Remembering the Beginnings of Ellerslie
By ERIC LUDY
Many years ago, Leslie and I were deeply moved by the story of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom in the book The Hiding Place. In one of the darkest places on earth — a German concentration camp called Ravensbrück — they found the beauty of Heaven through the incredible struggle and difficulty they faced there. The name of their quarters was “Barracks 28,” and it was known in the camp as “the crazy barracks where they still have hope.”
Hearing this story stirred Leslie and I on a personal level. It is not that we can personally relate to the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. But we can relate to finding Heaven’s beauty in the midst of extreme difficulty.
A few years ago on our 20th anniversary, I officially named our marriage “Barracks 28” and declared us to be “the couple crazy enough to still have hope.”
Leslie and I fell in love around a Bible, a piano, and the vision for Ellerslie Discipleship Training. The vision for Ellerslie originated even before the two of us exchanged our vows. It has been a deep part of our lives together — a stirring that never left us throughout all those years leading up to the day we launched it.
We had prayed about it together for 17 years. In other words, we were standing in agreement regarding Ellerslie two years before we were even married. We wanted to build a place where Christians could come away from daily distractions and gain a lifelong foundation in Truth and in intimacy with Christ.
But what caused this vision to finally open up was the breakthrough in December of 2006. When Leslie and I started praying aggressively and tirelessly, Ellerslie was one of the primary items that we went after spiritually. We knew God was saying, “Wrestle for it!” And so wrestle for it we did!
When we first began to pursue the campus we had literally nothing in our pockets, financially speaking. To access an entire college campus was a work of such amazing grace. Still to this day, I stand in awe of what God did.
Leslie and I would take walks on the Poudre River Trail (a lovely paved walking trail near Ellerslie) and there was a certain bend along the path that offered a panoramic view of the empty college campus. There were so many times we would stop there and make our bold and audacious requests known unto our Father in Heaven.
We finally had a breakthrough in the late summer of 2009 when we negotiated access to the dorms. We knew that Ellerslie Discipleship Training couldn’t function with just dorm rooms, but when we had the chance to access them we took it. We were certain the rest would follow.
The week before Ellerslie launched, I received a call from one of our ministry advisers. He said, “Eric, what’s your Plan B? You don’t have the chapel, the classroom, and the admin building. How are you going to function when the first students arrive this next week?”
I told him that we didn’t have a Plan B. We were operating on our Plan A with our only contingency plan being the Second Coming of Christ.
Days prior to the arrival of our very first Ellerslie students, God broke through the amazing amounts of red tape that surrounded the launch of this training program. We signed the papers and the campus, the entire campus, was ours.
In the months leading up to May 31, 2010, it became apparent that what we were doing was no small thing.
In May of 2010, the birth of Ellerslie, was actually a lot like the birth of a child. In a manner of speaking, this newly-birthed ministry had my nose, Leslie’s eyes, my chin, and Leslie’s dimple. This ministry seemed delicate and fragile, but so utterly precious to the two of us. And, amidst those first sacred moments, the enemy blew the fiercest winds with the singular desire to knock the cradle from the treetops in our ministry, so that “down would come baby, cradle and all,” so to speak.
In March of 2010 we experienced a bizarre blackmail situation, where someone that had our list of pending students declared that if we didn’t pay them a certain amount of money, they would send an email to every one of our students declaring us fraudulent.
In April of 2010 (nearly two months prior to our first student arriving on campus) someone we had never met (and who frequently used his blog to bash various ministries) heard of the launch of Ellerslie and promptly declared it to be a “cult.”
We were simply dumbfounded. A cult? You mean, we are like David Koresh and Jim Jones?
I politely responded to this person and asked him how something could be construed as a “cult” when it didn’t yet have any students — or any people at all, for that matter.
The belligerence and arrogance of his response shocked me. It was as if he was purposely attempting to vilify and destroy our work, even before it started. He wasn’t interested in discussing it, examining us in humility and truth — but only in labeling us and causing others to view us with a skeptical eye.
Also in April, Leslie and I had a septic backup in our house. It was so bad that we had to evacuate our house for two weeks. Our four little kids were sick and on breathing treatments, and we were holed up in a hotel room.
And, of course, add to all of that, the fact that we didn’t even yet have access to the entire campus and students were about to arrive.
It was in this time that I learned how to lead. There was an instinct within me towards being passive towards these attacks. “Eric,” the voice said, “stick your tail between your legs and take the beating.” But, I realized that these weren’t attacks merely from flesh and blood, they were weapons of the enemy being fashioned against us to thwart something God had been building for decades.
Leslie said to me, “If you are going to be the president of this organization … then act presidential!”
Act presidential? How does one do that?
I realized that I needed to lead as if what I was doing mattered. I need to think and reason as if this job description was a sacred trust from God. There was no room for self-pity. A strong man was needed — a man of faith, a man of action, and a man of humility — to take the helm and do whatever needed to be done in order to guard and protect this fragile little operation.
I needed to lead this organization the way I led my marriage and my home.
On the night that Ellerslie began, we had a formal banquet — a suit and tie affair. Leslie, little five-year-old Hudson, and I were present to witness this amazing night.
Seventeen years of prayer, wrestling, and inconceivable victories had led to this unique evening.
I remember rising up from my seat, grabbing the microphone, and walking up the stairs and onto the stage. It was a surreal moment. When I turned around to face the audience, I realized that little Hudson had come up onto the stage with me.
I looked out at the crowd of around 75 people and felt as if I were in a dream. And in a wave, it seemed as if I relived my life. Countless memories washed through my mind. It was as if the Holy Spirit was taking me on an instant journey back through those many years of travail. He wanted me to remember. He wanted me to see the significance of this moment.
And then I looked down at little Hudson. He looked up at me. And I suddenly realized that God had chosen a time in which to launch this work that allowed my eldest boy to witness this impossibility first hand. He was here. In fact, he was even up on stage with me.
I couldn’t speak. I had a microphone in my hand, but words wouldn’t come out. All that flowed out of me were deep and unutterable sobs. Not being the crying sort, this truly was a deeply spiritual moment in my life. For nearly four minutes I sobbed. My chest heaved and tears unashamedly coursed down my cheeks and onto my suit coat.
Hudson just stood there and watched his daddy.
God had done it. The impossible ministry had officially begun. Ellerslie is merely our living room expanded. For over 20 years, Leslie and I have lived a life of all-out pursuit of Jesus Christ. And that’s what we do at Ellerslie.
So, in a sense, Ellerslie could also be named “Barracks 28,” for it is the outflow of our marriage. It’s the same vision for manly strength, the same passion for feminine beauty that we have ached to see forged in our own lives and in our generation. It’s an environment focused solely on Jesus Christ and on His extraordinary Cross-work. It’s a place crazy enough to still hope that true Christianity can once again stroll onto the stage of time. It’s a place crazy enough to still hope that the triumph of the Church would return full force in this generation and that mediocre faith would be taken out with the trash.
Additional thoughts from Leslie:
Amy Carmichael once said, “God’s dreamers are always ‘impractical’, but in the end, many of their dreams come true.” Starting the ministry of Ellerslie was truly an impossible dream — yet as we held on in faith to the vision God had given us, we saw Him do the impossible.
If God has put “impractical” or “impossible” dreams in your heart, be encouraged — those special dreams are there for a reason. Psalm 37:4 reminds us that those who delight in the Lord will receive the desires of their hearts. This doesn’t mean we get everything we want just because we are followers of Christ. But it does mean that as we abide in Him, He shapes and molds the desires of our heart. When we surrender to Him, He places His desires within our hearts so that He can fulfill them in His own perfect time and way. There will always be those who try to quell the childlike faith God wants to instill within us. But when we remember the fact that, as Corrie ten Boom said, “It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability that counts,” we will walk in the reality that nothing is impossible with Him!