Rural Church Provides Fire Safety Outreach in Community

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First Bethany Church in McCormick used fire safety home visits to share God’s love. The church is active in South Carolina Disaster Relief (SCDR), and several members are former or current volunteer fire fighters. But it was their passion for serving the needs among the lost with simple, life-saving assistance that led the project. In all, the church provided 18 smoke detectors and eight fire extinguishers to rural homeowners.

The project idea came to former volunteer firefighter Richard Cline as he watched a news segment on how to check fire detectors. “It hit me that this would make a good witnessing tool. I thought about going through the fire department or on my own, but decided to go through my church because if a church group went to a house, they would expect the group to share about Jesus,” he says.

First Bethany Church Pastor John Alexander calls it perfect timing when Cline approached him with the idea, because the South Carolina Baptist Convention had just promoted a new online resource offering free smoke detectors. The North American Mission Board, in partnership with the Red Cross, recently launched the Send Relief website to provide materials and practical assistance to those going into communities in need. Alexander says his church customized its outreach plan based on the needs of the community it planned to reach.

“We decided to run a promotional campaign announcing that First Bethany would provide this service from November 15 through December 15, by appointment only. We used word of mouth, local print advertising, flyers, and a Facebook ad. Everyone who called the church received a call back to set up home visits,” Alexander says.

Once the requests were finalized, Alexander ordered smoke detectors from Send Relief, and says he only paid for shipping. The additional fire extinguishers were purchased from the church’s missions budget. Eight church volunteers formed smaller teams to make the visits.

Lynda Lackey served on one of the teams which consisted of at least one person familiar with installing smoke detectors and at least one person who could engage the homeowner. “Using the smoke detectors was a wonderful way to introduce yourself, share what you’re doing, what church you’re from, and it opened the door to witness to them. I enjoyed visiting people, and it’s good for the community to be visited by church families, too,” Lackey says.

Clifton White, a deacon and volunteer fireman, says he was surprised at the number of people who didn’t have a smoke detector or maintain the batteries. “The non-believers we met were open to talking with us and invited us to return. When we helped people that we knew were Christians, it gave us an opportunity to talk and pray with them, too. What matters is the lives you can impact,” he says.

In his third year as pastor of First Bethany, Alexander says his church is active and loves its community. Several church members are trained and active in SCDR. A church mission team went to Boston in December to serve the church plant in partnership with First Bethany. The church now plans to regularly hold fire safety outreaches with the next one slated for April.

“Providing practical help is a great way to share God’s love, make new contacts, and see the kingdom of God grow. I pray that as we continue to consistently provide such help, those around us who are far from God may give us a chance to love on them and point them to Jesus Christ,” Alexander says.

This outreach reflects one of the goals of an informal partnership SCDR has with a state office charged with fire safety. Josh Fulbright, section chief for community risk reduction with the Office of the State Fire Marshall, says SCDR was identified as an influential link in the Fire Safe South Carolina program.

“As a defined network, the Baptist convention has the potential to help us share fire and life safety information and also reach impacted demographics across our state,” Fulbright says.

For his part, SCDR Director Randy Creamer, of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, commends First Bethany for engaging their community and proving that smaller churches can make a difference.

“We are so excited to hear of congregations like this one making a difference, and encourage other churches to consider an outreach like this one. The need is in every community in our state,” Creamer says.

“Our church has tried to make a difference and will continue to do so. It gives me comfort that we are trying to help prevent fire tragedies while sharing the love of Jesus at the same time,” says Alexander.

Online information about fire safety campaigns and materials through Send Relief may be found at www.sendrelief.org/poverty/home-fire-campaign.

Submitted by Julia Bell

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