JOSEPH — The new year brings more than a change of the calendar to Divide Camp, as it undergoes a transition into Cross the Divide, a reincorporation of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit into a clearly faith-based organization.
Retired Navy Chaplain Emile “Mo” Moured will take the reins as executive director Friday, Dec. 31, taking over from longtime director Julie Wheeler, on whose family land the camp was founded and has operated since 2011.
Moured, who lives with wife, Rhonda, and their 14-year-old daughter in Poulsbo, Washington, said that he hopes to continue and expand on the work Wheeler’s done.
“I’m excited for lot of different reasons,” he said. “Thinking back to what’s gone before me, Julie’s done a tremendous job as executive director. Her godly prayers and hard work. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s something that’s been nurtured in my heart for about 40 years.”
Time for a change
The 40-acre site on family land east of Joseph started as Divide Camp when Wheeler got what she believes was a message from the Lord.
“When I got here, even though it was all rat-infested and falling apart, I sat on that front porch and I just felt the Lord speak to me that this is a perfect place for healing vets,” she said. “The initial vision for this camp in 2011 was healing through nature.”
It was her vision to reach out to post-9/11 veterans. She knows some locals consider the camp discriminatory against pre-9/11 veterans but, as she explained it, veterans from earlier wars have had time to come to grips with their war-induced trauma and develop support systems. It’s newer to the post-9/11 vets.
“That was just the vision God gave me for the camp,” Wheeler said. “That was not Mo’s vision. ‘Cross the Divide’ will be serving all veterans.”
But for Wheeler, it’s time to step down.
“I need to retire,” she said. “This was my 10th year in a project that I really thought would change hands about five years ago. I’ve been in much prayer. It’s an emotional transition because Divide Camp has been my life for 10 years. I don’t know what God is going to have me do with the rest of my life.”
In her decade at the helm of Divide Camp, she’s seen much community support and feels she’s accomplished most of her goals.
“God has been so good to the Divide Camp organization,” she said. “Our support system in volunteerism and donors has been incredible.”
Cross the Divide
Moured, too, had what may have been a vision from God.
“I’ll never forget the moment many of our lives changed forever. My wife, Rhonda, and I were driving from where I was stationed as a Navy chaplain just a couple hours east of New York, heading out on an anniversary vacation,” he said. “I said something to her I never said before and have never said since, ‘I just have the weirdest feeling that we’re going to get all the way up to our cabin and something really bad is going to happen back here.’ Call it intuition, call it the Holy Spirit or call it bad pizza, but I remember that moment clearly from Sept 10, 2001.
“That next morning forced all our lives in various transitions. But minutes after the first planes hit the Twin Towers, I had an overwhelming sense that God was inviting me to follow Him into the wake of the tragedy. Immediately after returning home and for the next two years, the Navy enabled me to lead five-day retreats in the woods for caregivers and first responders.”
Although the name will change, much of the focus will remain the same. The new organization will inherit the headquarters building in downtown Joseph. The Divide Camp land remains under Wheeler’s ownership and will be available for use by veterans groups, including Cross the Divide.
“(The headquarters) is presently being operated as an Airbnb,” Wheeler said. “The main reason is to try to finish paying it off. In the future, it will provide lodging for vets who are coming to hunt and fish.”
But the change is more than just the name. It reflects an increased emphasis on the cross of Jesus, according to Moured.
“The cross reminds of Jesus — our Creator, our Savior, the Author and Finisher of our faith and the only One who can provide true power for real inner change,” Moured wrote in a newsletter announcing the change. “Julie’s deepest conviction has been that Divide Camp focus more and more on God in its ongoing future growth. My goals and desire are absolutely aligned with hers.
“Cross the Divide reminds us of the incredibly rich history of Divide Camp in the Wallowa Mountains, where Julie and her family laid the foundation for this outreach to veterans. We want to remember that our future successes are built on the vision and hard work of those who laid that foundation.”
There’s a direct tie between the new and the old, Moured said.
“The imagery of crossing a divide helps us intentionally communicate what we do in the process of helping veterans — that is, we ask them to think about where they are and where they want to be, and then offer to walk through that journey with them across some challenging personal terrain in order to begin achieving that transformation,” he wrote. “The mission of Cross the Divide will be to help veterans and their families through programming in outdoor venues.”
New to the group
In addition to Moured, new members are expected to join the group’s board. Among them are Kris Crowley, the pastor of Tenderfoot Christian Fellowship, Joseph.
“Veterans are in need of spiritual care and guidance to set them up for eternity,” he said. “The new executive director approached me because he wants to see spiritual guidance for veterans.”
Crowley, too, is eager to see what the new group will do.
“I think that Cross the Divide is heading in a neat direction,” he said. “We’ll take some things that Julie did and keep them going in that direction.”
A pair of new board members is retired Navy SEAL Jack James, who lives in Wallowa with his wife, Stacey. Jack James will be the secretary and Stacey James, who also is retired military, will be the treasurer. The couple were unavailable for comment.
Moured said other members include several military veterans of all branches of the Armed Forces, including other retired SEALs and a retired admiral with the Navy Chaplain Corps.
“Most importantly, all of our prospective board members are committed to the ministry and mission of supporting our veterans and their families through the power of outdoor venues,” he said.
Outgoing board Vice President for Hunting Andy Marcum will step back to his familiar role of hunting guide instead of spending time in meetings.
“I’m just going to step back to doing what I do anyway,” he said.
He, too, acknowledged the need to expand the group’s services to other veterans, as well as to their families.
“We realized the need to expand from that group of people,” Marcum said, adding that such expansion already had started.
He said the familiar hunts for elk and deer will be added to with bear and turkey hunts, as well as fishing. The first six turkey hunts on three weekends begin April 15.
Emphasis on families
One thing that’s new to Cross the Divide will be a greater emphasis on and inclusion of family members at Divide activities. Everyone involved recognizes that war trauma affects more than the veteran, traumatizing the veteran’s loved ones, too.
“I think that’s the direction we need to go in this and that’s why opening it up to families,” Marcum said. “We’re going to be walking with the Lord and teaching them about the Lord and showing them what God has created for us to enjoy.”
Moured said that in his decades as a chaplain, he has much experience leading marriage retreats. He’s well aware that one of the worst postwar casualties of going to war is the strain on marriages.
“As a faith-based service to veterans, it’s our belief that we can get back to living the way God intended,” he said. “He created us, and by aligning our lives to biblical principles and finding hope through Christ, we can experience growth, increase our resiliency and lead our families and communities more effectively.”