The Story of the Ark

The Ark on Lake Lanier is a family-owned business and ministry that began operating as a vacation rental in June 2013. The Hylton family lived here for six years with farm animals and four wheelers before realizing it’s greater purpose: this is a ministry house meant for more than just a family of five. There’s a higher calling to the property. Read on for the “rest of the story” and how it came to be.

In 2006, the Hyltons and their three children were in search of a new home. They had recently relocated to Gainesville from Atlanta in 2004 to follow the grandparents (and the free babysitting!) but were restless and felt the need for a different location to raise their family.

Already living on the lake and loving it, they were looking for just the right lake house to make the move worthwhile. They stumbled upon this special property one day and loved the cabins on the property, the grassy backyard and easy walk to the lake. Visions of four wheelers, zip lines and farm animals danced through their heads. What used to be a horse farm had been turned into weekend housing for an Atlanta family but it needed some major renovation. It looked like just what the Hyltons were looking for, a gathering spot where friends and family could connect deeply.

But there was a problem. It wasn’t for sale. Even though Jeff was pursuing it and was drawn to the property, the new owners weren’t convinced they should sell it, since they had just purchased it the first day it hit the market. But visions of the future kept bringing the Hyltons back to look at the property again and again.

Dreams of what “could be” vanished though as Jeff’s dad discovered he had Level 4 Glioblastoma, a brain cancer with a death warrant attached. The family decided they would rent a temporary house in Augusta (3 hours away) so they could help care for and spend time with his dad. They would homeschool the kids in the rental house, and Jeff would work from his parents house during the day and help with caregiving.

And as they were moving, even though Jeff felt like he was turning his back on his destiny, he made a deal with God. “I’m walking away from this property to help take care of my dad. If You want me to have it, You’re going to have to bring it back to me somehow.”

And with that, they moved to Augusta and mostly forgot about the special property.

Six months later, almost to the day, Jeff got an email from the new owners who said they had two properties, two mortgages and since their other house wasn’t selling, they had decided to sell this property. And they were going to give the Hyltons the first option to buy it before they listed it, because they knew how much they had loved it.

Jeff took that as divine intervention. God had brought it back.

The purchase and renovation began in December 2006 and the highway between Gainesville and Augusta became all too familiar. The family frequently travelled three hours back and forth, going from caregiving to remodeling a place that many builders and contractors said “should have been torn down” and “you’d be crazy to sink any money into renovating”.

Jeff’s dad passed away in May 2007 and the family moved back to Gainesville permanently. A few months later, the renovation was complete and the family moved into their newly renovated lake house. Within weeks, the family had chickens, goats, alpacas and a pony in the pasture, truly trying their hand at the farm life they had envisioned. Four wheelers and zip lines were purchased and life changed dramatically.

Then tragedy struck again.

Labor Day 2008. Things were already stressful with the financial markets in free fall and the lake down over 20 feet. Working as a financial advisor his whole career, Jeff’s company got purchased in a fire sale and markets were imploding. The cove where the Ark sat was so dry one of the neighbors had his riding mower out cutting grass in the middle of the cove.

Then, while on vacation at the beach with Jeff’s mom, the Hyltons received a phone call that forever changed the course of their life. The lake house was on fire. Chemicals from cleaning rags spontaneously combusted in the laundry room and several rooms were destroyed. Smoke damage occurred throughout the house. Had the next door neighbor not shown up with fire extinguishers and kicked the front door in, the entire house would have gone up in flames.

The Hyltons moved out for 8 months to get the house cleaned up and to salvage what belongings they could. By March 2009, the stock market had bottomed, the lake was beginning to fill back up and the Hyltons moved back into their house. Burned parts of the house were boarded up. No renovations had been started. They were back to square one. First and foremost was trying to recover from the trauma of the fire. Renovating was a secondary thought.

Then Jeff had a crazy idea that he couldn’t shake. They were supposed to add more bedrooms to increase the sleeping capacity. It already had 10 or 11 bedrooms. Why on earth would they ever need more? For a family of five? But he felt like God was speaking to him.

Bad markets. Real estate prices collapsing. Economy in recession. No one building. Lake almost dry. And yet they were thinking of adding more bedrooms onto an already sizable home, simply because they thought they were supposed to. So they did.

And after renovations were complete, the opportunity presented itself to provide rest for missionaries coming in from overseas. People on the front lines caring for others started coming to the Hyltons and found peace and relaxation when they needed it.

That’s when they started to see the power of their property. And in that moment, it became all too clear that this property had a bigger future and purpose. This wasn’t just a lake house; this was a ministry house and a place of refuge.

In 2012, eighteen missionaries came into town for a year long missions school. And at the last minute, their housing fell through. Another crazy idea. “Let’s invite them to come stay with us”. The large group moved in and after a couple months, the Hyltons decided to vacate the property and let the missionaries use it completely.

And as the Hyltons moved out to let the missionaries take over, they had another thought. This needs to be a self-sustaining ministry house. It has to support itself. So when the missionary group moved out in June 2013, the Hyltons put the property on the short term vacation rental market. And they were inundated with requests. The new venture had begun.

The Hyltons had been pondering names for the property for a while and hadn’t settled on anything. That’s when a friend gave Jeff a figurine of Noah and the Ark and told him he reminded her of Noah. A light bulb went off in Jeff’s head. When he was remodeling and adding more rooms, in a bad economy and with people calling him crazy, he felt exactly like he imagined Noah felt when he was building the Ark.

This was a place of peace and refuge. It’s huge and they even had many animals their first few years there. And so the name was born: Ark on Lake Lanier.

What started out as a home to raise their family turned into something with far more purpose: a place to bring families together, an environment when both relaxation and an abundance of activity can harmonize, where seclusion can work together with openness to provide an unparalleled retreat for any missionary, any family, any team, and any group.

Ark on Lake Lanier continues to realize the Hylton’s vision. They now rent it out as much as they can to cover the costs of providing a haven in the off-season to those who need it most.

Listen to the Story of the Ark being told on the Kandrac Kole Podcast


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