By Steve Rees, Special to ASSIST News Service
WILLIAMSTOWN, KY (ANS – January 23, 2017) — As firm Bible-believing Christians who believe in creation, a world-wide flood and the Ten Commandments dictated by God, Carl and Cathy Summerville count Noah and Moses as two of their heroes of Holy Scripture.
The couple say their high regard for the two larger-than-life biblical figures grew in 2016 during a vacation to — of all places – the Midwestern and Southern United States.
For the Summerville’s, the biblical account of Noah’s ark is an inspiring, historical event that spared fallen man and beast from God’s destruction of the earth by water.
The couple also unashamedly believes Noah’s ark is a “type and shadow” of the personal salvation that has come to them through faith in Jesus Christ.
So, when the Summerville’s heard that a Bible-themed attraction called the Ark Encounter opened in July 2016, they loaded their motor home for the 1,200-mile road trip from Colorado to Williamstown, Kentucky.
On the way, they stopped in Branson, Missouri, where they took in a theatrical production of the life of Moses. As they were leaving, the Christian couple struck up a conversation with Cathy, a stranger, who told them she, too, had seen the play — on many occasions.
As only a mother would, the woman said she had seen 15 productions of “Moses” because – as it turned out — her son portrayed the lead character who, according to the Bible, wrote on two tablets of stone the 10 commandments from God on Mount Sinai.
“I jokingly told Cathy as we were leaving Branson, if we met a relative of Moses in Missouri, I wonder if we’ll meet somebody related to Noah in Kentucky,” Carl said. They soon got their answer!
For, there, in the middle of 800 hilly acres in Williamstown, sits an authentic, three-tiered, wood replica of Noah’s famed ark that is seven stories tall and nearly two football fields in length. It was built to the precise specifications given to Noah by God as recorded in the Bible.
“When we saw the ark, we stood and stared in awe, seeing with our eyes what we already believed about it,” says Carl who, a few years ago, moved with Cathy from Southern California to Louisville, Colo.
What fictional characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse are to Disneyland, the historical Noah and his iconic marine vessel, are to the Ark Encounter in rural Kentucky.
And the joy is as great — if not more so — than at Disneyland, say the Summerville’s, who’ve visited the California tourist destination many times.
“Everybody we saw at the Ark Encounter had smiles on their faces,” says Carl, “kind of like at Disneyland, ‘The Happiest Place on Earth.’”
That’s music to the ears of Ken Ham, the Australian-born President, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Answers in Genesis (AIG), a Christian apologetic ministry that markets the Ark Encounter and nearby Creation Museum to Bible believers and secularists alike.
“We make themed attractions of the quality that you’d expect from Disney, Universal or the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.,” says Ham, a Bible-believing apologist for the Christian faith and creation story contained in the Book of Genesis.
“We’re in some ways limited by money but, nonetheless, we market our themed attractions them with the same aggressiveness as the big guys like Disney and Universal,” he says.
The Summerville’s said they like the messages about Noah and his family that they witnessed at the Ark Encounter — presented in exhibits and displays aboard the mammoth ark’s three decks — and the fact that the attraction appeals to Christians like themselves.
They also like the Ark Encounter’s welcome to people who don’t believe a world-wide flood occurred or that the ark represents a type of salvation.
“Standing in line, I realized that a lot of people who came to see the ark really don’t know the Lord but were nevertheless happy to talk about it,” says Cathy. “Some, I think, heard the Gospel maybe for the first time.”
Like in Branson with the “mother of Moses,” the Summerville’s struck up a conversation in a hotel elevator near the attraction with two women, one of whom was carrying a souvenir bag with the Ark Encounter logo. “Did you ladies enjoy the ark?” Carl asked.
“Oh, for crying out loud, tell the man that your cousin built it,” one responded.
The Summerville’s then heard the story of a modern-day Noah.
Indeed, LeRoy Troyer, also known as Noah around the Ark Encounter and in his home state of Indiana, designed the ark and oversaw its construction which were according to the Bible’s instructions. He revealed that while building the ark, he used 200-year-old Engelmann Spruce trees that were milled only minutes away from the Summerville’s home in Louisville, Colorado.
“It felt like we had just met a member of Noah’s family,” says Cathy, who was surprised to learn that Troyer built the ark with timber that was prepared in Colorado. “We never experienced anything like that at Disneyland.”
Troyer, who quit school at eight years of age to work on his family’s farm, planned and designed the ark, supervising Amish builders and others from around the country, including construction workers from a mill in Lafayette, Colorado.
A modern-day Noah, Troyer heads an architectural, engineering, planning, design and construction firm in Mishawaka, Indiana. (His website is: http://www.troyergroup.com/).
Unlike the biblical figure, whose training in ark building was on-the-job with God providing direction, Troyer studied at the University of Notre Dame when he returned to school.
Troyer followed Noah’s lead in using three- and one-half million board feet of lumber in building the ark exactly as it’s described in the Book of Genesis, according to the trade source Construction Today.
Milled at Colorado Timberframe, 88 semi-truck loads of lumber trekked 1,200 miles from Colorado to Kentucky. Sixty-four of the logs were 48-feet in length long and between 28- and 32 inches in diameter. An additional 56 logs were 18 feet long and 20 inches in diameter, says Keenan Tompkins, president of Colorado Timberframe. Tompkins supervised work crews alongside Troyer.
Noah, Troyer and Tompkins, were onto something in following God’s specifications for the ark, says writer Ron Mallett, who plans to publish a book that, among other topics, addresses the type of vessel described in the Book of Genesis and the one now standing in Kentucky.
“Modern naval science has determined the ark’s dimensions as the most stable achievable for a cargo-carrying vessel. Modern vessels, particularly military ‘carriages,’ are built using proportionate mathematical formulas that fit the original,” said Mallett.
“For a book (the Bible) written some 3,500 years ago, about an event that occurred at least six- to 7,000 years ago, is quite astonishing.
“For those who believe in Darwinian origination theories, such scientific accuracy could not have been possible because – as they famously say – ‘mankind had not yet evolved to that level.’
“This is one reason the ark story is sneered at by most intellectuals, despite the phenomenon of sea fossils found at all levels of the world’s highest mountains,” Mallett added.
The Summerville’s joined ark enthusiasts from Zambia, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Russia, Sweden, Spain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and other countries in Europe and South America at the Ark Encounter since it opened July 7 and through to the end of 2016.
The new year is already off to a great start with scheduled visits in January, typically a slow time for travel to themed attractions.
“We’ve exceeded our expectations,” says Ham, who has met numerous visitors from Australia during meet-and-greet events at the ark, including families who attended the same church in Brisbane as his father and grandfather.
Some Australians — believers and secularists alike — recognize Ham’s name and his connection to the ark and creation museum ministries, while others do not.
America’s Research Group predicted a minimum of 1.4 million visitors in the Ark Encounter’s first year.
In the Ark Encounter’s first five months, there were a half-million visitors and over three-quarter million people who stopped at both the museum and ark.
“Indications are that next summer is going to be much bigger, so we’re well on track to exceed the minimum 1.4 million predicted visitors, probably closer to 2 million” says Ham, who wants Christians, adherents of other religions, skeptics, secularists and atheists to come to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum.
The latter provides a type of walk-through-the-Bible tour.
Atheist Richard Dawkins is a vocal critic of the museum, insisting parents of school-aged children forbid them from visiting because it exposes them to the Genesis account of creation and other Bible-based ideas.
“I have the secular media say to me, ‘So you admit that you’re evangelistic.’
“I say absolutely. There’s no point in doing what we’re doing if we’re not, but we don’t do it in a way that we’re hitting people over the head,” says Ham. “We’re not trying to force people to believe what we believe.”
Even detractors tell Ham that they’re impressed with the first-class themed attractions, which have received media coverage by 500 secular and religious media.
With biblical verses 1 Peter 3:15, Matthew 25:14-30 and Jude as themes, the AIG ministry and its outreaches are unapologetically Christian and rooted in Holy Scripture.
That appeals to people like the Summerville’s and others who, if they don’t believe in the God of the Bible and the Gospel when they arrive, end up with new spiritual convictions when they leave AIG’s themed attractions.
“I’ve heard of a man who brought two Japanese exchange students to the Creation Museum. One of the students, before leaving the parking lot, prayed to receive the free gift of salvation,” Ham says.
One night Ham walked into the Creation Museum before it closed. Inside was a family with a 10-year-old girl who had watched a video titled “The Last Adam.” She told her parents that she understood, based on what she heard and observed in the video, that Jesus is the Lamb of God.
“Right then and there, the parents prayed with their daughter to receive the Lord Jesus.
“I’ve heard of lots of testimonies like that and, as I’ve traveled around speaking to churches, people come up to me and say, ‘I want you to know that I went to the Creation Museum and it totally changed my life,’” Ham says.
The Summerville’s say they’re not surprised by those kinds of testimonies, based on conversations and observations about God, faith and the Bible they witnessed at the Ark Encounter.
Though they didn’t visit the Creation Museum – also in Kentucky and slightly over 40 miles from the Ark Encounter — the Summerville’s think it’s worth a future visit.
The Creation Museum, which opened in 2007, has hosted 2.5 million visitors to date. It features a 1,000-seat auditorium and provides a survey of the Bible in its entirety.
Ham says there are plans for an auditorium at the Ark Encounter as well.
Beginning in January 2017, as the vacation travel season begins, the Ark Encounter will air television commercials with the theme “Think Bigger.”
Ham says he’s pleased with January bookings and others in March because they appear to be signs of AIG’s success, despite criticism from unbelievers and some church people who question building themed attractions
“The commercials are designed to challenge people to think bigger in regard to their vacation destinations by coming to the ark,” Ham says. “We’re really trying to get the church to think bigger — to think outside of what you normally do.”
Despite skepticism by believers and unbelievers, Ham says, “We have accolades from all sorts of people in the church, saying they didn’t know the Creation Museum so effectively presents the Gospel.
“And now with the ark it has taken us to whole new levels higher again,” Ham says.
Cathy Summerville agrees with Ham, who she and Carl say they hope to meet someday.
“It’s such an incredible place — I mean — I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s so well done and so well thought out. It’s like, well, one of the happiest places on earth,” she says.
Photo captions: 1) Carl and Cathy Summerville, residents of Louisville, Colorado, pictured during their visit to the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky. (Courtesy of Williamstown, Kentucky. 2) Third-deck room in the Ark. (Courtesy of the Ark Encounter Facebook page). 3) Tibetan yak and her calf at the Ark Encounter. (Courtesy of the Ark Encounter Facebook page). 4) LeRoy Troyer, the architect behind the Noah’s Ark replica at Ark Encounter. He is also known as the Modern-Day Noah. 5) Ken Ham, Founder/President/CEO of Answers in Genesis). 6) Keenan Tompkins President, Colorado Timberframe, poses with a wooden mallet on some leftover timber that was used for fabrication. The builders used mallets like this one to pound in the wooden pegs when the build took place. The Colorado company built Noah’s Ark to biblical dimensions for the Kentucky amusement park. (John Leyba, The Denver Post). 7) Steve Rees.
About the writer: Steve Rees is a freelance Christian journalist, and regular contributor to ANS, who loves the Church, and writes about how it engages the culture and works toward fulfilling the Great Commission. He lives in Longmont, Colo. and attends Resurrection Fellowship, a nondenominational, missions-driven church that honors all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the five-fold ministry offices. The church is in Loveland, Colo. Rees formerly worked as a newspaper reporter and was among the first journalists who wrote about Promise Keepers before it spread nationwide from Boulder, Colo. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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