The Castle Valley Farms Story


God’s Oasis in the Desert—Castle Valley


 “We have been praying”—these words appeared in the June 1970 family letter of the Stonecave Institute located near Dayton, Tennessee. Because someone somewhere was praying, many Adventist self-supporting institutions have been opened. This was true of Castle Valley Institute near Moab, Utah.

     The Stonecave workers had been reading in chapter 6 of 2 Kings. The first three verses especially caught their attention. Here is recorded Elisha’s interesting experience with an axhead that floated. These verses also had a message for them, the Stonecave members believed.

     “And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us. Let us go, we pray and make us a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye. And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go.”

     In Elisha’s day there was need of expansion. “The place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.” The sons of the prophets wanted to move out and build. They had a practical plan. “Let us go…unto Jordan, and take every man a beam, and let us make us a place there.” They knew where they wanted to go, and they had a plan for the building work.

The Stonecave family had been studying counsel in the spirit of prophecy regarding the establishment of more small medical-educational institutions.

 “Some may ask, ‘how are such schools to be established?’ We are not a rich people, but if we pray in faith, and let the Lord work in our behalf, He will open ways before us to establish small schools in retired places for the education of our youth, not only in the Scriptures and in book learning, but in many lines of manual labor.”—Counsels to Teachers, page 204.

 “We have been praying,” the leaders in Stonecave wrote, “that God will open the way for another school to be established. We have come to the place here where we cannot take in more students and give the proper training. We are getting too large.”

 “God had answered our prayers,” they announced joyously in their newsletter. “We have sought to follow the counsel of the spirit of prophecy in locating a proper site for a new school. We have been searching for land with a good water supply, with adequate agricultural possibilities—a place somewhat secluded yet close enough to a ‘mission field’ that we can be used of God in soul-winning and Isaiah 58 work.”

 The answer to this prayer? A long, long way from the lush green Sequatchie Valley in south central Tennessee. But then another group of God’s people a long, long way from Stonecave had been praying too. The Lord was going to answer the prayers of both groups at one time.

Leaders in Nevada-Utah Conference were impressed that they should have an academy in their field, but they were not financially able to undertake such a venture. In Utah, church members were praying that their academy age youth might have a Christian education without traveling hundreds of miles away from home.

 Dr. Charles Smith of Provo, Utah, was a member of the conference committee. He suggested opening a self-supporting school if the conference was unable to finance such a project. The idea was worth investigating, the brethren decided. Things began to move. They contacted Elder Frazee of Wildwood. Dr. Charles Smith flew to Tennessee to look over Stonecave. John Jensen, manager of the Stonecave Institute made a trip to Utah to help locate a suitable property. The father of a Stonecave student from Colorado’s western slope joined the search. This man located the present site for the new school.

“God didn’t want me to be the one to look over the Moab farm,” Brother Jensen said some years later, “for he knew I would never have accepted it.” Then he added quickly, “Man’s ideals are not always God’s ideals. What a glorious setting for a little school He has given us.”

 What a setting for a school! As wild as anything the West has to offer, this pink, wind-swept desert is filled with enchanting monuments and mesas of fascinating shapes and varying sizes. Awesome Parriott Mesa stands like a protecting sentinel with Castle Valley nestled contentedly at its base.

     Dr. Smith and his sons, pleased with the prospect of at last having a Seventh-Day Adventist academy in their state, joined in funding the purchase of the property. “The land is yours,” the Smith family sent word back to Stonecave workers. “Come on out and let’s get the school started.”

 The next problem was an important one. A suitable faculty must be selected and moved to the new school site. There were no workers in prospect and no funds available to pay them or transfer them if there were.

     Back at Stonecave the institute leaders were studying the Utah answer to their prayers very carefully. The Lord had blessed them. They had a capable group of teachers and staff members. They decided to share their blessings. “Our Stonecave hive is full,” they concluded. “It is time to swarm.”

And swarm they did! Stonecave sent of its best as “missionaries” to distant Utah. The staff selected John Jensen, manager of Stonecave, and his wife to head up the new project in the West. They had had many years’ experience in self-supporting work. They had congenial rapport with young people. There would be no gamble with success if this seasoned couple were at the helm of the pioneering project out West.

The Jensens would go. That solved the first important staffing problem.

Next they must find a strong experienced principal for the new school. Stonecave, always willing to help a venture which they felt the Lord was directing, agree that David Kulisek, Stonecave Principal, was the one best suited for the Moab school. Paul and Louise Eirich and Courtney Block, all teachers, were chosen to go west. David Seibert and Bonnie Woodruff, former deans from Pine Forest Academy, completed the little corps of workers selected to launch Castle Valley Institute, as it later was named.

The plan was for four families to go west as quickly as possible to get things going. Buildings must be erected or remodeled—there was only an adobe farmhouse on the property at the time. Crops would need to be planted. Students for the school must be recruited—although this would not be a difficult problem, for Stonecave and other similar schools usually had a waiting list of young people eager to enroll.

But how were these four pioneer families and their earthly goods to be transported hundreds of miles from Stonecave to Castle Valley?

“We had no money,” John Jensen wrote to me later. “It was entirely a venture of faith from the beginning, but,” he added happily, “what a joy it was to see the Lord supply our needs.” And supply he did!

Dr. and Mrs. M. K. Butler had just returned from service in the self-supporting hospital down in Chiapas, Mexico. The Butler children were attending the Stonecave school. Dr. Butler was working in a nearby hospital until school was out. One evening Brother Jensen sat in his little office studying some problems in connection with the forthcoming move to Moab. He took up a pencil to scribble some figures on a pad of paper.

 “It will cost about $300 to move our four families to Moab.” He mused quietly, “That’s rock-bottom; we won’t be able to take along a lot of extras either.”Content with his estimate, John began to explore possible sources of funds to make the move.

“I didn’t know where the $300 was coming from,” Brother Jensen told me later, “but I knew that if God wanted us to move to Utah, $300 wasn’t very much for Him to provide in order to get us there.”

  John prayed. Two days later Dr. Butler came to visit the Jensen home.  

“I hear you are moving to Utah,” the doctor began. “Yes, that’s the plan,” Brother Jensen replied.

 “How are you going to move the families to Moab?” the doctor asked.

“Well,” John commenced, a little smile playing on his face, “you see, just now this is a bit of a problem. But we have been praying about it, and we feel sure the Lord will provide the necessary funds. He has never let us down yet.”

 “You know, Brother Jensen, I have a little money,” the kindly doctor said, “and I would like to help.”

 John Jensen’s eyes lighted up as Dr. Butler commenced counting out bank notes and checks on the table—one hundred, one hundred and fifty, two hundred, two hundred and fifty—Brother Jensen’s heart beat faster.

 “Here’s $300 to help on the move,” the doctor said as he counted the last bill and laid it on the table. Dr. Butler had had no intimation of Brother Jensen’s estimate, but Brother Jensen’s God knew all about it. He provided exactly what they needed to get the workers from Tennessee to Utah.

Early July 1970 found the little caravan of Stonecave workers negotiating the last leg of the journey to Castle Valley. They had much to do to get things ready for school to open in early September.

 “As we wound our way along the Colorado River toward Castle Valley, we wondered, Where is God taking us?” Brother Jensen wrote later. But with the opening of school only a few weeks off, they didn’t have much time to wonder. Four families needed housing. The old adobe farmhouse and barn were the only shelters on the property when they arrived.

 “At first,” he continued, “we squeezed into the old farmhouse and housed the overflow in tents. The Doctors Charles and Paul Smith saved the day with some used trailer homes. In solving those early housing and other problems that pressed in upon us at Castle Valley, we were sent frequently to the Word and to the inspired writings to claim those promises God has for His children. How good the Lord was to us in those pioneering days. How he blessed us!

Brother Jensen tells of the encouragement and help the Castle Valley project received from the Nevada-Utah Conference during those early days. Elder D. E. Dirkson, then president of the conference, and Elder Howard Barron, educational director, visited Castle Valley and gave valuable counsel to the brethren.

 “What you do, do well,” Elder Dirkson wisely counseled.

“We planned to accept twelve students that first year,” one of the leaders remembers, “but couldn’t stop with less than twenty. There was no problem in recruiting students. They just came—and came without a recruiting program. It was a wonderful year.”

 There were always problems. Problems of housing, problems of growing food for staff and students. Problems of securing equipment for classrooms, offices, and the agricultural program. But the Lord always provided.

The Stonecave staff and students, ever interested in the welfare and progress of their school in Utah, prayed and wrote to friends for help.

We must appeal to you to help us in many ways,” their family letter of June, 1970, read. “We need school desks for classrooms and student rooms, chests of drawers and chairs. We need kitchen equipment and appliances such as stoves and refrigerators. Our shop needs welding equipment, saws, drills, and other tools. You may think of items we have not mentioned. We will need those things too. And if you don’t have things to send, we could use cash to purchase building supplies. We need to erect several buildings.

 “Your pennies will be stretched to the limit,” the Stonecave newsletter assured prospective donors, “for the new buildings will be put up by teachers and students—not by outside labor. We are keeping things simple and functional yet attractive.”

Stonecave workers and young people took their new project out in the “wild west” very seriously. They determined to help all they could because they felt a responsibility to assure the new venture of success. It is this spirit of sharing among workers and institutions that has contributed much to the upbuilding of self-supporting units across the land. They share and share alike, and God blesses.

God comes first in Castle Valley. A representative chapel in which to worship and classrooms in which to meet were given top priority after all the staff had roofs over their heads. Without delay workmen moved ahead with the construction of a representative central building that would provide these facilities.

During construction, classes met in the open air, out by the old bard or under spreading cottonwood trees. The students built their own tables and stools. There was little or no complaining that all of the amenities of a fully functioning institution were not provided by the governing board.

Every day brought new evidence of God’s love and favor. A steady stream of funds kept flowing into the school treasury. Letters came with one-dollar bills in them. Other letters contained checks for one hundred dollars, and for amounts all the way between. These donations kept the project viable until student income commenced. After some weeks the farm began to produce food for the little band of workers and their students. They moved forward prayerfully and happily in their new undertaking.

One day while John Jensen, David Kulisek, and his son were digging the footings for a new building a stranger dropped by to see what was going on. When the visitor learned about the school, he donned work clothes, sent his wife to town to purchase some new shovels, and they stayed two days, helping with the building work. As he left, the new friend took out his wallet, counted out five, twenty-dollar bills and handed them to the brethren.

 “Just a little to help a good cause,” he said as he drove off.

 So it was that the Lord provided for the needs of those Castle Valley pioneers as they hewed an institution out of the red Utah desert.

 “In all our experience,” Brother Jensen declares, “the barrel was never empty. Many times it was close to the bottom, but it was never empty.

During this time so many student applications were coming in that the leaders could not admit them all. “We were enrolling students from as far away as Mexico and Canada,” one worker remembers.

Two years after the Castle Valley institution opened, Mrs. Pierson and I paid our first visit to the campus. At the school we found teachers and students working together on the land, erecting buildings—and loving it.

 “Don’t you miss the sports?” I asked one clear-eyed, red-cheeked seventeen-year-old.

 “Don’t have time to,” he shot back. “Besides, I like it this way—God’s way!”

Three hundred and twenty acres of challenge, with an old adobe farmhouse thrown in for good measure—this was Castle Valley when John Jensen, David Kulisek, and their colleagues had taken over two years before.

 The gardens were producing shelves and cellars full of fresh fruit and vegetables. A well-constructed administration building with classrooms and new trailer homes had brought civilization to this outpost of grandeur. The whole complex was literally built around the chapel in the administration building. It was evident that worship is the reason for the existence of Castle Valley Institute.

 The young people, who come from many parts of North America, lived in homes, apartments, and trailers, family-style, with the faculty members. We saw them preparing meals, cleaning, and caring for their homes. If the enthusiasm with which they did their work or the cheerfulness evidenced in their fellowship was any index to their feelings, they loved it!

 At the time of our visit we found a fine group of young men and women deeply involved in evangelism. Student speakers, with their faculty sponsors, were leading out in nightly evangelistic meetings in the Moab Seventh-Day Adventist Church. They had prepared the way with a thorough house-to-house visitation that deeply impressed many citizens in tiny Moab. The young people were very enthusiastic about their missionary project. They were anxious to be involved in denominational plans to “finish the work”.

 After all, isn’t that what self-supporting work, or denominational work of any kind, is all about?

Written by Robert H. Pierson

Excerpted from “Miracles Happen Every Day: A Story of Self-Supporting Workers”