So you might be wondering…Why would Straightway Holdings, Inc., a subsidiary of the Missouri Baptist Foundation, purchase a distressed campground called Windermere Baptist Conference Center? It is a reasonable question, and one in which our staff and trustees wrestled for some time. I would like to take this opportunity to attempt an explanation.
In case you have not already heard, the real estate and real property of Windermere Baptist Conference Center were purchased at a public foreclosure in December by Straightway Holdings, Inc., a company owned by the Missouri Baptist Foundation. It should also be noted, that no investor funds from any ministry, church or organization were used in the purchase.
Three main reasons drove our decision to make such an investment:
1. Power of Impact Investing
I have come to realize that many Christians invest identically to non-Christians. Many times individuals hold stock in companies that are actually advancing an agenda opposed to their personal core beliefs. Since becoming your President of the Missouri Baptist Foundation, I have become aware of a whole new genre of investing called Biblically Responsible Investing. The goal is to invest in those companies who are knowingly, or even unknowingly, following Biblical principles as they operate their business.
One Investment company called “Eventide Funds” says it this way, “We are seeking to invest in companies that are seeking to create value. We ask questions like: Is this company meeting an important human need? Are customers delighted? Do employees love their jobs? Are suppliers valued as strategic partners? Are communities better off for the company’s presence? Is the environment being cared for and protected?”
Impact Investing takes it one step further by seeking opportunities where an investment makes a direct impact upon a value creation organization in which is closely tied to the mission of the one making the investment.
Our purpose at MBF is to “develop, manage and distribute funds” to Advance the Gospel. What if we could do so while actually “Advancing the Gospel,” rather than just solely investing in stocks and bonds, like everyone else? Could we find investments that are actually accomplishing the mission in which we seek to raise funds for distribution?
I cannot think of a better investment than a Christian facility that seeks to provide a place where God can speak to children, teenagers, college students, couples, families, businesses and retirees. It must also be financially feasible to do so, of course. If the investment is able to generate an income, than it appears to be a win for all of us.
Which leads me to point number two.
2. Potential New Day
Having served in Branson for more than a decade, I would sometimes say, “Branson, the place where dreams come to die.” Now, why would I say that? While I love Branson and still miss it to this day, I watched lots of people come to Branson with a dream to open up a music show or tourist related business, only to fail. Sometimes because of a lack of talent, but mostly a lack of understanding that those endeavors are actually businesses first.
Part of what motivated MBF was not only the progress the leadership team at Windermere had made in their short time operating the camp, but their experience and skill set which seemed the ideal fit for what is needed moving forward.
Tim Huddleston, CEO for Windermere comes with proven experience and a Christ-centered value system. Huddleston formerly served as Dean of Development with College of the Ozarks and leading the fundraising efforts of one of the largest private college endowments in the region. Second, he served for several years as CEO of Kid’s Across America a camp ministry of urban youth of America over seeing four separate camps, hundreds of staff and thousands of campers every year. Third, Tim was a longtime member of First Baptist Church, Branson, and understands what it means to be a Baptist. His brief service at MBF exposed him to many Missouri Baptists pastors and he truly has a heart for serving them. Fourth, Tim and his team will seek to do what is right. While not responsible for the circumstances he has inherited, he has taken responsibility and led courageously. Even appearing at the 2019 Annual Meeting to offer an apology for the hurt caused and seeking to lock arms with Missouri Baptists once again.
A strong current leadership team, combined with Missouri Baptists’ willingness to embrace Windermere once again, creates a great opportunity to secure Windermere as a place for ministry in the future. The Executive Board of the MBC has already begun working to rekindle relationships between Missouri Baptist churches and Windermere, more formally.
Which leads us to a third reason,
3. Perceived Interests of Missouri Baptists
At the end of the day, MBF believes Missouri Baptists cherish Windermere. We believe that Missouri Baptists would not have wanted the property to be sold and redeveloped for commercial purposes. There were other bidders at the property auction who expressed just such an interest, and at the beginning of the sale, there was no clear indication that our bid was going to be the highest. As I stood there, I could not bear the thought of losing this beautiful place to worship our Lord and serve Him.
Now, I suppose time will tell as to the true value of the Windermere investment. It will depend upon me and you together as Missouri Baptists’. We will have an opportunity before us to utilize this beautiful resource and its’ skilled and experienced leadership. However, for now, and to prevent its loss to the Kingdom, we have purchased it with the intent of having a Baptist-affiliated conference and campground operating on Lake of the Ozarks.
Let me state clearly, although very committed to this opportunity, Straightway Holdings/Missouri Baptist Foundation may not always own the campground. It must be a money generating, revenue-neutral enterprise and must prove itself to be a wise long-term investment. We are also not under any illusion that we are equipped to manage a camp day-to-day. (Which is the reason we are leasing the operation of the camp to another non-profit, of which I sit on the board as part of the condition of the mortgage holder.)
In an effort to utilize Windermere for the benefit of our Missouri Baptist pastors, MBF is hosting several one-day events called “Winter Whiteboards at Windermere” this January and February. Priced for everyone at only $99 for four meals and an over-night stay. Reservations can be made online at www.mbfn.org/events. There are separate events for Pastors, Associate Pastors, and one for all church staff. We are also making plans for a Welcome to Windermere open house in the Spring. We want you to see it for yourself! We would love to host you for your next event and give you a chance to check out the campground with your own group. Windermere is the Lord’s and we want to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with in this new opportunity. Come join us in seeing what the Lord is doing at Windermere!