Tennessee Church Intersects with Children, Community at Points of Need
By Brian Ramsey
“And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” —1 Timothy 6:8 NASB
In an effort to teach us about contentment and right priorities, the book of Timothy exhorts us to be thankful to have the basic necessities of life—food and clothing. It is vital that we adopt the attitudes and commands of Scripture. Sometimes God’s servants take it one step further and provide for those who do not have these things. And those servants, in their simplicity and gracious hearts, intersect with some children at their greatest point of need. They are the very hands and feet of Jesus, and their work becomes incredibly impactful. Consider the example of First Church of God in Bristol, Tennessee.
Pastor Dwight Marlow of Bristol First Church of God came to the church only seven years ago, and his leadership and the willingness of several in his congregation to act with mindful service has combined to truly make a difference in the lives of many underprivileged children. The church was using a facility on the property called the Century House (being built over a hundred years ago) to collect clothing for needy children and families. It was beyond capacity, and it was difficult to get people to come to the house since many lived quite a distance away.
Pastor Marlow spearheaded the idea of purchasing a church van and trailer in which to transport the clothing items to other locations. The Mobile Clothes Closet is equipped with Z-racks, and the church team can load the van and 16-foot trailer combo with clothes and storage tubs in 12-15 minutes. Yes, they have it down to a science, and they make a couple of stops in strategic areas where they will donate on average 700 to 1000 units of clothing and apparel on the Saturday distribution.
The church has wisely combined its efforts with the housing authority in order to identify the greatest places of need, and many from the community graciously donate gently used clothing for their ministry.
In addition, the church is known for its mobile food delivery programs. A monthly family food pantry is done the same morning as the clothes closet and serves 24-30 families; providing each family with enough food to meet approximately one week of grocery needs. “A Kid’s Summer Meal Program” serves 250 to 750 children living in government housing. The team provides 2 meals a day for 7 days over a 10-week period for each child. This is the seventh year, and after providing over 5,500 meals the first summer, the church now serves 19,000 meals each summer.
There are two teams in this church of only about 40 members that orchestrate these two ministries, and Pastor Marlow has many tales to speak about the blessings they have experienced. “We could double our efforts if we could just find more people to help, too,” he notes. Other churches in the area have offered resources and money, and Pastor Dwight is quick to explain that the ministries are self-supporting and that none of the money ever goes into the church’s general fund.
Bristol Church also has summer fish fries, and it is quite ordinary to receive anonymous gifts from these events to support the food and clothing work. The church is a mighty testimony of what a small group of people with meager resources can do when they walk in faith and yield themselves in obedience to the service of others. The pastor is unafraid of any “faith ministry,” since that is what his Christian life has been full of.
Pastor Marlow was saved at the age of forty-seven, and it was his humble background that became the impetus for his passion to help those who cannot help themselves. He grew up in poverty in a home with no plumbing and was one of ten children. When he was old enough for college, he says that he “escaped” and went to school. He became a court advocate for children after college, and one day a voice spoke to him saying, “and they will be more.” This calling led him to ordination and to the Bristol church where his heart kept prodding him about developing more “at-risk” programs.
Bristol Church has no debt, and they are nearly ready to occupy a newly-built 30- by 50-foot building which will be used (30 percent for feeding, 70 percent for the clothing) for the ministry initiatives. “I have found ‘my people,’” says Pastor Marlow, “and I do not mind that I remain bivocational and labor each day to help those who desperately need it. It is my privilege.”
Often, churches struggle to forge and support many ministries, and it is such a blessing that Bristol First Church of God has taken what they have, allowed God to add to it, and many are blessed. For more information about this labor of love, you email the church at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Brian Ramsey resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife of thirty-six years, Tammy, who has taught as a Kindergarten teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson for over twenty-five years. He has two married children and four grandchildren—all girls, and their wishes have absolutely no extra control over him. He currently works with his son who owns a magazine, and he writes for various entities. He is very involved in his church in the Soul Care Ministry, and he loves to read, watch and play sports, and teach college classes.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.