The folks at Jaguar Creek recently asked for my reflections on the early days, so I drafted this for their blog. Seems worthwhile to share it here as well.
It was nearly 25-years ago when the phone call came. I answered with a simple, “Hello?” and the crackly voice on the other side said without any preamble, “I found it.” The voice was my friend Kirk calling from Belize. He and his wife had been searching for a unique property in the Belize rainforest so we could build an environmentally friendly research and education center. The goal was to have college students stay for a semester, fully approved by colleges affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
“Get down here right away,” Kirk continued, “so you can see this place. And bring your checkbook.”
I laughed at his excitement, and wisely left my checkbook at home, but I heeded the advice to hurry. Two days and three connecting flights later, I landed in Belize City. Ninety minutes from the airport we got out of the car and used machetes to retrace Kirk’s steps into the jungle, eventually standing on the edge of the stream we now call Jaguar Creek.
There was a magical feel to the location. Almost mystical. As if God was up to something incredible. All of us felt it that day, and we knew we’d come across something really special.
I immediately regretted not bringing my checkbook! But by the end of the trip I had a handshake deal to buy ten acres, nearly surrounding the creek that flowed out of a limestone cave for a quarter mile before disappearing into a sinkhole a quarter mile away.
So we had the property, but now what? Kirk, a contractor by trade with a BA in zoology, immediately volunteered to move to Belize and start construction. Another friend, Roger, offered to provide architectural drawings (Roger soon went into ministry and is now the CEO of PathLight International). Yet another friend, Jim, said he’d use his water management degrees to create our solar, water, and other infrastructure systems. More people volunteered, and before long we had a full team of talented people.
Naturally it didn’t take long for our first mistake. Operating by himself, with just a volunteer college student as an intern, Kirk laid out where the buildings would go and began construction on the maintenance building (we christened it the DWP, for Department of Water & Power). The pad poured and the first framing was up when the former owner of the property dropped by to take a look.
“Kirk,” he gently said, “you’ve made a bit of a mistake here. You’re building this on my property. The property line is fifty feet that way.”
Thankfully the owner was an understanding man. Rather than tear the whole building down and start over, he sold us a bit more land. Actually, a lot more land – for a total of 200 acres.
Kirk persevered, and Mike after him, and more after Mike. Eventually we had 14 buildings completed, able to house upwards of 50 people. Those buildings have (mostly) survived hurricanes, floods, and one entirely too close forest fire. And our acreage has expanded over the years – now we have 700 acres.
We’ve lost count of how many people have stayed at Jaguar Creek since then – easily into the tens of thousands, perhaps more. The number of ministries that were birthed at Jaguar Creek has grown as well: The Eden Conservancy, the Creation Care Study Program, Target Earth, PathLight, and many more. The impact on the surrounding villages, the nation of Belize, and all those who came to visit is beyond measure.
Every now and then I shake my head at it all. I had no idea what was about to happen when the phone rang and the crackly voice from 2400 miles away excitedly saying, “I found it!”
A few Jaguar Creek photos below.