For nearly a decade, Camp Cullasaja, the old 15-acre campgrounds owned by the North Carolina District Council (AG), had sat empty — unusable. The buildings on the grounds had everything from leaking and sagging roofs to significant interior damage, not to mention septic, gas, electrical, and serious water line problems.
Although Camp Cullasaja, located in Franklin, was literally falling apart, it was a dream destination to Mike and Betty Barres. God had given them a vision to not only transform the dilapidated campground, but to transform lives being destroyed by addiction into lives dedicated to God through re-establishing the Men’s Teen Challenge of the Smokies.
The Barres’ have been married and in ministry for 37 years, having pastored Assembly of God congregations in North Carolina and Kentucky for most of those years. However, in looking back at their ministry and those they connected with, it was as if God had simply been preparing them for becoming Teen Challenge directors from the start.
“Through the years, I helped some individuals get into Teen Challenge centers,” Mike says. “I had a heart for those struggling to break out of addiction — I knew that the problem wasn’t just a drug problem, it was also a spiritual problem.”
The Barres would spend decades in the Smoky Mountain area ministering, pastoring, connecting with people, giving of themselves, and offering counsel and wisdom to individuals and their family members, including those who battled addiction, which Mike says was not uncommon in the area.
The Barreses seemed like obvious candidates to be involved in Teen Challenge International, U.S.A., a ministry of AG U.S. Missions, but it was an unplanned stop at a thrift store that launched the possibility. In December 2014, while vacationing in North Carolina, they saw an unusual sign: Teen Challenge of the Smokies Thrift Store.
Mike decided to stop in — he didn’t know Teen Challenge had a center in the area. Striking up a conversation with Norma, the store manager, he learned that Teen Challenge had the thrift store, but it no longer had a center. Mike expressed his strong support of Teen Challenge to Norma and how he believed the organization offered the only way to help people truly gain victory over their addictions.
As Mike shared a bit of his history, Norma grew more interested and finally asked if he would like to meet with a Teen Challenge board member, Richard Tirrell, who “happened” to be in the back of the store. Tirrell, likewise, had a favorable impression and recommended Mike contact Paul Hensley, the president of the board of directors — a man Mike knew well, but didn’t realize his connection with Teen Challenge.
“By the time I was asked to meet Richard, I knew this was no ordinary, by chance, stop,” Mike says. “God was doing something.”
Mike would call Paul Hensley and express his curiosity about the executive director position of the Teen Challenge of the Smokies. Hensley’s thought on the matter? Mike would be the perfect fit! After much prayer and meeting with the board, the Barreses agreed to take on the position.
“I took this position at age 59, and I noticed that it was the same age Tommy Barnett decided to do the Dream Center and the same age David Wilkerson was when he went back to New York City to restart his ministry there in the Times Square Church, so I figured I was in good company,” Mike says, with a laugh. “My wife and I felt like we were going into the fourth quarter of life and we wanted to do something that would outlive us, that would really make a difference.”
At first, all Mike could do was make referrals to people who needed help with addictions, because they didn’t have a center. However, he knew from the start that Camp Cullasaja would be the perfect location for the new center and the man he wanted as program director was Phil Sanders — a man with 15 years of experience directing a Teen Challenge center . . . and one of the young men Mike had original assisted getting into Teen Challenge to overcome drug addiction years ago.
Not long afterwards, Charles Kelly, then the North Carolina District superintendent, having learned about Mike’s desire to make the old campgrounds a Teen Challenge center, helped work out a long-term lease agreement with an option to purchase for Mike and Teen Challenge of the Smokies. The dream location was now theirs!
“When I called Phil and told him what we were doing and offered him the position of program director, he and his wife took some time to pray about it before accepting,” Mike recalls. “What’s really cool about this, is that Phil was baptized in the river that runs through the campgrounds when he was a young teen!”
Rick Ross, the new North Carolina District superintendent, understands why the camp had such appeal to the Barreses. “It’s a beautiful piece of property, located in the mountains, away from everything,” Ross says. “It’s a great setting that will allow men to truly concentrate on getting their lives together.”
With the camp now “theirs,” Mike was told that in order to make the camp operational and bring it up to code it would probably take at least $200,000 — quite a bit of money, especially when starting out with no money.
“I have a friend, Harold Johnson, who has a history in construction,” Mike says. “He told me early on that if we were able to get the camp, he would come out and help me.”
Mike took Harold up on his offer and made him the construction and volunteer coordinator. He also let churches know that they needed their help to get the center up and running. And help they did!
“We began the renovation of the camp (video) in Sept. 2015,” Mike says. “After emptying all the trash out of the buildings, which was a project in itself, we pulled off all of the siding and installed insulation, put a new roof on the main building that housed our offices and dorms; jacked up the support beams to straighten the auditorium roof; renovated the kitchen, chapel, and café; renovated the offices and dorms; added a laundry; and renovated the program director’s housing — in addition to redoing the septic, electrical, gas, and the water pipes that had burst.”
Over the next nine months, Johnson would coordinate teams from all over North Carolina, including a team from Georgia, to help turn the camp from an eyesore into an attractive and fully operational Teen Challenge facility.
“We had 256 volunteers, from AG churches and other denominations, come and volunteer their labor — with some even providing the materials to do their job,” Mike says.
In June 2016, the Men’s Teen Challenge of the Smokies became operational and they hired additional staff. Already they have men on site beginning the 12-month program. Mike is excited about the transformation of the renovated camp. Instead of a price tag that easily would have exceeded $200,000, the renovations only cost about $30,000 due to all the donated labor and supplies
“I’ve seen first hand the power of what God can do through Teen Challenge,” says Ross, whose father, Delmar, was a Teen Challenge director for 20 years. “And this new center is a win-win-win for us all — a deteriorating facility has been beautifully renovated and is now usable for the Kingdom’s sake, the center is making a major impact in lives of men, and they rallied churches together and got them involved in this making this ministry possible!”
Right now the facilities can house up to 15 men, but Mike already has dreams of adding a woodshop to teach men woodworking, renovating some small cabins to begin offering low-cost housing to men who graduate and need to gradually re-enter society, and perhaps even build a separate building for the offices, so they can expand the center to help 24 men at a time.
Mike also wants to build a fund to be able to help scholarship men who can’t otherwise afford to come. “We’ve had 52 inquiries in the last month,” Mike says. “And I know, even though we keep the cost as low as we can, some of them can’t come because they simply don’t have the money.”
With the center just launching, Mike spends a lot of time fundraising, applying for grants, and expressing his appreciation for groups that help support the center.
“For me,” Mike says, “sharing the vision and the need wherever I can in order to see the lives of men transformed by God is worth every effort — it’s what God has called me to do.”
Source: AG News