UNION COUNTY — Would you pay to spend part of your summer working in the heat of the day on a stranger’s home in a community far from your own and then sleep at night on the floor of a school gymnasium?
That’s just what the participants in the Salkehatchie Summer Service — Union camp will be doing starting this Saturday (June 17) and continuing through next Saturday (June 24). In so doing they will be continuing a tradition of Christian service that began nearly four decades ago.
“We have five homes this year and 67 participants,” Rev. Don Brown of Salkehatchie Summer Service said Monday. “We have one in Carlisle, one in Union, and three in Jonesville. We always try, if there’s a need, to keep it balanced by going into different parts of the county.”
Brown said the participants will be doing a variety of improvements to the properties they will be working on, with the tasks undertaken ranging from the relatively easy to the very difficult.
“The easiest jobs will be painting and yard work,” he said. “The most difficult or strenuous would be roofing. Then we also do plumbing, sheet rocking, and flooring.”
Brown said that the goal of Salkehatchie Summer Service is to make the homes they work on comfortable and functional for the individuals and families living in them.
“One of our folks will be getting a complete bathroom redo,” Brown said. “By that I don’t a ‘flip this house’ kind of thing, but making it functional.
“Our goals in construction are, first, to make it dry,” he said. “Next, to make it functional, and always to make it better.”
Like their counterparts in other camps in other counties throughout South Carolina, the participants — both teenagers and adults — in the Salkehatchie Summer Service — Union camp each paid $230 to come to Union County and work in the heat of the day on the homes of people they have never even met before.
Why do they do it? They do it because they are Christians who want to bring the good news of their faith in Jesus Christ through the good works they are doing to those they are helping.
“Our method is home repairs, but our purpose is to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ,” Brown said. “The scripture tells us that faith without works is dead. Works won’t saves us, but they are a testimony to our love of Christ and others.”
Brown explained that the home repairs the Salkehatchie participants make is a means of building trust between themselves and the recipients of the repairs and improvements they make to those houses. He said that when they start work on a house and, after a few hours, break for lunch, the only guarantee the homeowner has that the work begun that morning will be completed is the word of the Salkehatchie participants who promise to return and finish the job. Brown said they do just that and in the process of keeping their word and finishing the task they have set their hands to, the Salkehatchie participants gain the trust of those they are serving. He said that by earning and keeping that trust, the participants are able to witness to their faith in Christ and their sharing of His love for all His children.
“The home repair is just our method,” Brown said. “Our reason is to be there and build that trust and be that witness.”
The Christian character of Salkehatchie Summer Service should come as no surprise as it was established by a Christian minister — one with ties to Union County — who was moved by the needs he saw in another part of South Carolina and decided to do something about them.
“It was started by a Union native, Rev. John Culp,” Brown said. “He was a minister and also serving as a volunteer fireman in the Lowcountry.”
Brown said that while responding to a fire at a house where children lived, Culp was deeply troubled by the living conditions he saw and vowed they would not exist without him doing something about it.
“So he and some of the youth started doing home repairs,” Brown said. “That’s how the ministry got started and this summer is its 39th year. There’s now camps all over South Carolina with thousands of teenagers and adults paying to work and hundreds of homes fixed across the state.”
(As for how the ministry got its name, Brown said it gets it from the Salkehatchie River which was near the place where Culp began it.)
For many of its participants, Salkehatchie Summer Service is not just a once in a lifetime experience, but something they continue to do year after year.
“It gets to be a part of you,” Brown said. “We’ve got people who come back each summer. We even have one guy who did it then took a break to serve in the Marines and now he’s coming back. They do it because they love it.”
It is that love of serving others, of bearing witness to their Christian faith that Brown said sets Salkehatchie Summer Service apart.
“Anybody can fix a home, but to be a witness you’ve got to be connected to the person you are witnessing too,” Brown said, reiterating the desire to serve others, to build trust with them, and to witness to them is what motivates the participants in Salkehatchie Summer Service.
But is there anything else in it for them? Brown says yes, there is.
“For the $230 they pay to participate they get to sleep on the floor at the school,” Brown said. “They get to work hard in the sun all day, all week. In exchange, we give them all the memories they can stand and a t-shirt.”
There is also something else they get, something Brown says they sought to give those they are helping but who instead end up giving to them even more.
Brown said that when their trust has been gained, the people being served by the Salkehatchie volunteers open up to them, talking about their lives, their struggles, and how they manage to live despite often very limited means. He said the stories they hear from those they are helping often have a profound impact on the Salkehatchie participants, inspiring them to continue to be a part of the ministry.
“We go there looking to be a blessing, but it ends up we’re the ones getting the blessing,” Brown said.
If you would like to help the Salkehatchie Summer Service — Union camp there are two things Brown said it needs: prayers and financial contributions.
“We appreciate prayers covering us in our work and witness,” Brown said. “We also need financial support as the $230 paid per participant goes only so far and we still have to cover our expenses.”
To help the Salkehatchie Summer Service — Union camp cover its expenses call Caroline Barger at Grace United Methodist Church at 864-427-1266.
To cover it in prayer kneel down and ask God to help these precious servants bear witness to faith in Him through works undertaken in the spirit of Christian love.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.