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Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Helping the bayou starts at its roots

In Bayou La Batre on June 28, 2013 at 10:46 pm
Laney Payne instructs an antsy Bible class at Hemley Church of Christ. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Laney Payne instructs an antsy Bible class at Hemley Church of Christ. (Photo by Nathan Simone)


It may not be sufficient to say that the bayou has received another angel.

With the arrival of Laney Payne May 30, Bayou La Batre welcomed a new helper to the Hemley Church of Christ, a collaborator in trying to find sustainable innovations for Gulf seafood and a friend to neighbors and younger adults in the surrounding region.

Payne has been living and working at Hemley Street side-by-side with Church of Christ co-founder Daphne German and Billy Spaulding, who opened the church in 2003.

According to German, Payne has meshed right in with the church’s mission and sought to help wherever and whenever she is needed.

“Laney is a godsend,” German said. “What are we going to do when she’s gone?”

The food pantry of Hemley Church of Christ is only open Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

The food pantry of Hemley Church of Christ is only open Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Aside from specific duties like assisting with handing out food via the church’s pantry or teaching Bible school on Sundays, Payne has reached out to the local youth population to host sleepovers and plan athletic events.

One such event was a sleepover for high school aged girls, held at the church the weekend of June 14.

Payne said she and the girls had a fun night tie-dying t-shirts (all of which said “Bayou Blessed”) and playing while also discussing tough issues such as teen pregnancy, continuing education beyond high school and how they could use their talents to improve Bayou La Batre.

In her time away from Hemley Street, Payne has been involved in helping an oyster farming class proceed along with the instruction of Dr. Bill Walton, assistant professor and marine fisheries extension specialist at Auburn University. The classes alternate between being held on Dauphin Island and at Delta Port Marina in Coden.

Walton’s focus has been working with “farming” oysters in the rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico by transplanting juvenile oysters to wire baskets that stay suspended in the water column. The unique device, called an upweller, also allows the oysters to be removed from the water and sun-dried once a week, killing barnacles and seaweed that can impede growth.

One of the class’s members is Rosa Zirlott, co-founder and employee of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama. Zirlott said that the classes so far have been intriguing.

“I’m one of those types that if I’m going to tell someone to do something, I have to do it first,” Zirlott said. “So far, it’s been interesting and challenging.”

Rosa Zirlott (left) talks with Laney Payne about the work of OSA. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Rosa Zirlott (left) talks with Laney Payne about the work of OSA. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

One of the most important lessons Payne said she has learned is the value of investing in people. She realizes that money will always be an issue for starting and stopping projects, but that to really build community and empower others doesn’t cost a thing.

“To invest in someone and take a personal interest in them is free,” Payne said. “But the benefits to all involved can be tremendous.”

From simply talking to people and discussing their daily lives, Payne said she’s gained more of an insight as to how life works down in the bayou.

“It’s a world away from Auburn, but I can identify with almost everybody,” Payne said. “They have down-home values just like I was raised with, and want the same things out of life.”

In a relatively short amount of time, Payne has gone from being known as “that girl from Auburn” to being known by name and good works.

As long as Payne continues her forward path helping others and learning about life in coastal Alabama, the bayou will continue to be blessed with another angel.

Living Democracy in Elba: Week Five

In Elba on June 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Justin Maddox (left) and Philip Box (right) are the founders of Restoration 154. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Restoring Elba, 154 projects at a time

By Sierra Lehnhoff

Elba is a small town with a large range of assets for prosperity. The assets of a community are not only places and things, but people as well. It takes many types of people to make a community work, such as official leaders, catalysts and connectors. In these groups are the “movers and shakers.” Movers and shakers are people who make change happen for their community. Most often, they would be described as unofficial leaders. And Philip Box and Justin Maddox, founders of nonprofit group Restoration 154, are shakin’ Elba.

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Restoration 154 hopes to restore downtown theater. (Photo by Sierra Lehnhoff)

Restoration 154’s accomplishments in the community include opening a canoe and kayak shop called Pea River Outdoors right beside the boating dock on the Pea River. They are also restoring the old downtown theater to its former glory.

“We’re hoping that they’ll become two gathering places in the community, and that people will come by just to see what’s happening,” said Box.

Yet, their dreams don’t stop with these two enterprises. Box envisions restaurants they could start, programs to run and stores to open. Both speak of smaller projects as well, such as putting up mile markers for the river.  They explain that Restoration 154 has a dual meaning, standing for the 154 projects they plan to do as a nonprofit and the 154 miles of the Pea River.

“Do we want to start 154 businesses? Yes. Could we run 154 businesses? Not effectively,” Box said. “But if we can provide 154 stepping stones for others to join our community and help them out, then that’d be perfect.”

The way Restoration 154’s founders move through the town is amazing.  One can’t enter a restaurant without someone saying hello. Box even remarked at lunch the other day, “Justin knows everybody” as Maddox greeted almost everyone walking in the Just Folk Coffeehouse. Maddox is a long-time resident with deep family history and ties to the town and Box is the pastor at Elba Church of Christ. Each has their own relationship with the community and a drive to pursue projects in their town. Each new idea is full of excitement, and nothing is too outrageous to consider with Restoration 154.

The excitement for Restoration 154 projects is contagious, and people constantly walk up and ask them how the theater is doing or how Pea River Outdoors is progressing. Every new idea is tackled with force, such as my own project in designing a sign for them. We talked over a sketch one Friday and Box said, “Okay, we’ll have the sign ready to paint on Monday for you.” When a person visits Elba, they can ask anyone who Restoration 154 is and most people can tell you. By focusing on what their community needs, they are able to listen to the community to figure out what it wants.

One project in the works is a community garden, to soon be located on one of the 37 plots of land the city received from FEMA after past floods. Other plans suggested included a dog park or city park. No permanent structures can be built on the land.

“We have these large plots of land that are available for use, so we thought a community garden would be a great idea,” Box said. “The possibilities of how to use the land are endless.”

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Canoe and kayak rentals are available at Pea River Outdoors. (Photo by Sierra Lehnhoff)

Another interesting thing about Restoration 154 is how they embrace the river. In a past article, I wrote about how some citizens view the river in a negative light because of past floods. Box and Maddox chose to embrace the river and see it as an asset instead of a threat.

Restoration 154 could have chosen not to use the Pea River as a focal point, but they did and that says Box and Maddox are looking forward toward Elba’s future and its assets, as well as developing potential assets, instead of trying to reach back into the past. Their projects are playing an important role in making the Pea River a positive place where good memories can once again be made.

The biggest drawback that Restoration 154 faces is a lack of funds, but the town continues to support them steadily. This doesn’t deter Box and Maddox from pushing forward.

“The worst thing you can do is appear stagnant,” Box said. “We’re always planning and creating.”

Both have faith that a generous donor or sponsor will come along or something will work out. Most often things fall in to place, and they get where they need to go. Maddox remarked that sometimes they don’t get from one point to another as fast as they’d like, but the movement in their projects is consistent and, with time, a new idea forms to help pick up the pace. With each project they do, hope for Elba to once again become a thriving and lively town grows.

How long does Maddox think it will take to finally scratch project #154 off the list?

“Probably the rest of my life,” he said, “And that’s fine.”

Restoration 154 not only promises 154 projects, but gives Elba 154 miles of hope to believe that anything is possible for their town.

Living Democracy in Collinsville: Week 3

In Collinsville on June 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm

church 3 collinsvilleLoving Their Neighbors

By Mary Beth Snow

This morning I went to church with my host family for the second time. Carlos Perez, the father in the family I am living with, is the preacher at the Hispanic Church of Christ up the mountain.  He also preaches at a church in Fort Payne. Going with the family is always fun and an experience because everything is in Spanish. I used toCollins2church go to a Spanish service in my hometown of Decatur sometimes but nothing could have prepared me for the amount of Spanish I absorb at this church.

When we first get there, everyone meets in the sanctuary to pray and sing songs. Because it is a Church of Christ, there is no musical accompaniment to the songs.  We just sing them out of a songbook, which makes me grateful for my ability to read music, one thing that helps me keep up with people who have known these songs for their whole lives.  It also helps that some of the songs are actually Spanish versions of hymns I am familiar with in English. Everyone sings loudly and regardless of musical ability. The loudest singer in the room sits behind me. Even though he sometimes completely switches keys, hearing him sing makes me happier than anything because he is so joyful.

After a little bit of singing, the kids and the youth go into separate rooms for Sunday School while the adults stay to be taught in the sanctuary. The Sunday School lesson is the most difficult for me because the man who teaches the youth speaks so incredibly fast that I can only catch bits and pieces of what he’s saying, but everyone is so friendly and welcoming that I don’t feel uncomfortable at all. In the regular service there is more singing, offering, communion, prayer, and a sermon. It’s interesting because it is not really different than any church service I have been to in my life. But the language is different. When Carlos is preaching, he is easy to understand because he speaks slowly, and I am used to hearing his voice.

church 4collinsvilleAt the end of each service I have attended, he has mentioned to the whole congregation that I was there.  The first week, he had me stand up and greet the congregation and told them to speak to me only in Spanish because it was everybody’s job to help me practice. The people of the church have been extremely welcoming, asking me about my Living Democracy projects and passing off their babies for me to hold. Going there already feels like going home.

What is interesting about this church compared to others that I have been to is how extremely close it is. It is a small church, and operates somewhat like a big family. In addition to the normal Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services, they also have a Friday night meeting in the homes of different church members where they eat, fellowship and worship together. Carlos also goes to Gadsden two nights a week to do prison ministry, and he preaches in Fort Payne on Thursday and Sunday evenings. Carlos and his wife, Maria, are often out later than I am. Because of their commitment, they usually spend some time visiting in the homes of church members.

Church, especially in the South, is definitely a big part of community. Jennifer Wilkins, my community partner, is very active in the Collinsville First Baptist Church, andchurch 12 Myles Smith, my other community partner, is an elder in the Collinsville Church of Christ. It was actually Myles, along other members of the church, who hired Carlos and brought him and his family here from Mexico so they could pastor a Hispanic congregation. The house we live in is actually the parsonage for the Church of Christ. For Jennifer especially, the church is the backbone of the community. Collinsville doesn’t have a newspaper; so church bulletins and newsletters are some of the most effective ways to disperse news throughout the town. Jennifer told me that having such a strong church family helps her get her through hard weeks, and I think that is true for many people, especially in small towns. The church really does play a huge role as a community pillar and provides a place where different families and individuals can come together to meet and worship and get to know and love their neighbor, and really, what is community about if not that?

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Two

In Bayou La Batre on June 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm

For Laney post Week 2  A Place of Refuge & Service

by Laney Payne

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

Many people of the bayou do find comfort and rest within the walls of the Hemley Church of Christ on Sundays. However, rest is far from what you will see from the active members and supporters of the Bayou La Batre church who work seven days a week to create an atmosphere of love. From providing the community with non-perishable items, from noodles to cleaning products and colorful baby diapers, to making the rounds twice weekly in vans to pick up adults and children alike, the church reaches out to the people in the community.

“Other churches don’t give out food,” explained Brianna John, 14. “Other churches aren’t so laid back. Other churches don’t do what we do.” Coming together with the church of christcommon bond of a desire to serve, members from several congregations around the bayou gather three times a week to sort donated food, help fellow citizens seek financial assistance, and unload numerous truckloads of produce and items donated from companies like Wal-Mart, Panera Bread Company, and even local “U Pick It” farmers.

Founded in 2008, just after the devastating Hurricane Katrina swept the region flooding everything in her path, Hemley Church of Christ was built by people through hard work and perseverance for people who work hard and persevere. Established by William “Billy” Spaulding, Jr. and Daphne German, the church seeks to continually serve in the town that can be forgotten when storm-aftermath crews leave the community. After Hurricane Katrina, German recalls, “We had to use snow shovels to tear out the ceiling. The entire church was nearly 6 feet in water.”

This summer, Tyler Prior, 19, a St. Joseph’s University student visiting and working in Bayou La Batre, said,  “It’s a place where solidarity and unity can be built as people grow from their common experiences.” Prior, a native of New Jersey, said he enjoyed the informal nature of Hemley Church of Christ.  “Here, I’ve immersed myself in this culture of treating people right. I’d like to bring a piece of that back up north,” said Prior. “You see what’s really important in life.  People here are so content.”

The true virtue of “come as you are” is quickly appreciated as barefoot children scurry through the dirt drive in search of Mr. Billy’s famous biscuits and gravy.  Hemley Church of Christ does seem to take the message that “Jesus loves the little children” to heart. With nearly three children to every adult member, the churchyard always seems busy with young people from all over the bayou.  “The kids are so welcome, and they each play a part. They lead the singing and help out,” said Stephanie Brennan, a 22-year-old veteran on the St. Joseph University work crew. “I want to take them all home with me.” One teen church member, Taylor Roebuck, 16, said, “Our church really has changed the community.”

Laney 4Established in the 1950’s as Evangelist Methodist Church, the church has created an air of openness from a borrowed foundation and a conglomeration of donated items from churches of many backgrounds all over the world. Brightly crafted murals by artists from areas ranging from Honduras to Philadelphia cover the sanctuary and classrooms. An alter from Louisiana. A wood grain communion table from a local church that recently closed its doors. Sturdy wooden pews from the New Orleans Juvenile Detention Center. “The very worst that New Orleans had to offer sat in these pews.  Now the very finest the bayou has to offer sits here,” said German as she took a break from scrubbing shower stalls that serve as a bunkhouse for workers from all over the country.

The original stain glassed windows from the 1950’s spread vivid colors throughout the sacred sanctuary where members from all walks of life gather each Sunday. Without a full-time pastoral staff, the church schedules rotating preachers from all over the Gulf Coast, with even a few celebrities, such as the men from the hit A&E show “Duck Dynasty”, stopping by. “Some Sundays we will have 10 people in the pews; other weeks there isn’t an empty seat here,” German said.

One thing always remains the same: Hemley Church of Christ is always there. Against all odds, the small southern church, stitched together like a patchwork quilt from pieces of leftovers and donations, keeps their doors open to provide a place to worship. Staffed by hard working volunteers, shrimpers, grandmothers, waitresses, and barefoot children leading worship from song books nearly their size, Hemley Church of Christ is a place of refuge, service and support for the community.