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July 14, 1999






CBF, North Carolina youth group
reach out to Sayre residents
___By Jeff Huett
___Associated Baptist Press
___SAYRE, Ala. (ABP)--From her vantage point behind the counter at the post office in Sayre, Ala., acting Postmistress Joyce Suggs sees and hears daily the hopes and dreams of onlineonlythe residents of the small rural community.
___At 8 every morning, she gets out of her compact car and unlocks the door of the small post office, popping out just minutes later to raise the American flag up the pole. The flag's arrival at its destination acts like a "ready" signal to residents watching and waiting to see what the U.S. Postal Service has for them that day.
___By 8:45 a.m., six people have paid Suggs a visit, some with a story, others with a problem--all with something to say about the building those "young folks" are doing.
___During the 1999 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's meeting in Birmingham, Ala., 22 youth from First Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., spent the week of June 21-25 building a pavilion with four picnic tables and leading a Bible school for the children in the small town just west of Alabama's largest city.
___Before 1973, Sayre was a thriving mining town. But everything changed the year the mine shut down. For Suggs, who was born and raised in the town and whose father was a coal miner, life hasn't been the same.
___"When the mine was here, everybody took care of their houses. They painted them, kept them up and they looked terrific," Suggs said. "It was great growing up here.
___"Now that the mine has closed, the houses have just gone down. You can tell just by looking."
___Seeing the needs in this community, Fellowship mission-project organizers decided to use their scheduled workday to help construct a place for the people of Sayre to gather for meetings and barbecues.
___"When we first started talking with the people out here, we envisioned CBF doing work to repair some of the homes, but we were only going to be here one day, and we wanted to have a sense of completion," said project coordinator Deborah Schoenfeld. "One of the things that has been a struggle is when groups come out here to help and they start a project, but never finish. So the community has been skeptical of the help that's being offered."
___Schoenfeld said the point of the project was not simply to do something for the community, but instead, to partner with them and help them get accomplished what they would like to do.
___"I started off with too narrow a vision of what we could do, because I thought everything would have to happen in one day," Schoenfeld said. "But First Baptist Church in Wilmington (N.C.) called and said they would like to bring a group of youth and adults out and do Bible school and construction all week."
___What began as a single workday for volunteers from the Fellowship turned into a weeklong event involving several Birmingham-area churches that included a communitywide picnic lunch, discussion groups on parenting and health-care issues, and vacation Bible school.
___Schoenfeld hoped the discussion groups would allow adults to talk with each other and build a friendship connection and support network in the community.
___And to give everyone attending the Fellowship's General Assembly the chance to participate, a display was set up near the resource fair area of the convention center requesting non-perishable food donations for the families in Sayre. Children participating in the Fellowship day camp then sorted the food into 60 baskets that were delivered to residents on the final day of the meeting.
___For the youth workers from Wilmington, the week was a chance to put into practice knowledge gained from a continuing study of both Southern Baptist Convention missionaries and Fellowship missionaries.
___Each year, youth in the church alternate between a home and foreign mission project. Last year, the youth went to Antigua.
___"We want people here to know that beyond economics and beyond social standing, there is a hopeful and joyous life just by a personal relationship with God," said Don Vigus, youth minister at the church.
___The youth's efforts did not go unnoticed by community leader Johnny Rainey, who grabbed a hammer and helped where he could. Rainey, who has lived in Sayre since 1991, could not do much lifting but was happy driving in nails from atop the forming structure.
___"The pavilion and the community center, once we get it, will give the adults a place to watch their kids play and have a good time without having to worry about people bothering them.
___"Right now, the kids just run around aggravating the grown-ups," Rainey said with a grin.
___It was Rainey who donated the land for the tent-church where the vacation Bible school was held. The Middle Oak Church now owns the land and the tent and holds services on Wednesday night and twice on Sunday.
___"The Lord wanted us to get it started," Rainey said.
___Rainey now hopes that the church, the pavilion and an eventual community center will be a springboard for a better Sayre--a hope that lifetime resident Suggs shares.
___"It used to be that if you didn't know where you were going you would get lost here," Suggs said.
___Ironically, she now hopes for folks to become lost again by finding a sense of community in an otherwise scattered neighborhood.

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