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Over a Decade of Ministry in Allendale County

Connection

Grace’s connection with Allendale County began in 2009. As leaders at Grace were exploring ways that we could engage the community in our region and in our state, it became apparent that Allendale county was a place where we might serve. In the 1960’s, Allendale’s economy had suffered after Interstate 95 was routed along a different path, pulling any travel-related industries that had previously existed. This isolation hurt a previously thriving rural community.

At the time of our first connections with leaders in Allendale, it was the most impoverished county in the state of South Carolina. Ken Ready, missions director at Fairfax Baptist Church said that “our school systems are last in South Carolina, last in the United States, so we have issues here. When you look around our community, a lot of people come and say, ‘this is devastation.’” In spite of this, we also recognized that God was, and had been, at work in Allendale.

In 2009, our first partnership took place in the form of a school supply drive with Allendale County Schools. The next year, our first mission teams from Students made the trip and further solidified our mission to come alongside Fairfax Baptist Church and other local organizations. Although we hoped that churches and families in Allendale would benefit from Grace’s support, we had no idea how much we would learn from the people there about community, endurance, and faith.

The History of Allendale

Establishing Roots and Relationships

2011 was a pivotal year for our growth alongside our brothers and sisters in Allendale County. Grace members Joey and Joanna Espinosa, along with their three children, moved to Allendale and lived there for three years. God laid it on their hearts to work, worship, serve, and do life in Allendale, and he certainly prepared a way for them by providing Joey with a job through the Boys and Girls Club. Their presence in Allendale provided a vital connection for Grace Church to build relationships and establish credibility with the people and churches in the area.

When reflecting on the time their family spent there, Joey had this to say:

"In some ways living there seemed like something big, but it was just a step—just a part of how God has worked in our lives. And it wasn't just about us; so many people supported us and gave us this opportunity. The elders from Grace Church gave us a shot, and people in Allendale trusted us and gave us a shot. It was our adventure, but it is God's story. People used to ask us if Grace Church would still be involved after we moved away. We would answer that Grace Church was involved in Allendale before the Espinosas lived there, and Grace Church will be involved long after the Espinosas move. Even more, God was at work in Allendale long before Grace Church, and He'll be involved long after Grace Church ceases to exist. It was a blessing to have been a small part of what God has been doing in Allendale, and to stay connected to ministry there."

During this season, our partnership with churches in Allendale grew in many ways. We partnered with Vision Ministries to distribute over 100 Boxes of Love. In addition, members of Vision Ministries participated in HOG Day in Greenville, and we were blessed to serve our communities together. In 2013, families from Grace sponsored six football players from Allendale-Fairfax High School to attend football camps at Furman University. We were also able to provide Quest for Authentic Manhood material for inmates and leaders to experience at Allendale Correctional Institute. These are just a few of the ways Grace Church and churches and leaders in Allendale were able to work together to create inroads for the gospel.

Building Credibility Through Camp Impact

One of the primary ways we partner with local churches to invest in the next generation of local leaders is through Camp Impact, a six week-long program for kids ages 5-12. For years, Grace has sent teams of students, leaders, interns, and staff to help run Camp Impact along with members of Fairfax Baptist Church. Campers spend their day playing sports, taking part in activities like an escape room or making slime, and learning about the love of Christ through small group time and chapel.

The benefits of Camp Impact are two-fold. Kids in Allendale have a healthy outlet for fun, opportunities to work together, and hear God’s Word in a safe environment. It has also been an opportunity for our teens to get outside of their own comfort zone, see how local ministry works, grow in leadership skills, and simply embrace serving others.

After serving on a mission trip to Allendale County to help run Camp Impact, one of our teens had this to say about how it influenced her faith:

“God is felt in every aspect of Camp Impact. His work and presence are evident in the hard conversations with kids and leaders, the exuberant dancing in chapel, and the lives of the campers, students, families, and staff. I have grown so much in my faith and learned so much about God, myself, and my brokenness in Allendale. I have been able to see the joy and confidence that comes from finding one’s hope in Christ. I have been regularly humbled, allowing me to find true dependence in God, and I have seen the importance and power of serving others for him.”

- Hagan Hoffman

Families and leaders in Allendale have also appreciated how Camp Impact has served the children in the community. One member of Fairfax Baptist Church had this to say:

“Camp Impact helps bring light to a community that is often viewed as broken. Growing up in Allendale County and as a member of Fairfax First Baptist church, I’ve often heard many negative comments about the Allendale community. Camp Impact not only provides a light in our seemingly broken community, but it has also helped change my perspective about the town that I have called home for 24 years. After spending time with campers and parents in the community myself, I have witnessed the light that radiates through the individuals in our community that is not as far out of reach as many are often led to believe. Camp Impact is helping fuel that light in these campers each year, helping push out the darkness and negativity that often surrounds our community. I have witnessed and heard of testimonies of children that have gained victories over darkness because of the mentorship that they receive through Camp Impact. The consistency of this mentorship through Camp Impact has helped children carry these victories, no matter how big or small, into their homes, throughout the school year, and even into the next year of camp. Most importantly, Camp Impact provides the light and love of Jesus to a community that is very much in need. I’m very grateful for Camp Impact and the impact that it’s not only made in our community, but also in my life as well. I feel Jesus interwoven in every aspect of camp, and I know the campers do too. Major thanks to Grace Church and Camp Impact staff and volunteers for helping drive out darkness in our community.”

- Michaela Ready

Recent Growth

A new facet of Camp Impact that was implemented in 2018 is the addition of Junior Staff. Many campers have returned year after year, even when too old to participate in camp. As our staff have invested in these young leaders and returning campers have grown older, the Junior Staff program was conceived as a new opportunity to bring them on as paid members of our camp staff.

Not only do the Junior staff members help run the Camp Impact program, they also take classes to develop their spiritual knowledge, life skills, and job readiness. As they grow spiritually, academically, and in maturity, they can come alongside local leaders to build the credibility of the local church and further the gospel in Allendale County.

Some of Junior Staffers had this to say about their experience in the program:

"The junior staff program has helped me a lot. I started off as a shy kid and really had a mind of my own. Being in this role showed me that I should treat others how I want to be treated and that if you have a responsibility, you have to get it done, which really made me more responsible. If I would have never been a part of the junior staff I don’t think I would be the person I am today and I am so thankful for it."

- Camron Williams

"Ever since I’ve been in the junior staff program, it has really shaped my mental health and well-being for the better. I made new friends every year by being on it, and I grew deeper relationships with my campers and God. Also, it helped me get to know myself better too and how to be more connected with God spiritually. I’m honestly so grateful to be on junior staff this year because it’s shaped me into the stronger person I am today."

- Kadence Teems

From the very first week of Camp Impact to the addition of Junior Staff from Allendale, we have seen God’s hand at work in the next generation of leaders.

What We've Learned

God is sovereign

Through our work in Allendale, God has shown us time and again that his plans are better and greater than our own plans. He uses broken people and seemingly broken circumstances to draw others to trust him more, from both Greenville and Allendale. Through the years of taking small steps and pivoting where needed, we’ve seen how the Lord has been faithful to guide us through his Holy Spirit, giving us the grace to see where he is moving and sometimes providing something different than what we asked for but exactly what was needed. As the ministry has grown, we’ve seen God provide more than we could ask for or imagine in this community.

God is faithful

Isaiah 62:2-4 says “And you will be given a new name by the Lord’s own mouth. The Lord will hold you in his hand for all to see— a splendid crown in the hand of God. Never again will you be called ‘The Forsaken City’ or ‘The Desolate Land.’ Your new name will be ‘The City of God’s Delight’ and ‘The Bride of God,’ for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride.”

If you listen to news broadcasts or read the statistics, you often hear the world describe Allendale County as a town that is forgotten about, a place left behind as history moved forward. However, as I’ve served in the community over the course of five years, I have become more and more confident that the worldly perception is not the spiritual reality. As I see college students give up their summer to serve at Camp Impact, as I eat dinner with the Espinosas and hear how they watched God move during their time living in the community, and as I serve alongside young adults who give up their Saturdays to serve on 15-hour day trips to Allendale in order to bring Men’s Roundtable and Ezer to middle and high school students, I am hard pressed to believe that Allendale County is a forsaken place.
I’ve watched campers get baptized, Junior Staff members graduate from Camp Impact to lead and serve their own community, and Forge students encourage each other during the hard moments of sacrifice on short-term trips. If there’s anything I am convinced of as a result of my time in Allendale, it is that God is our LIVING hope, active and moving and reconciling his people back to himself, all the while inviting broken people like me into the mission of redemption. Great is his faithfulness!

- Taylor Frick

He continues to show us that he honors small steps of obedience. Looking back over the years, we can see that he’s had us on a trajectory of relationship building, incremental life change, and disciple making. We could never have predicted or planned the growth we’ve witnessed and experienced, but God knew and knows what’s next, and his plans are good.

Interested in serving? You can email Taylor Frick (tfrick@gracechurchsc.org).