Church called to a ministry of generosity
By Barbara Denman/Florida Baptist Convention
LAKE CITY, Fla. (BP) — Every Sunday a 15-passenger van arrives at Lake City’s work release center to gather inmates serving the last days of their sentences.
Within months — or even days — they will be released to the community as free men — having paid their debt to society.
But while serving the final hours of their incarceration, they have turned to a group of people who will embrace them, love them and shower them with “Grace Unimaginable.”
The Vineyard Church in southwest Lake City is standing in the gap with acceptance and generosity for these men trying to turn around their lives.
“I fell in love with the people,” said James Pruitt, who was released from the work camp this past February and months later still attends The Vineyard. “They have been a huge blessing to me and have done more to help me in my recovery and rehabilitation than any other program I have ever done. This church helps me stay focused.”
Having served in the prison system for 13 years, William Tew, 36, is counting down the days until his release. “No one here judges me. They treat me like one of them. God is using them in my life.” He intends to remain in the community and as a part of the church when he is released.
The Vineyard Church congregation believes God has called them to a ministry of generosity.
At least 25 percent of their income is given away, earmarked for ministries including a local pregnancy center, a home for troubled girls, the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes and a student attending The Baptist College of Florida.
Throughout 2015, they gathered toys with a goal to fill 300 shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child.
At Christmas, members gave gift cards to the inmates to buy presents for their children. They have provided the men with work clothes and bikes so they can ride back and forth to their jobs, a requirement to participate in the work release program. They sponsored a fish fry on the grounds to reunite the men and their families away from their prison environment.
“Our church is just unusually friendly,” said Pastor Bo Hammock. “It is more about giving than it is taking. We look for ways to give to people.”
The men in the release program, who are nonviolent and nonsexual offenders, find ways to give back to the congregation by helping clean the church, making repairs and serving others, Hammock explained.
“They have really been a blessing to us. And my people have been loving and receptive. We don’t treat them any different.”
Hammock, a “Southern Baptist preacher” for 31 years and self-proclaimed fifth-generation “Florida cracker” from North Florida, planted The Vineyard Church in 2007.
During some of his time, as he does now, The Baptist College of Florida graduate worked bivocationally at the Mayo Correctional Institute, originally as a chaplain. When budget cuts eliminated his job, he took an administrative role as a classification officer at the prison.
It was when he began picking up his brother, who was incarcerated, to take him to church that Hammond began bringing other prisoners who could leave the premises to attend worship.
Through a series of location changes — a local restaurant, a video store and leasing space from another church — the congregation has now found a permanent home, purchasing a church building of their own.
Located in southwest Lake City, the facility previously was used by another church as a youth activity building. The sanctuary had been repurposed as an indoor mini golf course while rooms were utilized as video and game rooms. The building was left in disrepair with broken windows and damaged walls, Hammock said.
The Vineyard members, along with men from the work release center, totally repainted, repaired and reroofed the facility into an attractive, warm and inviting house of worship fit for the King of Kings.
“This is the place God provided us, and we wanted to fix it up and make it home,” said church member Paula Richards. At every location the church has met, she added, “We have always made it home.”
The building was purchased in 2014 with a $114,609 interest free loan from the Florida Baptist Convention’s Church Site Fund, made possible through the Maguire State Mission Offering.
As a result, their monthly payments dropped from the $2,300 paid in rent “when we never had enough money to do anything extra,” said church member Jimbo Thomas, to a $300 — month mortgage payment.
“We’d much rather put that money into helping others than in renting a building,” added Richards.
A recent church service drew many of the former work release inmates back to the church, including Greg Watson, who brought his family that Sunday. He recalled that even before he was transferred to the Lake City location, a friend told him about the kindheartedness of The Vineyard Church members.
“This church is one of only two I have ever known who had enough heart to bring a van to pick up and bring us to church,” he said, as church members warmly embraced him that day.
“They have a generous heart to do the right thing for the least of these,” he said, “a generous heart for the inmate. They have so much love, they almost pinch you on your cheek.”
As Iron Sharpens Iron: Hands-on metal work teaches boys spiritual lessons
By Keith Collier/Southern Baptist TEXAN Managing Editor
NEWTON, Texas (BP) –Deep in the East Texas Pineywoods, more than 200 elementary age boys worked with their hands and were “forged” into followers of Christ during the third annual East Texas Baptist Encampment (ETBE) Boys Camp, June 7-10. Keeping with this year’s theme, “Iron Sharpens Iron,” 1st-6th grade boys learned skills of the trade from master blacksmiths, certified welders, and professional knife makers as they hammered out a sword on an anvil, welded pieces of metal, and fashioned their own knives.
“We have a master blacksmith that is teaching them how when iron is heated, it can be shaped and sharpened, which goes along with our theme,” Jason Glenn, pastor of Call Junction Baptist Church in Kirbyville and director of the four-day camp, told the TEXAN.
“And God molds us that way. He molds us by all kinds of fires that we go through, and we’re tried by fire. It gives (boys) an opportunity to use a hammer and an opportunity to do something cool. They’re going to fool with fire, and they can see how things are shaped. And, hopefully, we can teach them that they’re going to be shaped in the same way.”
Glenn, a former farrier and electrician, said God laid on his heart several years ago a desire to teach boys spiritual principles through hands-on activities. The first ETBE boys camp focused on Jesus as fully God and fully man, while boys learned about Jesus’ life as a carpenter. Last year’s theme was “Fishers of Men,” where boys learned to make lures and competed in a fishing tournament in addition to being challenged to be disciples and make disciples as they share their faith.
“I wanted a time where we could spend with just boys and men and not be in a co-ed situation — not that it’s wrong, but I just wanted to be able to talk to the boys without the things of the world on their minds,” Glenn said. “Boys have an attitude … and men do too … where we don’t want to learn from each other. We try to do it independently; we don’t learn from the experiences of others. And this being a mentor-type camp, they’re going to have to work shoulder-to shoulder with these men and learn their experiences.”
Glenn said the camp gives boys a chance to unplug from technology and other distractions, opening the door for meaningful conversations about Christ.
“We want to do our part so we don’t lose this generation,” Glenn said. “We’re wanting them to be men, and God wants us to raise men. In our world today, the line is all mixed up on what makes a man a man. … We’ve seen kids get exited about experiencing things that some of us grew up doing, but they never get a chance to do it.”
When ETBE Executive Director Andy Narramore came on to manage the encampment in 2011, he recognized that their girls camp was thriving but their boys camp had died four years earlier. As he began to pray and share his vision to revive the boys camp with area churches, Glenn came along and said he would direct the camp. The numbers have grown each year, and boys are accepting Christ and growing in their relationship with God.
“The neat thing about it is that the men are here — all ages, from young daddies to high school and college kids that want to be good role models to grandfathers — doing men’s stuff, and the boys love it,” Narramore said.
This influence of men in the lives of boys is a primary emphasis at the camp, so much so that they intentionally schedule it for four days beginning on the weekend so men only have to take a couple of days off work.
“We want (the men) to be involved, to get in there with those kids,” Glenn said. “It’s not a vacation time; we want you with them, teaching them all the time.”
The added benefit comes as these relationships between men and boys continue in churches throughout the year. Glenn and others are currently writing a discipleship curriculum called Apprenticeship of the Master to aid churches in this process.
“Years ago, let’s say a master wagon-maker, would take a young boy on and teach him how to build wagons. And then when that master would get old and could no longer handle it, the young boy would take over and take care of that older man. In the same way, we as children of God need to do that. That will bridge the gap between (generations) in the church. With these older folks investing in these kids and the kids seeing ‘that old man is cool, we can hang out with him,’ then we can bridge those gaps, and that’s what we’re working toward.”
Throughout the week, boys hammered on a sword that the blacksmith fashioned into a show sword to mount on a wall at the camp. They also learned about welding techniques and safety, which led to discussions about the unbreakable bond Christians have with one another in Christ. A knife maker from Henry Brothers Knife Company in Kirbyville continued the week’s theme, explaining how to make a knife and the proper way to sharpen it.
“We’re about trying to transfer the faith any way we can,” Glenn said. Next year’s theme will involve leatherworking, and boys will be taught that as Christians, they are marked by God and must represent him well in the world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board’s call to embrace the world’s 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board’s call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.