MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–“Away in a Manger” has been a favorite Christmas hymn of children for generations. The song tells of the scene in the stable that first Christmas night– . . . The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay’ near the cattle who sought shelter there.
As Christmas is celebrated this year, a large donation from Colonial Baptist Church in Memphis has funded the construction of an unusual gift for Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes’ Double B Boys Ranch — a hay barn.
“We had money left in our church building fund that we weren’t going to use.” said Jack May, pastor of the Memphis church and Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes’ volunteer board member. “So we formed a committee to see who we might give the funds to.”
May asked Jack Land of Collierville, Tenn. to head the committee charged by the church to make the decision. Land, a former minister of education, had served the church as business manager. He was also a former trustee of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes.
“One of the first places we called was the Boys Ranch.” Land recalls. “We also talked with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, SBC, but the committee felt led to the Boys Ranch. We are very excited about it.”
Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes’ Double B Boys Ranch, a ministry provided by the churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, first opened its doors to youth from troubled family backgrounds in 1988. The program provides residential care for up to 27 youth.
The boys come from varied backgrounds. Some are inner-city youth from Memphis while others are from rural areas across Tennessee. Each receives spiritual direction from their house parents and the local churches they attend. The boys also attend area public schools and help out with ranch chores when they return from school.
According to Bert Sutton, TBCH Boys Ranch vice president, the boys feed, care for, and show select animals from the herd of 80 brood cows and heifers. In the past, the ranch sold the calves from a commercial herd. However, over the years, the program has focused on converting the herd to registered polled herefords and has received several awards including the 2000 Tennessee Junior Livestock Exposition grand champion for polled herefords.
Feeding these animals takes a lot of hay. “We typically use about 700 round bales of hay each season,” said David Marlin, ranch manager. “We didn’t have a barn here large enough to store the hay but Mr. Cole donated space to us in his barn down the road.”
In the past, Millington, Tenn. businessman Bub Cole, owner of a building supply store, donated space in his barn for the ranch hay in exchange for the ministry maintaining the building and keeping the area around it mowed. However, earlier this year, Cole decided to sell his land and barn.
When the ranch staff learned of the pending sale, they began looking into the cost of constructing a barn on the ranch property large enough to house so much hay. Bids from local contractors revealed that the metal barn would cost approximately $40,000 – $50,000.
Shortly after obtaining bids for the barn’s construction, the committee from Colonial Baptist called Sutton to inquire about possible needs at the ranch. “I gave them a list of projects and told them about our need for a hay barn.” Sutton recalls. “Of course, there were some smaller projects on our list too. I told them that the barn would be costly and we certainly understood if the cost was more than the committee could do.”
“If they [the committee] had decided to help us with one of our smaller projects, we would have still been grateful.” Sutton continues. “But the committee’s instructions were for us to build the kind of barn we wanted and needed and they would cover the expense–even if the cost was higher!”
The generosity of the congregation allowed the ranch to increase the size of the barn to include some show stalls for top animals and a restroom. The cost of fabricating the metal barn shell was $60,000 plus $20,000 for the plumbing, a concrete floor, the show stalls, and wiring the facility for electricity. Colonial Baptist Church paid for the entire $80,000 of expense.
“Over the years, Colonial Baptist Church and their great pastor, Dr. Jack May, have been marvelous supporters of the Children’s Homes’ ministry in general and our Boys Ranch in Millington especially.” said Bryant Millsaps, Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes’ president/treasurer. “Without their help and the help of other churches, it would be very difficult for us to meet the many needs of the young people in our care.”
Josh, a ranch resident, says he has benefited from the spiritual lessons he has through the TBCH program. “The ranch is a place that has people that influence you to grow towards Christ,” he says. “You live and work with them so you see it everyday.”
Houston, an 8th grade student, agrees and says the program teaches residents like him more than just how to raise herefords. “Working with the cows helps us grow up and learn responsibility,” he says. “[It] gives you a chance to get rid of some stress and work out stuff [like personal problems and frustrations].”
Colonial Baptist Church believes in the ranch program and the effect it can have on the boys in its care. “People across Tennessee should be proud of this ranch.” May said. “And Tennessee Baptists can also be grateful for the way the Double B program leads boys to Christ. There isn’t another program like it in the state.” Information on the ranch program and other Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes ministries can be found at www.tbch4kids.org.
The hay barn given by the Colonial Baptist congregation was to have been completed in June originally. However, compliance with building codes and delays in receiving fabricated metal caused construction to be delayed until late November. The barn is now scheduled to be finished a few days before Christmas.
“Brother Land and I recently visited the ranch to see how things were coming along and Bert showed us the barn where the ranch hay is currently kept.” May said. “Seeing that barn floor piled with hay reminded me again of God’s love revealed in the gift of Jesus. When our church sings ‘Away in a Manger’ this Christmas, it will certainly have an additional meaning.”
The prayer, which concludes the familiar Christmas hymn, is reflected daily in the prayers offered around TBCH dinner tables in Millington as well as by congregations like Colonial Baptist.
‘ . . Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care and fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.’