Local Churches Partner, Reach Neighbors Through Ministry Center
The neighborhood is not unique; it’s like many others in towns of all sizes across the state. In fact, most locals drive by it every day without so much as a second glance. About 275 families call the community ‘home,’ most living in single or double-wide trailers. Many struggle economically, and some don’t speak English. This is the neighborhood in which God has called two churches to cooperate and reach with the Gospel.
In 2013, Wayne Ellis, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Orangeburg, and another local pastor, Stephen Broome of Highland Baptist Church, talked about how their churches could become active in a certain nearby community. Ministry ideas abounded, but the pastors quickly realized it would help if there was a place that volunteers and residents could meet one another and build relationships. The Dream Center idea was born.
“The Dream Center is an anchor in a transitional community,” Ellis says. “We are working to live out the concept that ‘I am the church,’ and that we need to share Jesus every day where we live. This mission center is an opportunity to live missionally, to ‘be the church’ in the community, to engage people where they are and with the real problems they have.”
A lot of work went into creating the center, and it started with obtaining permission from a land owner to place a portable classroom building on an empty site toward the front of the neighborhood. The churches rent the land space and purchased a 24 by 30-foot building that a local private school was selling. Grant money from the South Carolina Baptist Convention helped move the building to the community, and other volunteers donated supplies and services to build a large covered deck. First Baptist Church North donated materials for the deck and a group from First Baptist Church St. Matthews built a ramp for the building.
Ellis says the churches started working to build relationships as soon as the building was placed in the community, even though the first ministries did not start until summer 2014.
“We are working hard to build relationships and share about the difference Christ has made in our lives. Hopefully we are planting seeds about what He can do in their lives as well,” Ellis says.
The Dream Center kicked off its ministry with a block party to engage residents, and then hosted a summer reading program in conjunction with federal programs. Five days each week for six weeks, neighborhood children participated in the program that also provided lunch each day. Other church ministry teams hosted a Vacation Bible School at the center during the summer and one group distributed donated clothes as a way to meet residents.
Ellis says they have already seen that some ministry ideas have worked better than others. An English as a Second Language class, for example, wasn’t well attended by the target group of young mothers Ellis had seen moving around in the neighborhood. But a Monday after school Homework Huddle ministry has taken off. “Word gets around quickly when people are offering help with homework.”
A variety of volunteers from several area churches help with the homework ministry, including retired teachers and an 83-year-old man who has formed a bond with one student. Ellis says, “Our most senior church member, helping with Homework Huddle, comes each week to work with a young boy who has reading issues. The volunteer sits and reads with the boy, and helps with words when the boy needs it.”
Another grant from the convention’s evangelism group is helping the Dream Center purchase materials for its next ministry, Mats2Men, a mentor-based wrestling club for boys. Ellis hopes to also use the mats for a future tumbling class for young girls.
Other Dream Center ministries are still forming. The churches are looking into offering employment assistance including job training, interviewing and GED courses. In a few weeks a group will start studying First Place, a faith-based weight loss program. Ellis says there is also interest among several gardeners in the churches to find space in the neighborhood where they could start a community garden, which would be another way to connect with people.
The ministry potential of the center is endless, and the partnering churches are open to how God will lead. Right now, because of proximity to the church, Highland Church has worked to connect families from the community to their Sunday church services. Ellis says there is also potential for a church plant to meet at the Dream Center one day.
Ellis says the mission center concept is so simple that any church can do it even without a building. All it takes is an interest in reaching people where they are.
“When people ask why we are there, we talk about Jesus. When they say ‘you’re a good person to do this’ we share that it’s really because of Jesus. The Dream Center is a way that we can share Christ and what He means to us,” Ellis says.