Some 600 teenagers from around the country will be baptized by the fire of a South Carolina summer sun as they work to rehabilitate a Lexington County neighborhood through service and fellowship in the coming weeks.
With sweat dripping beneath an inadequate ceiling fan Thursday afternoon, a quartet of girls from a Port St. Lucie, Fla., Methodist church youth group laughed and chatted as they laid tiles on the floor of a house in the Bellemeade Estates neighborhood of West Columbia.
They say the work has taught them patience – especially after having to tear up the work they had started and begin from scratch midway through the day.
They were learning that a lot of the lessons that come from their labor also will apply to life.
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“You’ve got to get it done right, because if not, if you make a little mistake, it could potentially lead to bigger disasters down the road,” said Hayley Malpass, 18.
“Life’s like that,” added Tahya Neese, 15.
They’re a few of the more than 70 teens from two churches in Florida and Indiana who have worked in the neighborhood and lived at Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington for the past week.
Mt. Horeb is partnering with the Next Step Ministries organization to host groups of middle and high school students from around the country for a week at a time over nine weeks this summer. Each week-long mission trip sends the students to serve in the Bellemeade Estates neighborhood, where they’re working on projects to beautify the neighborhood and improve homes.
This year is the first of a 10-year commitment from Mt. Horeb and Next Step to support the Nehemiah Project, an arm of Christ Central Ministries that has been working for several years to transform lives and provide hope in impoverished areas of Lexington County.
The Nehemiah Project’s ministry efforts include hosting community gatherings and making home visits throughout neighborhoods like Bellemeade Estates to develop relationships among the neighbors, said the Rev. Scooter Scott, of Christ Central Ministries.
Scott says he enjoys seeing young people investing in the community.
“I believe we’re constantly planting seeds,” Scott said. “In this society that has become more ‘me’ and ‘my’ and all about the individual, it’s so exciting for me as a pastor to see young people helping other people and sharing God’s love.”
Soon, the ministry will open the Nehemiah House in Bellemeade Estates, which will be “a hub of hope” that offers services like financial counseling and Bible studies for the neighborhood, Scott said.
“You can just tell this neighborhood needs it,” said Jordan Gregory, a 17-year-old from Columbia City, Ind., who worked with a crew at the Nehemiah House re-shingling the roof, spreading concrete on the porch and laying tile flooring inside. “It just feels good to serve other people, and especially this house, because it’s going to be used for the community. It’s going to be a safe place for kids to go.”
Just around the corner from the Nehemiah House, 66-year-old Alwillie “Ms. Al” Mitchell has lived in her Bellemeade Estates home for more than 30 years. It’s been in need of repairs since the 1980s, she said. For the past two weeks, Next Step students have been rebuilding a shed behind her house, replacing the entire roof and redoing the leak-damaged drywall ceiling inside.
Mitchell said the work students have been doing is “excellent.” She beamed with joy when talking about the love shown to her by these teenagers who don’t even know her.
“I tell you, I have some good people out here doing great work for the Lord,” she said. “They love me. I love them.”
Wielding a circular saw over a piece of plywood in Mitchell’s backyard Thursday afternoon, 17-year-old Sydney Burdge said the work was “rewarding.”
“I don’t think it’s me working for somebody I don’t know – I think it’s me working for Christ,” she said. “And that is the ultimate goal, is to glorify God through everything. I’m working for Christ, and it just happens that I’m working for Ms. Al while doing that.”