Opinions 03-19-2008
Written by The Advertizer-Herald   

I had a dream

Dear Editor,

About 15 years ago, I had a "dream."

This dream was to establish a Christian presence in a low-income area to be helpful to the people in the area and to spread the Gospel Message. This would not be a church, but an extension of the church.

I shared this dream with my minister and some friends at Trinity United Methodist Church (UMC) and Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church (UMC). All were interested.

It became obvious right away that we could not have such a dream come true without a facility of some kind - but where and how would we get it?

Then I learned that a dealer in illicit drugs had been arrested and sent to prison. I learned that he had owned a house on Cox Avenue in Bamberg and that under South Carolina law, when such a person is convicted and imprisoned, all of their possessions are confiscated by the state.

I knew that I had to investigate this situation further as we may be able to somehow use this house as our facility! I had no idea who had jurisdiction over this property, so I went to the next meeting of the County Council and asked. No one at the meeting knew but suggested that I ask the City Council. This I did at their next meeting and no one there knew either.

I began to ask every one that I felt was remotely connected to the situation and at last someone told me that the sheriff had the jurisdiction. I made an appointment to see Sheriff Ed Darnell and told him my story. I asked if there were a possibility that we could use the house on Cox Avenue. He asked me a few questions and then said, "I will let you have it as long as you need it for $1 a year. Keep a record of the cost of any improvements you make and I will refund your money if you ever want to give it up."

This was a true answer to prayer.

Our laypeople got busy and made the needed improvements. Mt. Carmel UMC began a Latch-Key program, temporarily based in their church, and as soon as the house was ready, this program was moved in.

The Latch-Key program is still our major program. It provides a place that children, whose parent's work and no one is at home when school is out, can be brought. There volunteers assist them with their homework. Then they are given a hot meal and sent home with their parent's. I am told that the teachers in the public school say they can identify the children who are brought here by the improvement in their school work.

Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous hold their regular nightly meetings here. There are other programs, also, but the Latch-Key Program remains our major one.

It is named The Shalom Zone Mission Cottage and is located at 152 Cox Avenue. The Shalom Zone Program is a benevolent program of the United Methodist Church and we have received several grants from them over the years.

Mr. M. M. Clinkscales, who has done an outstanding job as the chairman of the Board of Directors, and his board, deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the success of this enterprise. Outstanding service has also been rendered by Ms. Laura Hoffman as Treasurer and Ms. Alice Fleming as Secretary and Project Manager. This board is interdenominational although the project is a joint project of M. Carmel UMC and Trinity UMC.

Several years ago, I asked Reverend Jack Washington, the Conference Mission Secretary of the UMC of South Carolina, if there were other missions in South Carolina patterned after this one and he said, "Yes." I said, "How many?" He answered, "27." I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Sheriff Darnell had not encouraged us as he did.

Michael C. Watson, MD, Bamberg, SC