A volunteer with The Hope Center teaches a class. Sherwood Baptist Church initially received the old bottling factory from Coca-Cola as a donation, but since then has partnered with other churches to make it a hub for Disaster Relief as well as efforts to reach at-risk youth. KEN BEVEL/Special
ALBANY — When Coca-Cola donated its old bottling plant and warehouse to Sherwood Baptist Church, it initially became a center for disaster relief operations. That proved to be providential, as over the last three years the city of Albany has been racked several times by severe storms. From hurricane force straight-line winds to a powerful tornado to Hurricane Michael, the city has experienced a tremendous need for assistance getting out from underneath the rubble left behind.
Not only did Sherwood Church now have a facility from which to distribute such assistance, but God sent them a man to run the operation. Enter Ken Bevel: a retired Marine Corp logistics officer who was a veteran of the Persian Gulf War as well as involved in the leadership of the U.S. relief effort to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. (And in case he looks familiar, yes, that Ken Bevel.)
“The last few years I was in the military, I prayed that when I got out, God would put the training and experience I had received to good use,” Bevel states, “and He did.”
God has opened doors in a big way for the disaster relief ministry in the community. As Sherwood has partnered with Samaritan’s Purse and Rubicon, this has become a central distribution point for the entire community working with an interdenominational cooperation of churches in the area. Since the first major storm in January 2017, they have disbursed over $334,000.
Bevel gives God the praise for this.
“I haven’t had to beg for one dime,” he says. “God has brought it in from all over the country.”
In addition to funds, the center is also able to provide help with clean-up and tarps. They were recently blessed with a brand new, fully-equipped panel truck courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse.
Even with all of the assistance being poured into the community, the leadership at Sherwood realized more could be done to both utilize the facility, known locally as “the old Coke plant,” and minister to the needs of the Albany community.
“We began to ask, ‘How else can we glorify God with this place?’” Bevel explains.
Start a fire
He then thought of a statement made by Charles Spurgeon many years ago, “How do you set a city on fire? You start a fire in the basement.”
Bevel began to feel a burden for the “basement” of the city: at-risk youth. He realized many of them had educational needs the church could meet by offering special classes in the plant. The new ministry would be called The Hope Center.
Partnerships formed with Albany Technical College as well as several of the local public schools. Classes were developed to replace programs such as home economics and shop that had been cut from the local school district. Sunday School classes from Sherwood and other local churches helped recruit kids to participate in the program. It began to grow rapidly.
Recent offerings include home economics, auto maintenance, home repair, and wilderness skills as well as GED preparatory classes. Upcoming classes will teach plumbing, flooring, and woodworking. An adult education class on family finance as well as other classes is being developed.
The program is not just about education though, it is a platform for sharing the Gospel. After instructors from the technical college and local schools finish teaching the class, a teacher from Sherwood presents the good news to all in attendance.
While a difference is already being made, time and eternity will reveal the extent of the fire being started in the basement of Albany’s youth.