CLOVER, S.C, (BP)–Another Monday, another day of feeding needy people at God’s Kitchen for Sam Thompson and his wife Annie at New Beginnings Baptist Church in Clover, S.C.
They also would be caring for the homeless at New Beginning’s shelter and overseeing a thrift store operated by the church that Thompson planted 13 years ago.
But the couple knew something was different Nov. 24 when they saw unfamiliar people, along with someone well familiar with the Thompsons’ benevolent ministries.
“I had no idea about this -– just found out about it when I came into the buildin’. We got plum shocked,” the 72-year-old pastor said when he received a $10,000 award.
The $10,000 check was the grand prize from Wachovia bank’s second annual “Who Would You Thank?” essay contest, which allows bank customers to essentially nominate who they think best deserves the award.
“Wachovia’s initiation of the contest began through a desire to express gratitude to customers in celebration of National Customer Service Week,” said Wayne Thompson, Wachovia’s senior editor for corporate communications. “This year’s contest, which ran from Aug. 25 through Oct. 10, encouraged customers to thank a person who had made a significant contribution on their life…. Wachovia awarded the winners with a cash prize to use to thank their nominee in time for Thanksgiving.”
The winning essay about the Thompsons was written by Wachovia customer Elizabeth Hartley of nearby Lake Wylie, S.C.
Hartley’s brief essay, selected from about 4,000 entries, said verbatim:
“Pastor Sam and his wife Miss Annie … live in Clover, SC. Every day they cook and deliver meals to 125 people in poverty in our community, rain or shine, with little support. They do it 5 days a week all year, without fail. They don’t even take off holidays! Now they do have some volunteers who take turns helping out but Sam and Annie do it every day. In addition, they have taken in so many teens who are in trouble that now Pastor Sam and Miss Annie live in separate houses so that the teen boys and teen girls don’t live in the same house. These are just 2 people, serving their neighbors who are hungry and teens who are in trouble, all because they choose to and without knowing how they will do it again tomorrow. They are joyful, amazing people and if you ask Sam how he’s doing, he’ll pull a hankie out of his overalls and say ‘Too blessed to be stressed ‘cuz I’m blessed by the best.’ These folks take my breath away with their commitment to their community, regardless of race, age or faith. If anyone deserves the thanks of thousands, it is Sam and Annie Thompson. They just don’t come any better.”
“That just brings me to tears,” Sam told Baptist Press.
“This is recognition not just for the ministry, but for the lives they lived,” Candace Thompson — one of Sam and Annie’s four children — told The Herald, a newspaper based in Rock Hill, S.C.
The check presentation ceremony also drew various other media as Sam granted seven other interviews, one to a television news crew from Charlotte, N.C.
“Me and Miss Annie began this ministry 13 years ago when we started the church,” Sam said. “We had 10 ministry ideas ranging from feedin’ people, to housin’, to helpin’ people find jobs, to clothin’ people and a tutorin’ ministry.”
Pastor Sam said the tutoring ministry lasted a while, but he needs more volunteers. “I got the children who need the help, but I can’t find the people to do this job,” he said. “I need people to help with readin’ writin’, math and spellin’.”
Reflecting on some of the ministries’ success stories, Sam told Baptist Press: “I have a gentleman whose wife died four years ago. He and his four kids were being evicted, and we took them into the shelter. The kids are still in school, and their daddy is workin’ until they can find a place to be.
“One other family — we got them into a trailer and got them restored to Social Services, and even helped the mother get her children back,” Sam recalled.
However, Sam regards the following as “the best blessings of all. In the last couple of months, we’ve had 12 people come to Christ through the homeless shelter. And I baptized five of them a few weeks ago. That’s God work. Amen.” Sam said. “It’s because God look down and see what little we try to do, smile on it, and make it work.”
Sam looks forward to building a new shelter: “Don’t got no money, but got the steel and the plans. Anybody who got any money — we’d be glad to use it to build the shelter. Now I’m not talkin’ about puttin’ up a new church. We talkin’ about servin’ the community better.”
When asked why he works for no pay, Sam offered several answers: “First of all, we love God and we love everybody. We’ve had hard times over the years, and we know what it means to do without and not have enough. So it helps us ’cause we know how it feels to walk in those shoes.
“It’s about God’s love, too,” he said. “It ain’t about us. We just some little old instruments who fell in His way. We’re not so good, but God is. Some kinda way we have been faithful in a few things, and God keeps blessing it over and over in so many ways.
“I wanna tell everybody that serving God will pay off,” Sam advised. “I go to bed each night with a warm feeling ’cause I done the best I could to touch somebody’s hand along the way for each day the Lord lets me stay here on His earth.”
Sam and Annie have spent a lifetime of touching others’ hands. But on Monday, someone crossed their palms significantly. The $10,000 will come in handy for Sam, a disabled American veteran who spent three years (1957-60) as a U.S. Army soldier rebuilding France and who hasn’t drawn a salary since 1973.
“First, I gotta pay my tithes,” he said. “And then I’ll do something nice for my Annie.”
Norm Miller is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va.