By Allison Trussell
IRMO—Forty years ago, the Rev. John Culp came face to face with the severe poverty that existed and remains in South Carolina and was determined to do something about it.
On March 10 at Union United Methodist Church, the South Carolina Conference celebrated 40 years of Salkehatchie, the result of Culp’s determination. Since 1978, youth and adults have crisscrossed the state repairing homes in weeklong camps.
“In 1978, cars cost $3,500, Jimmy Carter was president and John Culp came to me,” said Dr. Emory Campbell, director of the Gullah Heritage Consulting Services, said before the packed sanctuary. Campbell recalled how Culp was looking for a place to hold a camp to help the poorest of the poor. “Between now and then, this group has changed lives, allowing people to stay on their inherited lands. Hearts were changed as well.”
Campbell said that he convinced the Peace Corps to share rooms at the Penn Center with Culp’s group, despite the different races.
“You have done so much to bring awareness to poverty,” Campbell said to applause. “Your impact is far beyond putting a roof on a house.”
Other speakers echoed Campbell’s words.
Fred Murray, a member of the first camp, noted with some pride that he was part of the first camp—and also the first Salkehatchie participant to visit a hospital for a probable concussion. He recalls watching people come in to the hospital, get served and leave, while he— an African American—sat in the waiting room of the Allendale clinic. His camp counselor at some point left him, and finally, he was seen by a white doctor and given pills to take for the rest of the week. Later he realized his counselor had fought for him to be seen at the hospital, as the policy for the clinic was to not serve African Americans.
Because of that counselor’s persistence, Murray said, “I was seen and I was back on the roof the next day. … The greatest gift I had was taking my son (years later) to Salkehatchie. You can let things (like the clinic policy) make you bitter, or they can make you a difference-maker.”
Emily Caskey spoke about the connections campers make—to each other and to those they serve. “In 2010, I worked on a house in Hampton belonging to Johnny Boles.” Mr. Boles was the uncle of the three children who died in a house fire in 1978—the same children who had been buried by Culp and had served as the catalyst for Culp’s Salkehatchie vision. “God had connected me to those three children.”
She urged the crowd: “Connect your faith, connect your works, connect your love.”
Other speakers included Sarah Moseley, who performed her own song “Angels with Hammers,” written in response to her experiences with the Newberry Camp; Kathy Hart, chair of Salkehatchie Managing Board; the Rev. Neil Flowers, a long-time camp director; Ward Smith, director of Disaster Recovery; and Susan Caskey, hospitality chair, who presented Culp with a plaque.
The Union UMC Praise Band performed throughout the service, and Bishop Jonathan Holston led the group in communion.
“Forty years ago, John Culp experienced something he didn’t like and God put it on his heart to do something,” Susan Caskey said at the closing of the service. “Forty years later, it’s still going.”
Billy Robinson, coordinator of South Carolina’s United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Team, praised Salkehatchie after the event as “instrumental in giving encouragement and guidance” in the early years when UMVIM and the ERT were forming.
“Every drop of sweat and blood has made a ripple effect throughout the ages into the lives of everyone receiving help, but just as much, too, all the countless volunteers and supporters whose lives were forever changed in Jesus’ name,” Robinson said about Salkehatchie. “Your ministry has formed every participant into better and more fulfilled Christians and was a stepping stone for so many into a life of Christian service and ministry.”
This June and July, more than 2,000 campers will serve at 46 camps around the state, serving as the hands and feet of Christ. For more information or to register for a camp, go to Salkehatchie.org.
By Allison Trussell