‘[We want to] make as big an impact as we can as Christians, to get the message of the truth of God’s word into culture,’ Ken Ham—erstwhile science teacher cum boat-building celebrity—shares exclusively with Warcry.
The founder of Christian apologetics non-profit Answers in Genesis and its Creation Museum in Williamstown, Kentucky, Ken, who grew up in Brisbane and has lived in the US since the mid-1970s, has been at the forefront of the Creationist movement since the 1980s.
In short, he believes that the world was created in six literal days as described in Genesis chapter one, and he is on a mission to explain how this happened—by building Noah’s ark.
‘No-one has ever done what we’re doing here before,’ he says. ‘We’re going to challenge people that the Gospel message in history is true.’
Imagine one and a half football fields and you have the size of this mammoth ship. Then visualise a boat spanning seven stories from bottom to upper deck, and you will grasp what has been under construction on the hills of America’s Bible belt since November 2014.
Ken tells me that the ark (which, at the time of writing, was scheduled to open on 7 July) has three decks, and will include a petting zoo, a restaurant and countless exhibits about Noah and the animals on board.
Visitors will experience an amusement, appropriately named the Ark Encounter, which stands shoulder to shoulder with Disney World or Universal Studios, and it has a budget to match—US$100 million, $38 million of which has been raised through donations, and $62 million in a bond offering.
‘What we’re doing is setting a standard in the Christian world that I believe is very rare,’ explains Ken.
In the same way that God brought the animals to Noah, a flock of people have come to assist with the task, including theme park designers, Hollywood calibre animatronics experts and a group of Amish builders, who, Ken says, are the only tradesmen in the world who can build the timber-frame structure.
‘Why shouldn’t we be as good as the best in the world because we’re doing this for God?’ says Ken. ‘All these people came together in miraculous ways, and God has prepared to bring them all together to do the ark.’
Along with a flood of supporters, a wave of public scrutiny has also come with the project.
‘We’re unashamedly Christian, we’ve told the secular media that. We tell them that this is a Christian-themed attraction, not an amusement park, and we tell the secular media that it’s going to have a Christian message.’
Ken has been depicted by news outlets as an alleged ‘messiah’ with cult-like followers, and has an infamous rivalry with anti-Creationist Bill Nye the Science Guy (who he personally invited to the ark). Top this with accusations of religious discrimination and he has experienced a myriad of criticisms for his archaic project.
‘The messiah comment, [well], I’ve never ever had anyone ask that before,’ says Ken, after refuting the claims on the Answers in Genesis website. ‘I think it is a non–Christian trying to understand a Christian ministry and they see that you could never build something like the ark without thousands and thousands of supporters,’ he reflects.
When it comes to discrimination, Ken is clear that they have only employees of Answers in Genesis sign a statement of faith, much like how a church chooses to employ Christians. In America, this is a religious freedom given under Title Seven of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
‘We have contractors, who are contracted to help us design the exhibits. But those who are specifically employed by Answers in Genesis are Christians…just like an atheist group—they’re not going to employ a Bible-believing Christian to be the head of an atheist group,’ says Ken, who points out that the tourism magnet will create over 21,000 jobs in the wider region over the next decade.
While the ark has put Ken in the world’s spotlight, his roots as a science teacher at Dalby High School, two and a half hours west of Brisbane, mean he has a level-headed approach to the monumental project.
‘One of my students said, “Sir, we heard that you’re a Christian. But how can you be a Christian when we know that the Bible’s not true?” And I said, “But how do you know the Bible’s not true?”’ Ken recalls. Answers in Genesis was founded five years later in his lounge room, and a decision to move to the USA followed.
‘I realised that if you wanted to get a message out, America was the centre of the business world and the Christian world in many ways,’ he says.
It’s thought that up to 2.2 million people per year, Christians and non-Christians alike, will turn up to explore the world of Noah. But the story doesn’t end here; because this is just phase one.
‘Phase two is to build a walled city, then phase three a Tower of Babel, and phase four a first–century village, and so it goes on,’ Ken explains.
‘I believe it is going to be one of the greatest Christian attractions of our era.’
Visit The Ark Encounter website arkencounter.com
This feature was published in Warcry on July 9, 2016. Read it here.