BURNING DOWN TO BUILD BIGGER Andy Hollifield 1-11-17
I read a story a while ago on Facebook that brought to mind a story that I was personally involved with from years ago. Some of you that have heard my ministry presentation at your church may have heard this but I want to share it again because it has a valuable lesson that makes it worth telling.
The year was 1999. Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Weaverville, NC has been very mission minded at least for about the last twenty years and probably longer. In July of ’99, my dad’s Sunday School class had just started a class mission work to a town near Harlan, Kentucky. They were going to be taking groceries up to a local food pantry to be distributed to needy folks in that area. Some of the food was going to come from a church in Whitehouse, Tn. just north of Nashville. Since I knew the pastor of the church, my dad kind of volunteered me, after asking me of course, to drive his van over there on Friday to pick up the food. That church was affiliated with Feed The Children in Nashville and were willing to give dad’s church a van load if we came to get it. I had met the pastor over there because he was the nephew of my dad’s pastor at the time and he had helped me try to chase the country music dream as a songwriter. Needless to say, that wound up not working out but I formed friendships from that experience that I place a high value on. Anyway, I drove over on a Friday afternoon to get the food and spent the night at the pastor’s house before leaving at 3:00 AM headed for Harlan. I got to Hardee’s in downtown Harlan by about 8:00 AM where I met mom and dad for breakfast and then we delivered 2 van loads of food and housewares and clothes to the food pantry. Thus was the first official Kentucky trip for Operation Outreach, the name of Pleasant Hill’s ministry.
We continued going to that pantry for I think 3 months. My employer at the time, American Freightways even let me borrow a tractor-trailer one month to go up there and instructed me to fuel only before I left because the fuel was going to be their contribution to the work. That is just how much God was blessing the work and little did I know then that I would eventually form a ministry that was a spinoff of that work in Kentucky. We eventually ran into some issues with not being able to get information from the pantry on who they were helping so we had to quit taking stuff to them. We had to report back to the folks that were funding the work and we needed cooperation and accountability from the pantry in order to do that. Without that accountability, we couldn’t keep investing the Lord’s money in a work that we couldn’t verify where it was going and how it was being used. Anyone that has ever tried to do anything for the Lord knows that if he is blessing it, the devil will fight it. With that door closed, my dad begin to make phone calls to find other places in that area where his Sunday School class could help. Shortly afterwards we got acquainted with a couple of men that were from Harlan that had started a soup kitchen out of their heart and their hip pocket. Both had done well in their respective businesses and wanted to meet a need in their community and they saw homelessness as an increasing problem. They felt like they could at least provide a hot meal to those folks and let them know that God loved them and so began New Covenant Kitchen, a work of Christ’ Hands Ministry. The reason I don’t put names of people is because no one including myself wants or deserves any glory for what God accomplished through our respective ministries.
New Covenant hadn’t been operating long when we met them and began taking food to them once a month. Finally, since you have a little background, fast forward to Christmas Morning 1999. It was bitter cold in Harlan, I think about 24 degrees if memory serves me correctly. One of the men, we’ll call him Bob, had come to the kitchen to thaw out the water pipes so they could cook later that day. The building they were in was a very old wooden 2 or 3 story building downtown and the design when it was built included a ventilation shaft that ran under the building into the crawl space. Unknown to Bob at the time, as he was using his propane torch to thaw the lines, a spark jumped into the vent shaft under the floor and apparently started some debris smoldering under the 80 or 90-year-old structure. To make a long story short, 45 minutes later he got a phone call that the building was fully engulfed in flames. Around lunch time that day, one of the volunteers that helped cook told me later that he couldn’t stand the thoughts of those homeless people coming there that evening for a meal only to have to do without. He loaded up his pickup and went to town and made and handed out sandwiches in front of the burned out structure. They prepared meals wherever they could until the local Mennonite church gave them use of their church fellowship hall and kitchen until they could rebuild. Problem was; they were low-budget and didn’t have money to rebuild.
Meanwhile, 150 miles away and about 12 hours earlier in Asheville, NC, the Rolling Pin Bakery on Merrimon Avenue closed it’s doors for the final time because the owner was retiring. My dad found out about the fire on Christmas Day or the day after and had read that the bakery was closing. On Monday, he called to see if they were selling the equipment and explained to the owner about the kitchen in Kentucky burning up. The owner told dad to have those guys call him and he would try to help them. They wound up coming down on Tuesday in a pickup and going back with a full load of stuff. Although they explained to the owner that they only had a limited budget, he promised to work with them on payment. He repeatedly walked those men through the bakery asking them if they could use this item or that item and told them to write it on their list. They came back that Saturday with a U-Haul truck and the pickup. Again, they went home full and were told to come back the next week. Once again they went home with both trucks full. They wound up with enough commercial equipment to open a larger kitchen than what they had and enough to spare to have supplied another kitchen. They sent their list to the owners accountant for their tax purposes and I am not sure to this day if they ever had to pay a penny for all that equipment.
If that wasn’t enough, God sometimes likes to show out because he can, He wound up giving them a building. There was an old mine supply building that had been on the real estate market for years but had not sold. The volunteer I mentioned earlier, continually talked to the owner of the building and tried to get him to donate it to the ministry for a tax write-off. Without speaking out of turn about private business matters, all I know for sure is this; The building is 33,000 square foot and at least 3 floors tall. The kitchen they built on the bottom floor, could house their old kitchen at least three times and the dining room could house their old dining room probably at least two times. The pantries adjacent to the kitchen itself could house the old kitchen and pantry at least twice. That is not even counting all the first floor storage behind the kitchen which could hold the new kitchen and pantries probably once at least. The building was remodeled with mostly donated labor and a lot of donated material. It includes two loading docks and a freight elevator. Since it opened in probably 2001 or 2002, it has at different times housed a medical clinic, an emergency shelter with separate individual rooms for men, women, and even family rooms. Those facilities are not open at this time I don’t believe. It has also housed relief workers coming in for flood relief and also mission groups coming to the area for carpentry ministries and groups holding vacation bible schools in area churches. It currently host a ministry from Burnsville, NC that goes once a month to distribute food and hold church services on Sunday.
I know this has been a long article but I hope it is a blessing to you like it is to me. I use the kitchen often as an illustration of what God can do with a couple of willing servants. Also, it demonstrated that nothing is too hard for God. Those two men that had a burden to feed the homeless and shut ins one hot meal a day have wound up being a blessing to their town far more than they could have possibly envisioned. Imagine how heartbroken they must have been as they stood in the cold that Christmas morning watching the work that God had allowed them to start go up in smoke. Sometimes we may not understand what God is doing in our lives but he may be having to burn us down to build us bigger. Have a blessed day in the Lord!!!