Central UMC ministry provides brand-new beds for local children in need
By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—A chance reading in a Christian book became an all-out God-call for one South Carolina United Methodist. And now, his church is reaching out to the community by constructing beds for children in need.
Art Justice, a Florence attorney and active member of Central United Methodist Church, read Adam Hamilton’s Final Words from the Cross and found one paragraph kept coming back to him: how Hamilton’s Kansas church does a beds ministry for area children, many of whom are forced to sleep on the floor, with a parent or several to a bed because their families cannot afford to buy an additional bed.
But when he finished the book, Justice said, “I couldn’t get the thought of a beds ministry out of my mind.”
He soon learned God wanted him to start that ministry, and there was absolutely nothing that would stand in His way.
And when Justice learned from teachers and guidance counselors that hundreds of schoolchildren in his community needed a bed, his willingness to follow God became a full-fledged passion.
“While everyone knows a good breakfast is important to optimal performance in school, I believe a good night’s sleep is even more critical,” Justice told the Advocate. “I was shocked to learn how many young children are sleeping multi-children in one small bed, sleeping with adults, sleeping on chairs or couches or even on the floor.”
Justice even knew of one teenage boy who slept nightly on an air mattress under the kitchen table.
After nearly two years researching the project, lining up lumber and a mattress supplier, finessing the bed design and gearing up the congregation, 55 members of Central UMC gathered in October for a “build day,” assembling 26 beds for local children. They distributed the beds Dec. 19, just in time for Christmas.
Now, the team has their sights set on another build day in the spring, this time with a goal of 35 beds constructed and distributed by May.
“I was showing a young mother a bed frame and she just started crying, said, ‘We’re just so blessed. My daughter is 8 years old, and she’s getting the first bed she’s ever had,’” Justice said.
BEDS Ministry team member Bobby Floyd said knowing these young children are so tremendously helped by something most people take for granted—simple mattress, frame and box spring—breaks his heart.
“They can’t do for themselves, and we have to do for them,” Floyd said. “These children who grow up in these austere environments have no prospects. They don’t even know how to dream. It’s a foreign concept.”
But because of this ministry, Floyd and Justice said, they can begin to dream—and they can feel the love of God through the people of Central UMC.
But their story isn’t just about helping children get beds, Justice said. It also is a story of one church—and Justice himself—learning how God has a plan and how He uses His children to bring it to fruition.
For starters, God wouldn’t accept that Justice wanted to pass on the ministry. After his initial reading, when God lit the spark, the attorney began checking around with his contacts in the business community to see if there was any interest in starting a project.
“Everyone would say, ‘Oh, absolutely, I’m sure we could do that,’ but I was not finding anyone jumping on board, so I put it aside awhile,” Justice said—or so he thought.
God wouldn’t let him drop it. Thoughts of the ministry would wake Justice up at night, and then he began running into things that would remind him about it. Finally, the lifelong Methodist entered into some heartfelt prayer and realized God wasn’t going to stop tugging at him until he stepped up and said yes.
So-called hurdles disappeared almost instantly, and connections led to more connections. His pastors at church—senior pastor the Rev. Will Malambri and associate pastor the Rev. Josh Blackwelder—were eager to have their congregation involved. Justice then approached a friend who owned a furniture shop, who pointed him to the man Justice calls “our angel”: Bob Gourlay.
Gourlay, a member of Harrison UMC in Pineville, North Carolina, was about two years ahead of Central in his own beds ministry. Gourlay, too, had gotten the idea after reading Hamilton’s book. Gourlay became a crucial resource for Justice and his growing team, sharing how-tos about mattresses and ideas for securing lumber, and even their church’s Lincoln log bedframe design, which was invaluable.
“It was so easy two 10-year-olds could put it together!” Justice said, laughing.
Next, they needed lumber, another so-called hurdle. One of Justice’s clients is a lumber company, and the company donated lumber and sent pallets for the beds to a lumber-cutting company. The company, CM Tucker, cut the lumber into the right-sized pieces, then shipped it back to Florence. Just like that, another hurdle disappeared.
Construction-savvy BEDS Ministry members—Floyd, plus John Frank and Fred Church—got to work on the bedframe build plan as the full group began to push toward a fall 2015 church-wide build day.
Next up: children
Meanwhile, Justice and others in the group were working on identifying children who could benefit from the beds.
They decided to start with Florence School District One, with a goal of eventually expanding to neighboring districts. The school superintendent “jumped all over it,” Justice said, and soon they had a list of children—two for every elementary school—who would get the initial beds, along with their ages, grade, size, favorite color and a special hobby or sport they enjoyed.
BEDS Ministry team member Katri Skinner spearheaded an effort to get families from church to gather child-specific linens, pajamas, stuffed animals and books to give with the beds.
A local hotel group donated pillows, and Gourlay led them to Good360, a national organization that helps charities get products at a very low price. They were able to get a truckload of high-quality Tempur-Pedic mattress for only the cost of an administrative fee.
A streamlined build day
Next up: build day, which was held Oct. 24, 2015. For three hours, 55 children, teens, adults and seniors gathered to sand, assemble and bundle up the beds, all overseen by Floyd, Frank and Church.
They arranged the bed parts in a long assembly line, edged off the corners so all were rounded, and then 20 people sanded them. Another group connected the parts and bundled the beds up. Floyd built a jig to streamline the system on building day, which made their workflow twice as fast.
Many of the volunteers prayed as they worked and signed the beds with their names or love messages.
For Frank, helping wasn’t even a question: “I’ve just got to show up and do what needs to be done. I’ve got time, and I just do what’s needed.”
Nate McMurphy, student minister at Central, helped get many of the youth to build day. He said it was an easy fit because the ministry is a great way for children and teens to see the needs of the community and understand the role they can play in meeting those needs.
“This makes sense: Kids need beds. We’re feeding these kids. Why wouldn’t we also make beds?” McMurphy said. “You can see the lights come on in the students: get out and serve, be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Church agreed: “I have seen firsthand children all gathered in the same bedroom. This is a great idea to help people who cannot do for themselves.”
All their hard work culminated on Distribution Day. Parents and guidance counselors came in cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles to cart off their beds after instructions on the easy assembly. One woman showed up in a small car and managed to take the bed home carefully strapped to the roof of her car, Justice said—they were determined and extremely grateful.
Malambri was able to witness that gratitude later that day. During Distribution Day, he’d noticed one young boy clutch a brand new stuffed animal, clearly far more interested in the toy than the bed. But later that day, when Malambri was ringing the Salvation Army bell at a shop, he happened to see the same little boy clutching that very same stuffed animal. Malambri watched as the boy walked up to the kettle and dropped in a few coins—responding to being given by giving back himself.
Thy will be done
Justice said Central has been blessed by the BEDS Ministry and especially by learning the power of God’s will at work in the world.
“Over a dozen times we seemed to hit a snag, prayed about it and, within days and sometimes hours, our prayers were answered. It’s just absolutely blown me away,” Justice said. “God clearly wanted this ministry to happen at Central. It was His will that it be done.”
Justice is willing to talk with anyone interested in starting a similar ministry at their church. He can be reached at [email protected].