ROCKMART — Jeremiah Carter provides clothes, diapers, toys, and other items for babies every day.
The items come from his closet – wall to wall and floor to ceiling at the Little Mission House located a few miles northwest of Rockmart and across from Bellview Baptist Church. Since late May, parents who would otherwise have to choose between buying formula or paying the light bill don’t have to. Instead, they go to Jeremiah’s Closet and get the items for free.
This happens through the Little Mission House, an outreach of Bellview that decided its empty parsonage needed a purpose. It happens despite the fact Jeremiah Carter never filled his lungs once with sweet Georgia air.
His tiny casket lays buried in the church’s cemetery. Near it, a stone, inscribed with “Created for a Purpose.”
Recognizing the sanctity of life
In January of this year things were going fairly well for Justin and Sara Carter. A year earlier Justin, Bellview’s pastor, had moved his office from the church to the former parsonage (he and Sara already had a home). During that time, he’d thought of ways to take advantage of other rooms in the parsonage. In particular, the idea took shape of requesting donations from the community that, in turn, could be used to provide for others.
One of those rooms could hold baby items. It fit with the excitement felt by him and his wife, Sara, pregnant with a little boy. Soon, they’d add another son alongside Jac, their two-year-old.
The church planned a baby shower. But this one, actually, was to generate items for the room in the Little Mission House. More appropriate, the Carters and others felt, was the shower to be held on Jan. 22 – Sanctity of Life Sunday. It was hard to think of a better way to launch a ministry dedicated to providing for babies.
On Jan. 12 Sara went to her doctor for a 16-week checkup. There was no heartbeat from the baby they would name Jeremiah.
“At first, people thought we should cancel the shower,” says Sara of well-meaning church members and friends who thought the event would be too painful, happening too soon. “Instead, we asked that in place of flowers or gifts for people to come to the baby shower and provide items for the community.”
The announcement at the bottom of Jeremiah’s obituary brought an outpouring, she remembers. Adds her husband, it served as a confirmation for the Little Mission House. The room to hold baby items would be called Jeremiah’s closet in honor of their son.
“We felt led in this direction [to establish the community ministry], but after [Jeremiah’s death] God showed us that this was what He wanted us to do,” says Justin.
“We want others to know that every life has a purpose, even the ones with as short a life span as Jeremiah’s. I know God can use that for His glory.”
The original purpose of Sara’s doctor’s appointment that day was to reveal the baby’s gender. As such, a name hadn’t been picked out yet. Juxtaposing with Psalm 139, Justin’s voice catches in pointing to Jeremiah 29:11 during those days of grief.
“I felt God pointing us to Scripture – ‘I knew you even before I knit you in your mother’s womb – and that He has a purpose for us.”
Since then, the ministry has grown at the Little Mission House. In addition to Jeremiah’s Closet, other rooms are dedicated to men’s and women’s clothing needs.
Bellview averages 65-70 in attendance on Sunday mornings, so getting volunteers has proven to be a challenge. Instead, the Little Mission House refers clients to local food pantries, pregnancy care centers, addiction recovery programs, child protective services, and professional Christian counselors according to the situation.
The ministry’s location helps in its outreach, says Justin. From the outside, the Little Mission House looks like a home.
“Some people might be intimidated to come to a church asking for clothes or diapers,” he says.
In 2015 Bellview held a Vision Sunday to seek God’s guidance for future ministry steps. “We developed a purpose statement that the church was to love as a family, worship in unity, disciple effectively, and serve missionally. Each component of that was to have a position and some ministries associated with it,” Justin explains.
The church restructured its budget to reflect its new purpose. It hired Kenny Camp as family pastor and, alongside missions involvement such as through Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief, decided to renew a focus on Polk County, where nearly 21 percent of the population lives in poverty.
In June, the ministry began offering a marriage class. That’s been joined by a small group class for singles. Future opportunities for clients include learning parenting skills, money management, and CPR.
Reaching down the road, too
The Carters and Bellview were exploring all of these options even before little Jeremiah Carter’s life in the womb and death. However, it’s undeniable his tiny fingerprints are all over the urgency to make an impact in the community and help others through means that lead them to a deeper relationship with Christ.
“We feel led to help people here and let them know we care about them and love them,” says Justin. “We want to reach people right down the road, too.”
The renewed focus of a country church echoes that of the last room on the left in the Little Mission House, the one holding stacks of diapers and tiny clothes on tiny hangers. Just as one gets a notion to look around and see what’s not being done – what needs to be done – there’s a desire to find a way to help others.
It can be created from a place of pain and grief. But, it can ultimately be created for a purpose.
The story doesn’t end without an update.
Yesterday, July 26, Sara posted an announcement on Facebook. A picture accompanied it. “Justin Carter and I are so excited to finally tell that we are expecting a baby!! Jac will get his very own baby for his birthday in February! We are 12 weeks and due 2/5/18! We saw a specialist yesterday and everything looks good so far!”