Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 16, 2013

Charlotte church reaching out to Ashland neighborhoods

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — A mission team from Hopewell Baptist Church in the Charlotte, N.C., area is planning on making a difference here this week.

They chose Ashland as a mission field.

Hopewell church member Heather Morris, a 1991 graduate of Paul G. Blazer High School, had a burden for her hometown. She and her husband, Phillip Morris, a 1991 graduate of Boyd County High School, have made numerous trips back and forth from North Carolina to Kentucky in the last 20 years She saw a change in her hometown and not one for the better.

It was five years ago that Heather began developing a vision for a mission trip to her hometown but it was late October when the fuse was actually lit.

“I saw all of us in Ashland with these green shirts, all of us helping those in need and I saw the concert in Central Park,” she said. “I envisioned almost everything that’s happened.”

She shared her vision with Irene Furr and her husband Larry, a deacon and leader at the church, happened onto the conversation.

“He said ‘Heather, if you’re serious, I’ll help you,’’’ Morris said. “Larry knew who to call and what needed to happen. When I first got the vision, I was real excited. But I lost my excitement for it because I thought ‘This isn’t going to happen because I don’t know how to do this.’ Then Larry came along.’’

When Furr became involved, the project started taking shape. They immediately began having informal Kentucky mission meetings at church and a plan was launched.

The team leaders made several trips into Ashland, meeting with city officials and non-profit organizations that could help pave the way for the mission trip. Forty-two members of the church arrived in Ashland on Saturday and plan on working here all week in the city’s project neighborhoods — Debord, Hillcrest, Bruce, Central Avenue and Scope Towers.

They had a block party on Sunday at Scope Towers, cooking up more than a 100 hot dogs, with a large turnout that was hungry and thankful, Morris said.

“Some of them said ‘That’s the first time anybody who has ever come over here,’’’ Morris said. “Churches need to realize they have to get outside their own walls. Nobody has anything to motivate them. Christians get in our own little circle but we have to get out and minister to the lost.”

Morris said she has watched her own family be touched by drug abuse and addiction, including prescription drugs.

“We come and go, so we see the change,” she said. “We’ve seen our hometown change over 20 years for the worse.”

Morris drew a photograph of a glass salt shaker with H’s, for Hopewell, in the sprinkler instead of salt. “We want to have Hopewell sprinkled all over Ashland.”

Morris and her husband moved to Charlotte in 1993 and they had their rough times, too, after doing the “bar scene.” They even filing for divorce in 1998. But they stayed together and in 2000 had a daughter. That’s when they became involved in Hopewell, which has grown to a church were 1,300 come to worship on Sunday mornings. “It started out with 142 (on Sundays) 12 years ago,” Morris said. “Our pastor, Lee Pigg, is mission-minded. All credit to him. He’s what makes it go.”

Her husband started a motorcycle mission and she is involved in a homeless mission. She also has a burden for her hometown.

“We totally believe in missions,” Morris said. “We have a 10-10-10 thing. It’s 10 minutes of prayer on the 10th day of the month and a $10 donation. That’s what funds these mission trips.”

On Monday, the mission team was busy working in the Central Avenue neighborhood, cutting and trimming lawns, rebuilding porches and rails, putting up gutters and doing anything else that was needed. They were buzzing around everywhere.

The Central Avenue neighborhood is thankful for the help from the new friends from North Carolina. “I just think it’s so cool,” said Sylvia Morrison. “It’s like having a bunch of little elves at Christmas.”

Janine Castle has lived in the same home on 31st Street since 1994. The mission team will be staining a deck that the city built for her a few years ago. They also put in a sidewalk so it was easier access for her wheelchair. She was sitting on her porch watching the beehive of activity from the mission team.

“It’s a godsend,” she said. “I appreciate them coming all that way. What they’re doing, I just can’t do. I’m so thankful for them.”

Castle said she is looking forward to the block party at Central Baptist on Thursday night, too. “I offered to help or have my daughters help but they said they’ve got it covered. How nice is that?”

Furr said several local Baptist churches — Central, Wildwood, First Baptist and Unity Baptist — have provided a lot of support to the cause. Six local church members are teaming with the mission team, Furr said. “That gives us about 60 people on the street,” he said.

The Greenup Association of Baptists is providing housing in its Cannonsburg facility.

The mission team brought two trailers full of lawnmowers, weedeaters, hammers, saws and other building equipment. Lowe’s also gave them a 10 percent discount for items purchased here, Morris said.

Furr said his team is even trying to tackle the prostitution problem by ministering to the women on the streets. First Baptist Church is providing some assistance with that as well through their Women on the Street ministry. Morris is among the mission team working with that group, too.

“We want to reach out to these women on the street,” Furr said. “We want to pamper them a little and show them Jesus Christ.”

Curtis Maynard, who has lived on Central Avenue for 11 years, took some of the workers cold bottles of water. “I think it’s great that they came here to help,” he said. “Our neighborhood isn’t as bad as people think.”

“The cops have cleaned up the neighborhood a lot,” said Ashley Leake.

From cleaning up yards and houses to running day camps, Furr said his team wants to show God’s love to the residents in the targeted neighborhoods. He says no situation is hopeless with God involved.

“God knows exactly what we need,” Furr said. “We’re praying for divine appointments.”

The week will culminate with a free “Rock” concert in Central Park on Friday night at 6. A band from North Carolina and the Jason Lovins Band will be performing. Local marathon runner Amy Compston will be sharing her testimony between the two acts.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.