From the outside looking in, ‘busy’ might be a word some would use to describe Al Belcher’s life.
“You could say that – I don’t see it as busy,” Al says. “It’s just stewardship of all the areas of responsibility God has entrusted me with. Pressure is a privilege, as they say.”
Among those areas of responsibility is Al’s role as executive director at Narrows Park Christian Camp – one he has held for the past nine years. He and his wife Dot followed the leading of God and moved there specifically to take up the role because they wanted to live a lifestyle that was conducive to raising a Godly family.
“We thought, ‘…what better place could we look to than one where I could essentially work from home and be involved day to day, while also raising and educating the kids from home.’” It’s an approach Al says underpins the family decisions they make – one likely best summed up in this phrase – ‘intentional parenting’.
“Dot and I have a combined vision before God and we do life together. We’re a good balance of strengths and weaknesses, she’s my better half and, all going to plan, I’m her’s as well. Founded on the Word of God, our hope and intention is this – to raise our family to live out the Gospel well – and we’ve bought into that together.”
The latest expression of that desire includes Al opening Waikato-based Sentinel Cafe in partnership with his eldest daughter Micah in mid-March. So, Jeremy Smith met him there to chat about finding faith in Jesus, raising a family and having a meaningful role in his kids’ lives as they grow in God, Christian Camping and, of course, his love of good food!
To start off, can you tell me a little bit about your background? How did you come to know Christ?
I grew up in Canada and came to New Zealand when I was 17. It was a big adventure, I was a pretty wild child over there and moving countries left me a lot of freedom to test a few boundaries – which I thoroughly accepted. When I first arrived, I think I probably had a bit of a false sense of how great I was. Being that age and coming to New Zealand from Canada automatically made me interesting. It was easy to make friends, everybody wanted to know the guy from Canada. While I have been in New Zealand for most of my adult life – including my marriage and my kids – I have been shaped by growing up in Canada. I grew up in a first-generation Christian home. By the time my parents became Christians, my older sisters had been raised as non-Christians for part of their lives. Myself and my younger brother were raised in a newly Christian home, that brings all sorts of challenges.
My parents were great – mum is a professor in Christian education, dad’s a carpenter – and they provided a home that instilled a desire in me to know my Maker.
When did your faith become personal to you?
I probably first took ownership of my faith when I was about 19. Around the time my wife Dot and I were going to have our first child, Levi, I realised life was moving faster than I sometimes thought it was. Ultimately, I guess I realised the answers and solutions I was looking for were not found in me. I realised I had the God-shaped hole in my life. I had a choice. I could either deny that and carry on, or I could acknowledge the reality of Christ and learn what that meant. For me, the reality of Christ is where real life is found.
In that answer you mentioned your family. Can you tell us more about them?
Sure! Dot and I have six kids – Levi, Micah, Elias, Malachi, Anika and Amelie. We were pretty young when we started our family – I was 19, she was 22. We decided right from the outset that we needed to make raising our family our main thing. We’ve always tried to shape our lives around that priority – raising our kids well and having a family life that honours God.
Speaking of that desire, I love that that was actually a big part of the reason that you decided to move to Narrows Park Christian Camp to become executive director. Did you have previous experience in the Christian camping sphere before you took up the role?
Barely, besides growing up going to camps over the Canadian summer, I did work in camps for a little bit in Canada and here in New Zealand. I did one year at another camp before coming to Narrows. Before that, I was working in the business world and had my hand in a few other things. As you said, aside from the major reason of following God’s leading, the other big part of getting involved in Christian camping and coming to Narrows was that we wanted a lifestyle that was conducive to raising our family. Living and working at a Christian camp has helped Dot and I continue to be a daily part of shaping the community our kids are growing up in. Being part of a ministry brings with it a healthy accountability, and that’s something we appreciate. It’s a daily reminder of why we do what we do.
Did you have a vision for what God was calling you to when you took up the role and what has it been like undertaking the task?
An aspect of my role involves being a part of the Narrows Park trust board. The board is where the vision is shaped and held in place. When I first met the board as part of considering this role, they shared how they were looking for someone to grow the park to a sustainable level. There was of course already a vision in place, to be a ‘leadership farm’. The goal when we arrived was to grow it. The aspiration was to create a place in which to grow Christian leaders. I saw my role then, and I still do, as essentially making sure Narrows Park is sustainable and that it continues for generations in the work it was set aside for. Over the years, I’ve been focussed a lot on keeping the main thing the main thing. If we are going to develop Christian leaders then we need to have discipleship in everything we do. We need to be founded in the Word of God and train people to seek Him and outwork their faith so that they honour God with their lives.
There are two Biblical principles that I am shaped by – stewardship and ownership. If we recognise God as the Creator – that He owns all things and we don’t – then, according to Genesis, we have a reciprocal arrangement with Him as stewards of His creation. At Narrows, or anything I’m putting my hand to actually, I’m simply a steward. I don’t own Narrows – it is God’s place and He will have His way with it. I’m privileged to be there and steward aspects like resources, people and outwork the vision while I’m there – alongside others who have the same conviction of service. Generations of people have come before me who have a heart to see God’s work done there. If I do my job right, there will be generations of people who will come after me as well. The big picture is that it is God’s plan working itself out and I am one part of that – creating an environment where people seek God. He does the work in their lives, He has already called them to step onto that ground and we can help create a space where they can come to know Him too.
It must really impact you when people come back to you and tell you how their time at Narrows was formative in helping shape their walk with Jesus?
It sure does. As Christians, we are called to share the Gospel, to witness the Glory of God. I think my favourite part of being involved in Christian camping is the fact that we have an opportunity to do just that. To me, that’s the meaningful outworking of my faith – that needs to be central to everything I do. I owe everything to God and I’m very aware of that.
I love the phrase you have already mentioned of ‘intentional parenting’. Can you elaborate on how that approach informs the decisions – one of those being home schooling – that you make for your family?
Well, looking at home-schooling, I actually don’t call it that. We’re not trying to school our kids, we’re raising our kids and educating them with a different worldview – intentionally. It’s been the best decision of our parenting. I have great relationships with all my kids. We’re best of friends and we actually like our kids…imagine that! There’s nothing clever that Dot and I have done. We don’t have any list or ‘10 Steps to Successful Parenting’ or ‘Three Keys to Being a Wonderful Father’. There’s no secret. It’s simply that God’s already put the principles in place that lead to things working like they were designed to. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (NKJV).
We’re working on that but there’s plenty of years to go yet. We’ve found in educating our kids in the home that if you’re not good at something, find someone who is and ask them to help train your kids. You don’t have to be great at everything – in fact, Dot and I are terrible at lots of stuff. For example, we’ve got a great music teacher who has taught all our kids different musical instruments far better than we could – it wouldn’t be good for anybody if I tried to teach the girls their ballet! The end goal of course is to raise God-fearing kids and that’s one of the ways in which we can do that. By using the community God has placed us in.
On the note of intentional parenting, yourself and your eldest daughter Micah have done something pretty cool. You’ve teamed up to open a new endeavour together – Sentinel Cafe in the Waikato. Can you tell a little bit about it?
Sure. Throughout the journey of raising our own kids, Dot and I have asked the question “…how do we not become redundant parents when our kids enter their adult phase?” Parenting doesn’t stop just because they’re not little kids anymore. And so over the last couple of years I’ve been asking, “…what meaningful role can I play to help our kids become confident adults and step into their next season of life?”. We ask that in relation to all our kids. For example, with Levi, we encouraged him to give a number of different experiences a go – he tried farming and a few different jobs through some connections and some friends – then he landed in kiwifruit. And he is off to a great start in that industry.
It was the same thought process with Micah and Sentinel. In Micah’s case, I knew she’d done hospitality and travelled around the world a little bit. She’s naturally inclined to brighten up a room when she walks into it and she’s great with people. Sentinel came about not because I wanted to run a cafe, but because I was looking for a way to not be a redundant parent and really trying to look for ways to help grow her in the next stage of her life. We’ve been open since mid-March now and the adventure is well underway. I love the cafe environment because I love people and, through Sentinel, I enjoy hearing their stories of life that I wouldn’t otherwise hear. But that’s secondary to why I am doing it. This adventure is an extension of my commitment to raise up my family, the goal is still the same and the job isn’t done.
What advice would you give other parents whose heart’s desire is to also raise Godly children?
Interesting question. I have this conversation with a lot with people when they see me actually enjoying my kids. What I usually say is if you’re going to bother having kids, you might as well raise them. That’s where intentionality comes in. We often talk about things like the influence of friends, peer pressure, value systems, excuses etc. And I get it, it’s the reality of living in the world. Together, Dot and I made the decision to be intentional about equipping our kids to think critically about decisions they make and the values that underpin those ways of doing things.
If you think the influence of their friends isn’t positive, be intentional about helping your children find better friends. If they are learning attitudes or responses you don’t appreciate, be the adult in the relationship and re-train them. Everything is a choice and the crux of the advice I would give is exactly that – if you’re going to bother to have kids, be intentional about raising them. Often people view home education as escaping or retreating – God doesn’t call us to do that. He says to be in the world, just not of it. I want to raise my family well and I’m intentionally advancing toward His Way – often that isn’t what the world offers up.
I’m choosing to shape their environment. I guess in a personal sense, what convicted me is that when I stand before God, I’m not going to be able to give excuses and deflect to circumstances or someone who I gave my responsibility to. Instead, He’s going to ask me “…what did you do with what I gave you?” I suppose it’s a healthy fear of the Lord that informs the decisions we make together as parents, coupled with my desire to be faithful and do well before the Lord when it comes to how I used what He gave me. My overarching motivation is to be a good steward.
Do you think it is difficult to raise Godly children in today’s day and age?
I don’t think it’s tricky – society isn’t the garden of Eden – but to me that just means the problems are more obvious. In some ways, one could almost say raising children could be easier because of how confident the world is in its anti-God positions. Probably one of the biggest parts of this whole parenting journey is helping my kids and my family – and even myself – to remember that our value is found in God. People get it wrong all the time, it’s best to look to the Creator and see what He says about who you are.
In any area of our lives, parenting included, the answers we seek aren’t found in the world – they are of course in the Word. It’s my view that if you want to raise Godly children, we as parents need to think wisely, think deeply, study the Word of God and then make decisions in line with that. What a privilege to have children, what a great adventure to raise them.
Actually, that desire to help equip parents is the motivation behind some of the regular events and gatherings that run at Narrows Park right?
Absolutely. A few examples from the work I do there include both father and son and mother and daughter weekends. They are specifically designed to help encourage other parents to engage in their parenting in different ways. And there’s heaps of other practical ways you can do that too – we, as parents, just simply have to choose to be engaged and see the value in it. There’s an old proverb I like – and it’s how I view my parenting and my family life too. It says “I’m not rich enough to buy cheap stuff…” In other words, the right solution for the job often appears quick and easy, but it rarely ever is.
I can’t fake it, there’s too much at stake to be a ‘pretend father’ – a ‘half husband’ is way too expensive and costs you far too much in the end. They say good things take time, parenting is a lifetime.
Can I ask, when you all get to hang out as a family and have fun together, what does a collective ‘perfect day’ look like for the Belchers?
That happens every night. To be fair, I think that’s one of the key things we do differently. We don’t necessarily set aside family time, we live family time. That’s why I work with my daughter at Sentinel, we’re raising our kids but we’re building our lives together. As well as being here at Sentinel with Micah and helping Levi with his passions, Elias is working with me at Narrows for a couple of days a week and he’s interested in hunting, farming and engineering among other things. So, we’re looking at ways to see those interests come to life.
One thing we’ve told all the kids is that they don’t need to figure out exactly what they want to do, just start with what you like. There’s no pressure, as they try a few things they might find a passion they really enjoy. But more than likely, they’ll realise what they don’t like and that’s just as valuable.
Since we are here chatting in Sentinel Café, I have to ask – what do you reckon is the best thing on the menu?
Well, if it’s not good, it’s not on the menu!
– Thanks so much Al. Let’s pray for the Belchers and their family – and other families like them – who are prayerfully seeking to be all that God has called them to be as parents.
• To find out more about Narrows Park, visit www.narrowspark.co.nz. To follow Al and Micah’s journey at Sentinel Cafe, visit them on Instagram: @sentinelcafe.nz, or on Facebook – www.facebook.com/sentinelcafe.nz
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By Jeremy Smith
About the author
Jeremy Smith is the editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.
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