A Million-Dollar Miracle

Acquiring a luxury resort for a Young Life camp was more than just a far-fetched idea; many people deemed the prospect of owning Malibu downright absurd — a preposterous scheme ridiculously out of reach for a ministry still in its infancy in the early 1950s.
 
For starters, the exclusive resort’s million-dollar price tag was a laughable notion, unthinkable in those days. Add to that its virtual inaccessibility except by boat or seaplane, its abandoned condition requiring repair and the fact that it wasn’t even in the United States, and most were dissuaded by the very mention of the idea. But not Jim Rayburn.

He was known for being a visionary. When Rayburn founded Young Life in the early 1940s, his bold and brazen leaps of faith were often remarkable, almost always successful but sometimes even startling. When it came to giving teenagers a chance to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he was relentless. Rayburn dreamt big, and Malibu was a dream just his size.
 
A place for the rich and famous
Perched on a rocky point of the Princess Louisa Inlet, Malibu Club is a majestic milieu within the British Columbia wilderness. The resort was originally built in 1940 by Tom Hamilton, a
business baron and entrepreneur with a can-do attitude much like Rayburn’s. He made his
fortune in the aviation industry and later became interested and invested in the hotel industry.
 
When Hamilton built Malibu (named after his personal yacht), he had dreams of a one-of-a-kind resort that would cater to the rich and famous. He was pleased with his efforts when Malibu officially opened in July 1941 and offered guests the finest accommodations, remarkable service, delicious food and a variety of entertainment — some of the same trademarks of Malibu today.
 
The resort was a curious blend of class and elegance amidst rustic architecture and natural surroundings. Upon arrival, guests were greeted by an immaculately dressed dock crew and a beautiful welcoming hostess. According to historian and author Chaz Hitz, all service crew members were chosen for their looks; however, fraternization with guests was strictly forbidden. Malibu guests were treated to a showing of a current film and music and dancing provided by a live band. During the day, guests could enjoy an 18-hole pitch and putt course, fishing or sunbathing on a beach Hamilton built by having numerous barges of beach sand brought in. The resort also included an exclusive clothier, a photography shop, a barber and beauty salon, a sports shop, a library and a coffee shop.

But the early life of Malibu was short-lived. The attack on Pearl Harbor caused Hamilton to close the resort and redirect his efforts and aviation expertise toward the war effort. Malibu eventually reopened and flourished in the hoopla of post-war years. During its heyday, Malibu welcomed the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, William Holden, Conrad Hilton and William Boeing, among a long list of business executives, celebrities and yachters.
 
By 1948, however, Malibu had begun to falter financially. While Hamilton was known for his business success, he had an unpredictable management style. And apparently, one summer morning in 1950, in a moment of frustration and emotional resignation, Hamilton declared the resort closed and sent everyone home. There are parallel stories of a polio scare that added to the demise and abrupt finish. Nonetheless, the resort was left abandoned with tables set and food on the stove.
 
Young Life and Malibu meet
With Malibu’s 50-year history as a staple in Young Life, it’s hard to imagine the ministry without its Pacific Northwest jewel. But acquiring the property required the audacious faith of Jim Rayburn and the divine hand of God. Jim and Elsie Campbell of Seattle had vacationed at Malibu and had become acquaintances of Hamilton. Their high school-aged son had attended Young Life’s Star Ranch in Colorado where he met Rayburn. Later when Rayburn visited Seattle and spoke to a group of adults — including the Campbells — he expressed his concern for the need of a camp in the Northwest to ease the overcrowding of the Colorado camps. During their conversation, with a tongue-in-cheek comment, Jim Campbell planted the idea of Malibu in Rayburn’s mind.

During Rayburn’s next visit, the Campbells, along with Add Sewell, the Seattle area director at the time, gave Rayburn a tour of the property. In her book Young Life’s Malibu, Elsie Campbell, who passed away May 3, 2003, recalled Rayburn’s response as they flew over the site. “I will never forget Rayburn’s statement in his Texan drawl, ‘There is Young Life’s next property.’” His unwavering certainty and assured manner were startling and intensified as they explored the deserted resort. Rayburn appeared completely undaunted by the million-dollar price tag and increasingly confident that Malibu would someday belong to Young Life.
 
A year and a half after Rayburn’s first visit to Malibu, he met with Hamilton to discuss a possible purchase. While many scoffed and doubted his relentless pursuit, Rayburn sailed on strong wings of faith through negotiations. Then miraculously, because of his need for a tax write-off, Hamilton agreed to reduce the price to $300,000, an offer that propelled Rayburn into a whirlwind fund-raising tour to more than 20 cities within three weeks. According to From Bondage to Liberty – Dance Children Dance, on December 21, 1953, Rayburn recorded in his journal:

A most historic day! We went into escrow on the Malibu transaction this morning! Everybody very happy! The Lord has been wonderfully good in permitting us great forward strides.
 
Malibu today
As they say, the rest is history. Work crews labored around the clock during the spring of 1954 to prepare Malibu for the first campers due that summer. During the past 50 years, more than 125,000 campers have experienced Malibu. It operates at more than 100 percent
capacity and always has a waiting list for campers and adult guests. Campers and leaders arrive at Malibu on Young Life’s own Malibu Princess, a 126-foot ship leaving Egmont Harbor each week.

Malibu lovers from all over will celebrate the camp’s 50-year history this fall, setting sail for the 2003 Associate’s Meeting on Voyage Malibu, a four-day, three-night cruise, September 19–22, 2003. From Vancouver, the cruise will head to Victoria and then to Malibu Club for a reunion celebration and then return to Vancouver.
 
A transformation
Malibu continues to change and improve to give campers a first-class experience. Recently, a 9,000 square-foot gym and a coffee house were added, and many development projects are ahead for Malibu Club: a hydroelectric plant for more cost-effective power supply, dorm renovations, a new inner dock and a climbing wall.
 
When the first campers arrived for the first Young Life summer 50 years ago, it was as if Malibu was redeemed and revived, transformed into a resort perhaps more majestic than Hamilton ever imagined. What began as an exclusive resort for yachters and celebrities has become a paradise for more VIPs — teenagers from all walks of life who will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.