After World War II, Fort Caswell on Oak Island could have been used for any number of things: a historical reservation, an educational center for a farm life school or a state park. But it was North Carolina Baptists, under the leadership of Dr. M.A. Huggins, then general secretary-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), who purchased the property and buildings in 1949 for $86,733.
In 1983 the BSC received a $4,125,000 million offer for the property — and North Carolina Baptists let their voice be heard. In a letter to the editor published in the April 16, 1983, issue of the Biblical Recorder, one reader writes, “this is hallowed ground, and no price would be enough to pay for it.” Another reader writes that the ministry at Caswell can “shape one’s faith for a life-time.” The year 1983 proved a turning point for Caswell, as North Carolina Baptist Men adopted Caswell as one of their first renovation and construction projects. Messengers to the BSC annual meeting approved a recommendation from the General Board to establish a $3 million capital fund campaign for Caswell. Throughout the 1980s volunteers poured into Caswell to refurbish and build new facilities.
Looking back, 60 years after the BSC purchased Caswell, the return on this investment is obvious. Consider that in one summer more than 7,000 youth attend youth weeks at Caswell. Consider that during youth weeks in 2008, 355 students made first time professions of faith, 2,634 rededicated their life to Jesus Christ and 61 answered the call to full-time Christian ministry. Consider that Caswell is used year-round for senior adult and marriage retreats and the gospel is boldly proclaimed.
You and I know story after story of lives changed at Caswell. Sixty years ago, Dr. Huggins did not. He had no assurance that the decision to buy Fort Caswell would be an investment for eternity. He did not know if the ministry that would take place at Caswell would be enough to silence his critics. I doubt he had any idea that in 2009 former Caswell staff would gather for a reunion and share precious memories of their days by the sea.
In 1948, during a General Board meeting at Caswell, the Board noted a resolution of appreciation to Dr. Huggins for his “tireless and efficient efforts in the foundation-progress of the Assembly.” I consider Dr. Huggins a man of courage and vision; someone who took a risk and was not deterred by change. Even though his decision to buy Caswell met opposition, he did what he thought best for the churches entrusted to his leadership.
May we all be challenged to follow the example of Dr. Huggins and those North Carolina Baptists who fought for the place they held dear. May we be reminded to persist and persevere, knowing that the fruit of our labor could very well be forthcoming 60 years from now. Perhaps by God’s grace, evidence of our lives and ministries will still remain 60 years from now.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. — 2 Tim. 4:7