Paisano Baptist Encampment: A Wonderful Time Warp

Alpine: This week I took an amazing trip back in time just a little less than 240 miles from El Paso. My wife and I attended for the first time the “Paisano Baptist Encampment” which is nestled in the far West Texas hills between Marfa and Alpine. Back in 1915 a group of ranchers began to meet on this spot for a time of spiritual refreshment and renewal, along with a great time of family fun. In 1921 a small village of rustic buildings and sheds dotted the plain and this hallow spot became home to an annual family gathering around the preaching of God’s Word under a huge tabernacle canopy.

When my wife and I pulled into the camp grounds we drove down dusty trails leading through small settlements of white cabins. We wandered around until the trail lead us to the huge tabernacle which seats over 1800 people that towers over the grounds. All around us we saw small gatherings of families  sitting under the shade of a tree and children on bikes racing to wonderful destinations.

Unlike the modern feel of most Baptist campgrounds, Paisano takes you back in time when the people of God gathered in country settings to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern living to slow down and to live at the pace of the plains under the starry nights. At any moment you expect to see a couple of Cowboys ride up, and to smell the wood burning in an old chuck wagon stove.

At 8:00 in the evening as the sun set in the East, the families gather in the tabernacle to worship to the rhythms of the old hymns of the faith. The organ bellows and the piano rings out the familiar sounds of the songs sung through the ages. As you look around you see grandparents pointing to the words as their grandchildren sing along with them “new” songs to them that have been sung for generations. The volunteer choir sang out “Victory in Jesus” at the top of the lungs with huge smiles on their faces. It was clear they knew the victory they sang about.

When it came time for preaching every one settled in to hear a word from on high. Through the decades some of the greatest preachers in Texas Baptist life have preached from the old wooden pulpit in the center of the room–names like Truett, Criswell, Web, Yates, and Tidwell. In recent years the preachers have been Randel Everett, Duane Brooks and Hulitt Gloer.

After the evening service we were invited to join a family gathering back in one of the settlements close to the dining area. As we walked up we saw a happy smiling gathering of a multi-generational family. The synergy in the circle was breath taking. With the stars shining brightly above someone pulled out a guitar and began to lead the gathering in the old cowboy songs of the plains. As the friends and family sang “Home, Home on the Range” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas” I thought to myself that I had been beamed back to another time–a kinder gentler time lost from the distractions of cellphones, computers and television–a time when the evening was reserved for quiet conversation and the children running in and out of the house–a time when cousins knew each other and treated each other as siblings rather than distant relatives. I wished for an instant I could capture the essence of the moment and take it back to my world.

At Paisano, God has created a place in time where family really means something. I noticed from the license plates and travel logs that this gathering was not an accident. Family members traveled from one end of this great nation to another to get here for a vacation for the soul. My mind was drawn to the words of Jesus when He spoke of “finding rest for your souls…”

Needless to say, I am going back and I hope to take my girls with me next time. I know I will be a latecomer to the party, but I plan on becoming a fixture. I need a dose of “reality” in my life because I find myself too often distracted by those things that are not real.

Next July, you may want to take a trip back in time and find rest for your soul as well! It’s a long drive but it’s worth the trip.


Filed under El Paso Journal, FBC El Paso

2 responses to “Paisano Baptist Encampment: A Wonderful Time Warp

  1. Celia Grant

    Can’t wait until next summer when we’ll get to hear you preach from that hallowed pulpit!

  2. Lee

    I absolutely love the history of many of the Texas Baptist encampments. I’ve never been to Paisano, but I did spend a lot of time at Palacios before Hurricane Claudette changed its character forever. There was just something special about sitting under that old tabernacle, with open sides in sweltering humidity, in a worship service, smelling the sea breeze and hearing the slap of water in the bay against the seawall. I remember one evening, just before the message was preached, a heavy thunderstorm moved in, the rain on the tin roof was almost as deafening as the lightning and thunder, and we just sat and waited for about forty minutes until it was over. The preacher said, “I guess God wanted to get involved in the service directly tonight,” and closed with an invitation.

    I also love the setting at Pineywoods, in deep East Texas. It is far enough off the beaten path that you can’t get a cell phone signal there. It may be one of the last encampments left that still has a pay telephone.

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