Pastor Tyler Caines of Wampee Baptist Church in Longs, South Carolina, first began seeing the Lord work through Freedom Center Ministries when he and his son visited in 2012. The next year, he took his entire family, and the year after that, he began taking a group from his own church.
Freedom Center Ministries is run by South Carolina natives George and Robin Lewis, missionaries in Kentucky with the North American Mission Board. The ministry is located in Harlan County, an area once known for its coal mining, but now facing devastation and high unemployment since many of the mines closed down over the last two decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 31% of the population of Harlan County now finds themselves below the poverty line.
Each summer, teams from South Carolina and a few other states join forces to help host a Back-to-School Bash for the children and families of Harlan County. This year, Wampee Baptist was joined by two other churches from South Carolina; Buck Creek Baptist Church in Longs and Ben Avon Baptist Church in Spartanburg. Pastor Caines described the event as a sort of carnival, with sno-cones, popcorn, hotdogs, and other fun activities for the families. In addition to this, every child that comes through receives two full outfits provided by donations from the visiting churches.
Special experience for area children and volunteers
One of the highlights Caines described was that volunteers washed the feet of each child before putting a new pair of shoes on them. Many of the children come to the event barefoot. As the volunteers wash each foot, they tell the children the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
Before the children leave, they hear the gospel and are prayed over. Caines said attending this trip is “one of the highlights of my year. It’s like my Christmas. It’s incredible to see my people take a week of their vacation in the middle of the summer, to see them collect money and to give so freely. It really impacts the whole church, not just those who are able to attend.”
George and Robin said the visiting churches “encouraged children and their parents with prayers, shared Jesus’ love, and met physical needs. So many lives were changed and impacted that week — even the lives of those on the visiting missions team.”
They also challenged Christians to “go and share God’s love and serve Him. You never know where the Lord will guide you until you go!”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Anna Gardner is an editorial specialist with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, where this story originally appeared.