new well was begun. The State of New Mexico has stepped in on more than one occasion to “help” the camp meet inspection codes for water and sewer systems, kitchen standards, electrical and mechanical standards, 911 compliance and swimming pool standards. At the thought of closing the camp forever, God's people have given above and beyond what one could have ever dreamed to continue a work begun at such a different period in history that we today can hardly grasp its simplicity.
The NM District Church of the Nazarene supplied many long-standing leaders who loved the camp and gave many years of service. Rev. Ernest Armstrong began his ministry at the campmeeting in 1942 and would continue for nearly sixty years to preach the word of God at the New Mexico District Family Camp. Dr. Harold W. Morris succeeded Dr. Gunstream as Super-intendent of the New Mexico District on August 9, 1965 and served until his retirement from ministry in May of 1981. Dr. Morris and his family had begun their ministry on the district in 1939. The names of these men and others faithful to answer the call of God to establish the work of the camp can be seen all over the grounds. Through the years, hundreds, if not thousands of laymen across the district and beyond have given their time, financial gifts and most importantly, their commitment to pray for this place set apart for God’s use.
In recent years, the camp facilities have found increased usage by many other groups outside of the New Mexico District Church of the Nazarene. Today, groups from all over the southwest, including Mexico, utilize the facilities. The greatest factor is that each gathering sees souls finding God in their dorms, at an altar or, under a tree. This is truly God's mountain. As surely as the dream of a lady in the 1930's became a reality, as surely as people have given their lives on these grounds serving the one who called them, we are called to leave a legacy to those who come behind us. Even today, as in the past, we are making history. In all that we do, may we be faithful to carry on the commission of providing a place where people can feel the love, feel the joy, feel the peace and feel the spirit of Bonita Park.
Click on the timeline above to see a more complete review of Bonita Park history and events.