Mr. Camping received a scholarship to the University of California, at Berkeley, CA, as a junior after two years at a community college. As was quite common back in those days, he hitchhiked up to Berkeley from Southern California, to go to school! The first thing he did was to look for a church, and he found one in Alameda, CA — a Christian Reformed Church. Even at the age of 19, he soon became involved with teaching Sunday school and leading youth groups. He met his future wife, Shirley, there, as she lived in Alameda with her family. Two years later, he graduated from UC Berkeley in June of 1942 with a degree in Civil Engineering; turned 21 in July; and married Shirley five days after his birthday, on July 24, 1942. They settled in Alameda, where they raised their family (six daughters and one son). They were happily married for over 71 years, and the Lord blessed him with 24 grandchildren, and 42 great grandchildren.
Family Radio’s current board member, Sue Espinoza, his daughter, described her father’s life best. She describes growing up in her home, watching and listening to her father as he served the Lord:
We always knew that our father loved God the most. He read the Bible to our family every day and taught us about God. He studied the Bible constantly, and spent much time in prayer with our family. In later years, he prayed daily not only for his own children, but also for his grandchildren, by name. He taught us to observe the Lord’s Day as a special day devoted to God. He told us how important it was to be a witness for Christ, and to give back to the Lord. The man that people saw was the real man – he was never phony.
She went on to tell about some of the early meetings about Family Radio that were held in her home: “I remember those early meetings in our livingroom, and the discussions about how togo about starting a Christian radio station, and should it have commercials or not, and so on. And, I remember my father saying that there shouldn’t be anything secular about this station, and that God would supply the finances if it was going to be His ministry… And we know that God has blessed this venture mightily. Family Radio became my father’s lifework – and he loved Family Radio right up till the end.”
In a 1984 interview that he did for Family Radio’s 25th anniversary, Harold Camping described how the ministry began:
“Actually, the way the ministry materialized, is that, a young man by the name of Dick Palmquist had been a missionary up to Alaska. He’d been trained in radio, and had a real interest in radio. Because of the health of one of his children, he had to move back down to San Francisco. It happened that he had a friend who was also a friend of mine – an insurance broker, who suggested that he see Harold Camping. Now, at the time, I had no interest in radio, in any way, whatsoever! Yet, when Dick came to my office, I had been praying for an opportunity to be more useful to the Lord. And, I had set aside some funds from my business, so that if the opportunity ever came for something special, that this might be helpful for that opportunity. And, so I really felt, ‘Well, okay, I’d better listen to him anyway.’ So, he came for two or three visits, and we talked, and talked, and talked, about this – ‘What could it be?’ And finally, we came to the conclusion, ‘Well, alright – suppose instead of buying a radio station for a profit, to operate commercially as many Christian stations are operating, why don’t we make this the work of the Lord altogether? Why don’t we establish a non-profit corporation, so it’s altogether the work of the Lord’s, and there’s no self interests of any kind – any possibility for any of the board of directors, present or future, to derive any income from it, in the event it becomes very successful? And why don’t we just operate as idealistically as we possibly can to God’s glory.”
Non-Profit, Listener Supported
And so it was throughout his tenure of nearly 55 years as the president of Family Radio, that the ministry desired to always remain true to these tenets, although, as Mr. Camping mentioned to his radio audience over and over, simply, he was just a man, with “feet of clay,” and to check him out in the Bible. Yet, his desire for the ministry was to operate solely to proclaim salvation to the lost and to serve and glorify God, and not man, heeding the words of the Lord in Psalm 115:1:
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake.
Early on, serving as the president and general manager for the ministry in an administrative role, God had additional plans for Mr. Camping, as Harold described: “I have learned that trials bring opportunities. Sometimes they’re opportunities you recognize, and sometimes they’re opportunities you don’t recognize.”
He explained what he meant by the trials he and the ministry were facing when they were first getting started in the early ‘60’s:
“We had only been on the air for a year or so. We paid very low salaries, because we had no [outside] source of real income, and it [donations] was coming in very slowly. Finally, the board members got together and said, ‘Maybe it’s because people who are listening are concerned about our financial situation — whether we’re being faithful; or maybe they don’t like our music. What if you, as our president, would get behind a microphone and allow people to call in and raise their objections, or their questions — about our music, or finances, or anything else?”
The Open Forum Program
He went on to explain what his original role was when the organization began:
“When I went into Family Radio – when this non-profit corporation was first formed — I had not the slightest idea that I would ever want to, or would ever, be behind a microphone! I really felt that my main contribution was my business and engineering experience. I could work in the background in all of these areas, and I felt that there were other people who were far more experienced in radio. But, okay! We’re going to open the phone lines and we’re going to try this. And, at the time, we didn’t call the program anything. It was just a one-hour program.”
So, this call-in program went on the air with the organization’s president ready to be on the “hot seat,” fielding calls about their business practices and programs they were broadcasting. Mr. Camping went on to tell what happened next:
“Well, low and behold, people began to call in! And, not one question was raised about our music policy or our finances, but people called in for counseling, or they had a question from the Bible.”
God had been preparing Harold Camping for “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), as he explained:
“At that point in time, for many years, I had been already carefully studying the Bible. So, I had some ability to answer. And, I had done personal counseling – I had been an elder in our church for many years. I was teaching Sunday School and had been teaching ever since I was twenty-years-old. And, this had been my cup of tea – to be in the Word of God.”
He continued by telling what his first impressions were as God was directing and guiding him while he moderated this new program:
“I found three things about being the host of this program. First of all, I enjoyed the hour, very much — to be in the marketplace and face whoever might call! Secondly, I found that I could answer questions fairly well. Thirdly, I found that now I have a discipline, if we would continue this kind of a program, to even study more diligently, so that I would become more and more faithful to the Word of God.”
Well, the program did continue on a daily basis, and it was first called the, “Family Forum” program. It was later changed to what became known around the world as the, “Open Forum.”
In 1973, Mr. Camping sold his construction company in order to devote himself full-time to serving the Lord through Family Radio — as president, general manager, and teacher for the ministry; and worked as a full-time volunteer.
Along with the many Bible studies that are heard on Family Radio, Harold Camping wrote many books and booklets to help lead a person into the Scriptures.
Mr. Camping always made time for anyone who wanted to talk with him, staff and listeners alike. His daughter Sue describes his relationship with people: “Countless people have written and called to say that Mr. Camping was their spiritual father and mentor. But, he never wanted any accolades. He always said that he was just a servant, and all the glory must go to God. He told me over, and over, that he felt so blessed, and privileged, to be used of God to bring the Gospel to the world. That is how Harold Camping would want to be remembered – as a servant – a servant of our loving Heavenly Father. The over-riding passion in his life was the Word of God. His faith in God and his love for God shaped his whole life.”
On Sunday, December 15, 2013, Mr. Camping passed on to glory, and is now rejoicing with his beloved Savior!