The Value of a Soul
“When you think of missions, you think about leaving Starkville and going elsewhere. However, there are local needs also. You chose to give up a couple of Saturdays to be of help to this small church in the Starkville community. The congregation is very small, and the membership is made up of seniors who lack the ability to perform the renovation. All throughout the Holy Scripture, it teaches us to have a caring heart and help those who are needy. When you help those who are less fortunate, the love of Christ is demonstrated.” (letter from Danny Cheatham to students who volunteered at the Antioch project)
Last November, Dr. Mary Carr, pastor of Starkville’s Antioch Baptist Church, after hearing rumors that the city was going to close down her church, found a notice on its doors indicating that their building was out of compliance with city codes. Upon meeting with local officials, they clarified that the congregation had 60 days to correct issues with the collapsing roof. With more than a century of ministering to and training the men and women of Starkville and the surrounding area, Antioch had a strong legacy of faith. However, with a small and mostly elderly congregation, it seemed to lack the earthly resources to continue.
Around the same time, an FBC men’s discipleship group, challenged by Pastor Chip to work to GIVE, rather than working to HAVE, and desiring to make their meetings more than spiritually social gatherings, began to study the Letters of John. The men—Leroy Howell, Louis Jenkins, Bill Boyd, and Danny Cheatham—wanted to “get outside the walls of the church to demonstrate the love of Christ to their fellow man.” When they learned of Antioch’s deadline, they decided to look into it. After joining with another men’s group—Rainey Little, John Hardy, Wallace Cade, and Doug James—they brought in a friend and expert from Carpenters for Christ who declared the project doable. Together with Dr. Carr, they decided to move forward, in the words of Louis Jenkins, “collectively cautious.” Even with a construction background, he didn’t feel qualified to take on a project of that magnitude, and they were concerned they wouldn’t have the technical skills or financial resources to correct the problems caused by weather and termites. “It was very uncomfortable at times,” he said. “But, if it’s not uncomfortable, it’s more or less the status quo.”
The original scope of the renovation was to resolve the problems with the roof and windows and satisfy the city’s mandate to bring the building into code compliance within the allotted 60 days. As the countless popular HGTV home renovation shows have demonstrated, the more you dig, demolish, and uncover, the more problems arise. The roof renovation was the same, but the crew was able to fix the roof and even the windows, making the sanctuary water-tight and up-to-spec before the deadline and before the rainy Christmas season. Labor and expertise had been donated, but since there’s no such thing as a free roof, Danny Cheatham headed to Bell Building Supply to pay their tab. He met with Harry Bell, who responded with, “Merry Christmas, paid in full.”
Thanks to the generosity of Bell Building Supply and the donations that had started coming in, there was money left over after the roof was complete to continue helping to renovate Antioch. “I [couldn’t], in good conscience, leave money in the account with the sanctuary in its condition” after prolonged exposure to water and termites. He continued, “and we did not see one need from this project go unmet by God.” People donated labor, expertise, money, and supplies, partially or completely, including electrical wiring, toilets, windows, ceiling paneling, sheetrock, and carpet. When it came timeo to panel the ceiling, a group of 30-40 men from Pinelake campuses in Brandon and Starkville showed up at 8:00 am one day, and they were finished by 3:30 that afternoon. Located at the busy intersection of Gillespie and Spring Streets, the project also received drive-by donations, high-fives, and notes of encouragement from people passing by. “Every time we came up with a need or problem to be solved, God solved it,” reflected Danny Cheatham. Indeed, after 87 days of construction, more than 70 volunteers from across the state, and $15,000 in cash donations from 60-plus people, Antioch’s sanctuary renovation was complete.
“I was a very strong-faithed person in the beginning, but my faith has grown as a result,” said Danny Cheatham. When reflecting on the impact the process had on her faith, Dr. Carr said, “It was miraculous. I saw the move of God’s hand—moving through the men and women of different races and denominations as they came together. My faith grew stronger as I watched the labor of love in action.”
However, with a project of this magnitude, one question is sure to surface throughout and after the effort: Why? Or the less delicate, Is it worth it? The group of men who responded to God’s prompting to invest and serve would reply with another question: What is the value of a soul? If just one family, one individual is restored to Christ as a result of the earthly investment made at Antioch, then the effort was absolutely worth it.
Etienne de Grellet said, “I shall pass through this life but once. Any good therefore that I can do, let me do it now for I shall never pass this way again.”
Let me paraphrase the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10: What is the best good that I can do? Love God and love my neighbor. And who is my neighbor? My neighbor is not someone who necessarily looks like me, lives like me, spends like me, or worships like me. My neighbor is anyone in my life whose needs—earthly, spiritual, emotional—I have the opportunity to meet, and that is to be done without an agenda.
This summer, Antioch Baptist Church celebrated its 106th anniversary. Included in the program of events was this passage, from Ephesians 2:19-22:
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
We are called to love our neighbor, not to save the world. The Samaritan didn’t start his efforts to help the injured man by becoming a surgeon; he started by picking him up. However, by choosing to help his racial and religious opposite, maybe even his enemy, the good neighbor wasn’t choosing glamour. When asked for advice about how to get started as they did, Louis Jenkins replied, “Open your eyes, the need is there. You don’t have to go to the south side of Chicago to serve others.” Traveling to the other side of the world on a week-long trip to “do missions” can be a great way to serve, but it is quick and can be self-indulgent. Investing where you live is hard, it is messy, and it requires consistency and work and bravery.
At mealtime, picky children often get plates with compartments so that the eighth deadly sin doesn’t occur: touching food. Adults tend to use plates that are open-concept, and most don’t mind if their sweet potato casserole touches the fried chicken a little bit. Don’t keep your servant heart or your bravery separate from your social activities, your family, your community. I challenge you to start conversations with your community groups, discipleship groups, and families about how you can reject compartmentalizing missions in your life. I challenge you to baby steps, to praying for God to open your eyes to the needs around you. Whether the Lord invites you to join Him in helping a local church or your racial or religious opposite, I challenge you to be obedient when He calls you to be #ForStarkville.