Gary and Elesia Hunt. Gary is the bivocational pastor of Wharton Baptist Church in West Virginia. LINDA BARRON/Kiokee Baptist Church
Kiokee Baptist senior adult Sunday School class supports church in coal mining country
APPLING – A Georgia Baptist senior adult Sunday School class has teamed up with a West Virginia church to impact a small community in a big way.
The town of Wharton, situated in the coal mining country of West Virginia, boasts a population of 1,026. The local elementary school recently shut down. It’s a 40-minute drive to the nearest Walmart. For a time, the local mines had shut down. And every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, Pastor Gary Hunt, the bivocational pastor of Wharton Baptist Church, preaches, plays piano, and drives people to church (previously using his own sedan).
But this summer, Hunt, along with his wife Elesia and son Isaiah, drove down to Appling to receive a gift from Kiokee Baptist Church’s senior adult Sunday School class, taught by Tracy McDaniel, on behalf of his congregation. The gift was a 2017 van, equipped with a year’s worth of insurance coverage and funds to cover gas, as well $4,000 to stock the church’s food closet.
The gift was immediately put to use for Vacation Bible School. Hunt prayed for 75 in attendance, and 76 showed up. A 15-year-old boy had been attending the church – riding the van. He came to VBS and later revival. There he made a profession of faith and was baptized in the local trout stream.
“Here’s what God impressed on me,” McDaniel said after his first trip to the West Virginia church. “He [Pastor Hunt] has got to be hope for that whole town. Everybody looks to him. And my heart just went out to him.”
The Kiokee Baptist Sunday School class has been partnering with Wharton Baptist Church since 2016. McDaniel and his “best friend,” as he affectionately referred to him, Wayne Mattherly, delivered some of the school supplies collected by Augusta Baptist Association to be sent to West Virginia’s impoverished mining areas to Wharton.
When the team asked Hunt what the greatest physical need of the community was, he said it was shoes. Three weeks later, McDaniel and Mattherly delivered 918 shoes to the church.
“They made the nine-hour drive, delivered the supplies, and began an exciting mission adventure, directed by God and under his timetable,” Kiokee member Linda Barron said.
The timing was perfect, because McDaniel had been praying about a way to get more involved in ministry outside of his church. “It has really been overwhelming to me how God seemed to work. There was never any pressure, any goal. It just seemed to fall into place,” Barron said.
Over the next three years Hunt and McDaniel communicated via phone and text. A lock box was mounted on the wall of the Sunday School class and members were told they could give funds for the Wharton church. Each month the money was pooled, and a check was sent to help support the Wharton church. To this day, monthly contributions total anywhere between $1,700 and $2,500 a month. The most the class has contributed to the church in one month was $4,100.
And McDaniel sees “just a bunch of ‘God stories,’” as he calls them over and over.
“We make a couple of trips up a year to take stuff, shoes, clothes, blankets, and such. We had one of the ladies in our Sunday School class bring a wedding dress,” McDaniel recounted. “I told Wayne, ‘The Lord laid it on her heart to bring a wedding dress, so we’re gonna take it.’”
The pastor took the dress and put it with the things they give away to aid the community on their “Giveaway Days.”
A lady came in and saw the wedding dress and asked, “Is that wedding dress part of the giveaway?”
When the pastor replied yes, she explained, “My wedding dress burnt up in a housefire, and I’m getting married in a month. I didn’t know where I was going to get a wedding dress.” And the dress was her exact size.
Other things the support has funded include a new roof for the church, 400 leaflets which the Wharton church members distributed to their community, Bibles for homes that did not have a Bible, and a handicap ramp.
This year, money was also donated for Christmas hams for the community.
“There’s no way you can make this stuff up. It’s got to be God. It’s just got to be God,” McDaniel reflected.
And as he tells the story of this partnership between Kiokee’s class and Wharton, he hopes it encourages someone else to “step out in faith and get out of their comfort zone.”