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Donald (Don) Forrest Bullin

1952-1953 / NZBTI Diploma (Queen Street campus)

Don entered the NZ Bible Training Institute as a 20-year-old to train for missionary service. However, his mission field was not to be overseas, but to young people in New Zealand. With experience as a Sunday School teacher and Life Boy team leader, Don was invited to serve as a child evangelist on the NZBTI Caravan at the completion of his training.

Since 1935, a succession of NZBTI graduates had served as “Caravangelists”, though the work lapsed during World War 2. When Don took on the role in 1954, the caravan was a large yellow van emblazoned with the NZ Bible Training Institute’s name and the verse, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Acts 16:31”. Don, with Bernhard Holmes and later Ian Galloway, drove to towns around the Waikato and Thames Valley, spending up to a month in each place running “Happy Hour” children’s programmes after school, holiday programmes, and visiting homes.

Don started ‘The Explorers’ Club’ monthly magazine to encourage children who came to a new-found faith in Christ. Convinced that a week-long camp environment would be an even better way to impact children’s lives, Don began running Explorers’ Club camps in the school holidays. His first camps in an unused church near Matamata attracted 82 boys and 83 girls. A year later, the camps started running on the Ngāruawāhia Easter Convention site.

In 1956, a Christian farmer gifted his 92-acre farm for a permanent Christian youth camp site in Ngāruawāhia. Sharing this news in The Reaper, Don implored readers to pray and give, noting that “youth workers with camping experience agree that more can be done in one week of camp life, where boys or girls are living with Christian leaders in a Christian atmosphere, than can be done in one year’s Sunday School or Bible Class work – one hour a week. He went on to point out: “Apart from the YMCA camps and a few small denominational children’s camps, there are no Christian camps in NZ where boys and girls can go.” [1]

A society was formed, with Don appointed the first director of Christian Youth Camps Inc (CYC). Resigning from Caravan duties, Don set about overseeing the levelling of the site, forming an access road, and transforming an old cowshed into a workshop. Over 150 children attended the first two camps in January 1957, staying in the facilities on the Easter Convention property and using the new site for games.

In June 1957, Don married Faith Wilson (a NZBTI graduate of 1956) and the couple moved into a caravan set alongside the workshop. Bunks were installed in an old farm shed and long drop toilets built, and so youth camps began on this new site.

Later, Don bought an old derelict house in Te Kowhai that had been used as a barn. It was dismantled and rebuilt on the CYC site for the Bullin family. Buildings were gradually erected – a kitchen and dining block, toilet block and cabins. In 1962, Ngāruawāhia Easter Convention amalgamated with CYC and their bunkhouses, able to accommodate 200 people, were transported by barge and truck to the CYC property.

As this work was underway, Don was driving home from a camps executive meeting when his vehicle was hit head-on by a bus which suddenly pulled into his lane. Don died some 14 hours later on 25 September 1962, at age 30, leaving Faith and three young children - the youngest being just 8 days old.

In paying tribute to Don in The Reaper, it was noted: “Starting with nothing, the Camp now has valuable buildings and facilities, a tribute to Don’s hard work, and the Lord’s seal upon his vision. Few men could have done so much in such a short time”. [2]

In 1979, the Don Bullin Memorial Lodge was opened at CYC by the Governor-General, marking the fulfilment of Don’s vision. On that occasion, Faith Bullin ceremoniously handed a cheque to a representative of the Waikato Savings Bank, the final payment of the mortgage on the property.

Fred and Fran Creighton (NZBTI graduates) were appointed to oversee the work after Don’s death. In 1966, another NZBTI graduate and Caravangelist, Ben Harrison, joined the CYC staff – retiring as Director of CYC in 2006, 40 years later.[3]

[1] The Reaper, Vol. 14 (October 1956), p. 318

[2] The Reaper, Vol. 41 (1 November 1962), p. 360

[3] Ben Harrison wrote his story in his self-published book, “Forty Years”, 2014.

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