Slab city is an old abandoned military base
located in the Imperial Valley of California, three miles east of Niland,
near the Salton Sea. During the years of WWII, it was called Camp Dunlap,
and was used to train Marines and others for desert warfare. At the end
of the war, it was closed and all the buildings were torn down, leaving
only the cement foundations, hence the name Slab City.
Today, it is under the control of the State of California, surplus lands department, and the California Teacher's Retirement Organization. In 1994, it was put up for sale. An offer was made, but as far as we know, the sale was never finalized. All the details are not known at this time, August 2003.
Sometime after the base was closed, "Snowbirds," mostly retired people who leave the northern states to find a warm place to winter, started to park their trailers and motor homes at Slab City. No one bothered them and it was a free place to stay with shopping and other facilities not too far away, so more and more people came every year. We have been told that the number of residents at Slab City reached as high as 10,000 people some winters, however, in the years that we have been there, the numbers have never been that high.
At this time, there are four private groups that have established winter camps there. They are the Slab City Singles, Loners on Wheels, Loners of America, and Traveling Pals.
For many years there was a group of people who moved a 12' X 65' mobile unit onto the old base, holding church services, craft fairs, and pot luck dinners. They also provided registration for the winter guests. This was a needed service, as it made it easy for police or others to locate people in an emergency.
Sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's, a severe windstorm destroyed the building, so the Christian outreach at Slab City was abandoned.
During the winter of 1993,1 visited Slab City for a short stay, before traveling east to Quartzsite, Arizona. Then, in the winter of 1997-98, my wife, Audrey, and I were with Terry and Sandy Nelson of Nevis, Minnesota, from Share Ministries, helping them do tent crusades in different places in the southwest. Toward the end of February, we had our last crusade at a church in Ehrenberg, Arizona, across the Colorado River from Blythe, California. Having nothing more scheduled and knowing that it was too early to go north, I suggested to Terry that we go to Slab City to set up the tent for some meetings. Terry agreed to this. However, shortly after arriving, a strong Santa Ana wind blew across the desert. We knew the large tent would not stay up, so we abandoned that idea, holding a number of successful open-air meetings instead. In the evenings we had a campfire with music and singing, which quite a few people began to attend.
Over the years, the prospect of free camping has brought a lot of low income or no-income people to Slab City, some of whom make this their year-round home. Others just drift in for a few weeks or months and then move on to other places; but most go north when the hot summer comes. Temperatures in summer can get up to 120+ degrees. Humidity is usually low, but sometimes becomes high due to nearby irrigated farmlands.
At the close of our meetings that winter, my wife and I felt God calling us to go back the following winter to establish a Christian outreach for this place. So, the following November, Audrey and I returned to Slab City with another couple we had invited to play music at our meetings, as neither Audrey nor I play any musical instrument.
In a short time we realized that the other couple were not who God wanted with us and they soon left. About that time, I started construction of a homemade tent while we continued to hold open-air meetings.
A retired Baptist minister from Arizona, who had preached to migrant farm workers in the area in the 1940's, joined us. His name is Aubrey (Curly) Gardner, and he stayed with us for two years, even though he was past 80 years of age.
Around the first part of January of that first winter, another couple, Don and Marion Heinrichs, a retired Assembly of God Minister, from Hungry Horse, Montana, joined us and took over the music ministry. Don was also able to preach some of the services.
That winter we had only the tent to meet in and the wind blew our tent down many times that season. We were grateful for the loan of a 40-foot bus in which we held services for a short time. At the end of January we were able to purchase a 24 x 48 ft. former portable school classroom. We got it set up and have used it as a church ever since.
We added a 24 x 48 ft. outside pavilion that is attached to the back of the church. On the property adjacent to the church, we have a kitchen trailer that we use for pancake breakfasts, pot-luck dinners, etc. More recently, we have added a 12 x 60 ft. former office trailer, which we converted to a recreation hall and classrooms.
For the last four years we have provided a Christmas dinner, free of charge to all who wish to come. Food for the Christmas dinner is donated by people from Slab City and from several of the hot mineral spa RV parks several miles away. About 250 to 275 people are fed each Christmas Day.
Four years ago we started a food bank and used clothing distribution center. We also give blankets, cooking utensils and other donated items to people at Slab City and to those in need from the nearby town of Niland. We are linked with a mission at San Luis, Arizona, called HIS HAND EXTENDED MINISTRIES. All of our spare food and clothing is taken to the director, Juan Molino. He then distributes it to orphanages and poor people in Mexico, where the need is very great.
At Slab City there is no power, water, or sewer systems, so we have to haul our water, use chemical toilets, and we power our buildings with a large generator mounted on a trailer. There are no phone lines; we are able to use our cell phone.
Our work is Non-Denominational, so everyone is welcome. On any given Sunday we have people from many different church backgrounds who come and worship together. Attendance on Sunday mornings during the season averages about 60 people. We believe that Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for our sins is the common bond that unites us all. We believe that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor (others) as yourself.
In our years at The Slabs, as it often called, we have had a number of people make decisions to follow Christ, and we have seen lives changed, where they now have hope instead of giving up on life.
God's blessing and answered prayers have brought us through many hard times. But, we firmly believe that unless God builds the house, we labor in vain, so we look to Him for guidance in all that we do.
The local officials and the State of California have been very good about allowing us to use their land for our work, but we feel that we must purchase land nearby for permanent use and perhaps for year-round operation.
Our desire is to continue our outreach to the people who come to slab City. Our long -term goal is to establish a winter Bible Camp with a large meeting place, recreation hall, kitchen facilities, bathhouses, and campgrounds that would have full hook-ups. It will be a place where Christians can come for fellowship and R&R during the cold months of winter. This may seem like an impossible task, but with God's help, nothing is impossible.
In June of this year, Slab City Christian Center was incorporated in the State of California, as a non-profit church organization, allowing all contributions to be tax deductible. At the present time, all people involved are volunteers, so no salaries are paid and it is our intention to keep it that way in the future.
We are a non-denominational church and do not have a large church organization to help us, so all contributions are much needed and will be greatly appreciated.