Mike Matthews, AiG–U.S., asks the three founders of AiG and its Creation Museum about the past, present, and future of the ministry on the museum’s one-year anniversary.
As the Creation Museum is about to celebrate its first anniversary (starting tomorrow, May 23, and continuing the festivities for nine more days) and as its staff rejoices in more than 400,000 visitors, the editor of our Answers magazine, Mike Matthews (who, by the way, wrote most of the text for the museum’s displays and videos), posed a series of questions to the three founders of AiG and its Creation Museum.
Mike Matthews [MM]: Guys, I don’t like tossing softball questions in interviews. But I think most readers would want you to be “real,” transparent, and personal as you reflect on the museum. On a personal level, I, too, would like to hear your heartfelt answers.
Ken, describe how you first caught the vision for a “creation museum”—how was God working in your life at the time? And Mike and Mark, what got you excited about Ken’s dream?
Ken Ham [KH] (president of AiG and the visionary behind the museum): As a public school science teacher in Australia in the 1970s, I took my students on excursions to science museums. I was burdened when I saw them being exposed to evolution and millions of years as fact. Evolution and millions of years was a stumbling block to the students considering the claims of the gospel because they thought the Bible could not be true.
While visiting one secular museum, I heard a father say to his young son as they stood in front of the “ape-man” exhibit, “This was your ancestor.” My heart ached. I also found out that most people in our local churches in Australia thought you had to believe in evolution and millions of years. As a result, my cry to the Lord was: “Why can’t we have a creation museum that teaches the truth?” That was over 30 years ago, but the burden only intensified year after year.
Mike Zovath [MZ] (VP of Museum Operations): What got me excited was the opportunity to present the authority of God’s Word in a one-of-a kind way—with a large-scale attraction that honors God and His Word. The museum provides people with the same presentation that Ken and other AiG speakers are making on the road as part of our speaking ministry, but we had the opportunity to present the central AiG message right here on-site.
A “walk through biblical history” that explains the major events in the Bible was an exciting concept to imagine and conceptualize. And having the intended audience come to the museum to hear the message seemed like the best use of talent and time for everyone. It was a tremendous privilege to take the lead in organizing Ken’s vision. And it was amazing to experience God opening (and closing) doors to make it all happen.
Mark Looy [ML] (CCO): I first met Ken over 25 years ago, and I believe it was soon after that he mentioned the museum idea to me. In the early 1990s, Ken brought it up again, with even more earnestness. We—and soon Mike—talked about where it could be located. It was discussed that the major population centers are in the eastern part of the country, so I first suggested St. Louis, Missouri, as the location. It was towards the center of the country yet a short flight of the major U.S. cities in the East. But Mike pointed out that we would be even closer to America’s population centers if we were east of St. Louis. When we discovered that the Cincinnati/northern Kentucky area was within 650 miles of almost 2/3 of the U.S. population and had a major airport, that fact quickly settled it.
[MM]: Thinking back, what yearning in your heart drove you to devote so many years of your life to fulfilling this dream?
[KH]: Because of a father and mother who stood on the authority of the Word of God, who would not knowingly compromise biblical truths, and who taught their children to defend the Christian faith and actively stand up for the accuracy of God’s Word, the Lord used that foundation in my life to put a “fire in my bones,” as Jeremiah described it. I wanted to see a ministry that would combat the lie of evolution and call the church and culture back to the authority of the Word of God.
I really had no option. The Lord grabbed hold of me and burdened me so intensely concerning this message about biblical authority and the gospel. He has given me a real zeal and stamina I cannot explain from a human perspective.
[MZ]: I had followed the Institute for Creation Research and the creation movement for years and graduated from a very conservative Christian college, but I was floored when I heard Ken’s talk about no death before Adam’s sin. I’d never heard that before, and it was such an impactful truth that I wanted to make sure everyone had an opportunity to hear it. That was what fueled my desire to be a part of spreading this message and that was the start of my amazing opportunity to work alongside Ken and Mark.
[ML]: I had seen how Ken’s message that the Bible is true from the very first verse was resonating with so many people. His seminars that he conducted with the Institute for Creation Research were well attended, and he became in-demand as a talk-show guest. More than that, we were seeing lives changed through God using the book of Genesis. People were getting saved and churches were being revitalized. That was exciting, and we believed that a well-located museum could reach many more people. Now we are seeing that kind of impact in the museum’s first year.
[MM]: What did you see as your special role in this project, which required so many different individuals working together, each with unique, God-given skills?
[MZ]: My background in the Army was in planning military operations. I enjoy “war gaming” or “what if-ing” various operations to make them go as smoothly as possible. This museum project, though, was quite a bit larger and more complex than any of us imagined when we started. But God was always in control of everything from the start.
At first we were all involved in wearing a number of different hats—concept planning, rezoning, collection management, museum project fundraising, construction planning, exhibit planning, construction, and publicity, to name a few. Eventually my task was to keep all the plates spinning, so to speak.
My favorite phrase for a long time was “There’s an alarming increase in the number of things I know nothing about!” But God is faithful. He knew what we were supposed to be planning before it became apparent to us, and He brought AiG so many talented people—at just the right times—so that it made managing the details much easier than you would expect.
Looking back, keeping everyone on a schedule that was totally dependent on donations coming in to keep moving forward was one of the most challenging project management tasks.
[ML]: There are many things that Mike was gifted to accomplish, so I just stood out of his way in the museum’s construction. But I was privileged to oversee the fundraising for the $27 million needed for the construction of the building and the exhibits inside. And I worked constantly with the secular and Christian media to get the word out about this unique museum, and I also used our newsletter, radio program, and website to keep our supporters informed about the museum’s progress. Mike oversaw the heavy lifting, while I did the general PR.
I wanted it to be a chronological, a walk through biblical history. Also, I believe it needed to be apologetic (giving answers to the skeptical questions of the age) and to be overtly evangelistic, clearly presenting the gospel.
[KH]: My role was to initiate the vision and provide the foundational philosophy for the museum’s content. First and foremost, it had to honor God’s Word (“faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word”). I wanted it to be a chronological, a walk through biblical history. Also, I believe it needed to be apologetic (giving answers to the skeptical questions of the age) and to be overtly evangelistic, clearly presenting the gospel.
[MM]: Honestly, guys, what were your greatest personal fears and challenges during the development of this project, and what did God show you through it all?
[KH]: “God’s ways are higher than our ways.” We had no idea how to build a creation museum and design its exhibits. However, because the burden to build this was so great, we stepped out in faith, not willing to give up even when it seemed everything was against us, such as the time we lost our first piece of property because of the opposition from a humanist group.
But God did something far greater than we could have ever imagined. He provided a superior piece of property and brought people to the ministry (like exhibit designer Patrick Marsh and hundreds of others) who we never even dreamed possible to be part of this huge project. God provided the people and resources to take this vision to levels higher than we could have ever imagined. Now, would the donations be provided? Would people come? We pressed on, and all I can say now is “Look what God has done!”
[MZ]: I guess the fear of not having any experience in this kind of project management challenged me. At first I thought that it was up to me—or us—to make things happen. It was also challenging at the beginning to have a plan that we had worked out and then to see God close doors. Those setbacks seemed to make things even more difficult. But through the ups and downs, the highs and lows of rezoning, concept planning, fundraising, and construction of both the building and the exhibits, God showed me that He was in control and that I didn’t need to stress out over the pace of any of the areas of the project or my lack of experience. He showed me that His plan was much more complex and amazing than anything that we were originally planning and that He was providing everything and everyone we would need to accomplish the tasks ahead.
Now, once I was able to grasp that concept, it was much easier to deal with the pace and complexity of the project, whether it was slow and mundane or complex and high–speed, as it became during the last four months before the grand opening.
[ML]: My wife, Renee, and I never doubted for a second that it was God’s will for us to move out from southern California with Ken and Mike—leaving family (and great weather!) behind to start AiG and then build the Creation Museum. The only times I would say when I got somewhat frustrated were (1) when we lost the first piece of property for the museum, but then we found a better location and a jump in donations as AiG supporters rallied to our side in the face of opposition from secular humanists, and (2) the day when the board told me that the price tag for the museum—after newly hired Patrick Marsh told them how much money was needed to build a truly first-class center—had increased by millions of dollars. Yeah, that took some wind out of my sails that day.
[MM]: What are the greatest blessings that come to mind whenever you think about the design and construction of this unique project?
[MZ]: That would be the way God provided everything we needed to deal with the complexity of construction, exhibit content and design, and the talent and the finances needed to pull it off. After a while it was a blessing even when doors closed because I could almost sit back and watch what God was going to do next to keep things moving forward.
I also feel blessed by the attention to detail that shows up in every area of the museum, but I’m especially blessed by the amount of Scripture that is used to present the answers throughout the museum. I’ve always said that it’s not the convicting power of scientific information that changes hearts, but as we all know, it’s the convicting power of God’s Word. His Word is infused throughout every exhibit, and that is a tremendous blessing for me to see.
[ML]: I remember a lot of media coming by to take construction tours over the past few years. I recall a rather well-known ABC-TV News correspondent who came by, and even though all he saw was just a shell of the building, he said that he wouldn’t be surprised if millions of people would visit the museum. Now, he did not appear to be supportive of the museum’s goals, but God used this unlikely person to encourage me to press on.
Another recollection was the time a businessman called me and said that he had been reading so much about the opposition to the museum project that we must be doing something right as we stood up for biblical truths. He told me that even though he had never met with any of the AiG leaders and hardly knew the ministry much at all, he would give us a $1 million gift. That was certainly a “goose-bumps” time.
[KH]: Perhaps the greatest blessing for me would be to see the spiritual legacy of a godly father and mother reach hundreds of thousands (and eventually millions) of lives through the museum. Another great blessing is to watch God burden so many people from so many backgrounds and bring them together in this time of history to be a part of this project and to present the gospel for today’s culture.
There’s also the blessing of seeing God’s people get on-fire for their faith and people of all ages and cultures converted; just recently we had some Japanese people receive the Lord at the museum. Other blessings: watching the secular world sit up and take notice as “David” takes on “Goliath,” and the privilege and blessing (yes, blessing) of being persecuted (by non-Christians and even some Christians) for doing the work of the Lord.
[MM]: What were your thoughts about the potential “success” or failure of the museum, when opening day arrived, and what is your reaction to the response after the first year?
[KH]: Because of the intense burden I had and the “fire in my bones” that God had given me concerning this museum project, I always believed that God would see to it that people would flock to this place. You see, I was aware of the verse “My people suffer from a lack of knowledge,” and this gave me an intense desire to get vital information into people’s hands. The more people are given this information about the creation/gospel message, and the more it spreads through the population, the more it will affect the church and culture.
As we stood up on opening day last May 28 and honored the One who built this museum—and as the various names of our God were called out over the public address system—I must admit, I was fighting back tears. [Editor’s note: listen to the opening ceremony from last year on Ken’s blog.] A chill went down my spine. It was as if the Lord said, “This is a special place—you have honored Me, and so I will mightily bless this work.” And He has—more than we could ever have imagined.
[MZ]: After I learned that God was in control of things, not me, I was able to stop worrying about all the challenges. To be honest, it was an absolute miracle that we were able to open on time because there was so much to do—even the day before our ribbon-cutting. Our tireless team amazed me throughout the project, but I never thought we’d make the deadline. The staff was awesome.
There was never any doubt in my mind that the museum was going to be successful once we got it finished. God was in this from the beginning, and He had been blessing every part of it from the start, so there was never any thought of it failing.
What amazed me the most was just how incredibly successful the first year has been. It was way beyond my expectations. You’d think I would have learned to expect amazing results by the time we opened, but I’ve always been a slow learner. Being a part of this amazing effort has been a special privilege for me.
[ML]: I was amazed to see so many media here on opening day a year ago. And then through the summer, we saw crowds of sometimes 3,500 or more a day. But I wouldn’t measure success by attendance or the number of media interviews, though both have been phenomenal. After all, I told the media that we hoped for 250,000 visitors the first year, and we reached that mark in less than six months. The excitement, though, comes from seeing Christians get excited about their faith and seeing non-Christians get saved.
The one comment I hear more than anything from our museum guests is something like this: “I had heard that this place was wonderful, and we had high expectations before coming here. But this museum has far exceeded our expectations.”
[MM]: What new dreams do you see for this centrally located facility, both short-term and long-term?
[KH]: That burden, that “fire in my bones,” is still being intensified. We can’t sit still. “What can we do now to reach even more people with the creation/gospel message?” I often wonder how we can disseminate even more information and see greater numbers of people. I lie awake at night dreaming and praying about expanding the vision—thinking outside the box. I believe this is just the start—we haven’t even scratched the surface, I truly believe. It really is only the beginning.
When one secular reporter asked me at the opening of the museum, “Do you have any plans for the future, or is this it?” I answered, “You haven’t seen anything yet!” If God allows, I believe the Lord has much more in store for this ministry. As Noah’s Ark stood as a warning to the world of impending judgment, yet it pictured salvation with the door open, so I believe God is using this ministry as He did with Noah: to warn the world of coming judgment while offering God’s free gift of salvation through an open door.
I see this center continuing to grow into a major destination center, where hundreds of thousands of guests come each year and experience the authority of God’s Word like no place else on earth.
[MZ]: I see this center continuing to grow into a major destination center, where hundreds of thousands of guests come each year and experience the authority of God’s Word like no place else on earth. I see its message changing thousands of lives every year and its popularity continuing to grow through the enthusiastic endorsements of our guests. They are our best advertising.
[ML]: Visitors will see a number of enhancements over the coming months. They range from the mundane—such as adding more restrooms and another café in the next few days to accommodate expected crowds this summer—to opening a petting zoo tomorrow and adding a larger auditorium where our guests can hear more speakers give lectures on topics of the day. And there are some surprises in the works. Stay tuned!
[MM]: Thanks, guys. Your comments remind me about yet one other unforgettable incident in the history of the museum. During our first staff meeting in the new facility, when the offices were complete but the museum was still a shell, Ken gave a stirring message to the staff about Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
That message helped us keep everything in perspective. In your answers above, each of you have repeated different lessons from Nehemiah—about cooperation, humility, faithfulness to God’s Word, no fears about the enemy, confidence in God, and ultimate joy in His victory. This whole project has been just another reminder of how God is at work mightily in this world, and God’s children can sit on the sidelines or have the privilege of joining Him in what He’s doing.
There’s a monumental task left to be done in our generation. The Creation Museum is only the start, a catalyst to get God’s people excited about joining His work. There’s no end to the impact that God’s people can have on the world, if they honor God and the authority of His Word, beginning with “in the beginning.”