My name is Joel Marshall, and I’d like to tell you how God led me to become the director of Wildwood Christian Retreat.
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatosoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Jeremiah 1:5-7
I was called to the camp ministry before birth. If you have known my family background or read the history of Wildwood, you have heard how my father was burdened with youth ministry and given the vision to start a camp ministry in the mid 1970s, several years before my birth. By the time I was five years old, my father had become a youth pastor and held summer camps for the young people of his church. I would be six years old when Dad held the first camp at Wildwood with Army tents, outhouses, and strange open air showers lined with black plastic. I wasn’t given a choice—all of the Allen Marshall family had to attend!
Jeremiah the prophet, Allen Marshall, and Joel Marshall, were each called by God to fulfill a purpose for His glory. They will each be measured by their dependence on God who enabled them to do things supernaturally, beyond their power and strength. Many assumed by my family heritage and continued involvement in the camp that I would naturally be the next leader at Wildwood. Internally I felt much like Jeremiah: “Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.” But we see how God graciously commissioned and empowered Jeremiah beyond himself.
God prepared me to continue in the ministry of Wildwood in several ways. First, as I mentioned, I grew up serving and helping with the camp ministry from an early age. I had real on-the-job training, learning the ins and outs of most facets of the ministry for most of its existence. I was also able to learn, not only from my father, but by various men that God brought along to help in the ministry. As I prayed about being the director, I would often ask myself, “Why would God choose someone else to do what He has already trained you to do?”
Second, God gave me a wife and family that are also called to the camp ministry. It would be impossible to serve as director if my wife and children were not happily involved and wanted to serve alongside me in the ministry. Heather and I met at camp, and her parents had a great burden for camp ministry even prior to her father coming to serve our church as our pastor. I told her over 20 years ago when we started courting that there were two areas I felt God could be calling me into, and one of them was leading the camp. She married me anyway.
Third, God allowed me the privilege to learn many different areas of construction and maintenance that are essential for our camp to continue and expand. From starting out as a laborer with my pastor remodeling kitchens and baths, receiving a formal trade school education, to currently estimating and project managing large projects for a general contractor, God provided experience that is very applicable for the maintenance and expansion of Wildwood.
Fourth, and most importantly, God had to break me. Unfortunately, for many years I lived a hollow, prayerless, and powerless life where I had a “form of godliness” while denying the power thereof. I was saved the year my family moved to Tunnelton, WV, when I was 5 years old, and I grew up in a good Christian home, but many years of my adult life were wasted. Through various circumstances (including preaching at camp!) God broke me, changed me, and gave me victory in areas I had never experienced before. Through this process, God gave me a deepening knowledge of Him and His Word, providing the internal guidance, strength, and support necessary to make decisions in faith when there was no visible pathway ahead. God continued His work in me during the passing of my father, and challenged me to go places I could not have gone and would not have gone, except through God.
Many people thought, “Of course you would become the next director,” or that it would be an easy role for me to step into, but nothing could be further from the truth. Without sensing God’s call personally, I would never last in the ministry, or worse, the ministry would be greatly damaged by faulty leadership. I also knew I could never do it without God’s empowering and did not take this step in my journey lightly.
As I prayed for God’s clear direction, God gave me passages from Chronicles as David prepared for the construction of the temple and transferred his vision to his son Solomon. Dad had prepared a great foundation to build on, so much so it was overwhelming to me. Perhaps Solomon felt the same way, since as I read I Chronicles 28:20, “And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed; for the LORD God, even my God will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD.” I sensed once again God directing me to answer the call and to take courage in Him. After praying, consulting with my family, pastor, and other board members, I publicly announced God’s call in November 2022 to be Wildwood’s camp director.
By faith, as I carry on the core vision God gave Allen Marshall, Wildwood will continue being a place that impacts the lives of young people for eternity!
Joel and Heather Marshall were married in 2003 and have been blessed with six children. Joel currently volunteers as director of Wildwood and also as a deacon, music leader, and youth director at the Independent Baptist Church of Kingwood, WV. He works full time as an estimator and purchaser for a general contractor in Maryland, while Heather works full time homeschooling their six children, volunteering in many areas of the church, and assisting in many areas of Wildwood. While the two of them don’t get out often, their favorite dates are tours of old historic houses. They have four boys and two girls, ages 7-16.