At old Coke bottling plant, lives are being changed

ALBANY, Ga. – An old Coca-Cola bottling plant donated to Sherwood Baptist Church has become a hub for disaster relief operations and a ministry to at-risk youth.

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Albany, Ga., has been racked several times by severe storms over the last three years. From hurricane-force straight-line winds to a powerful tornado to Hurricane Michael, the city has experienced a tremendous need for assistance in getting out from under the rubble left behind.

Not only did Sherwood have a facility – donated by Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated – from which to distribute aid, 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. Bevel also has played key roles in the Kendrick Brothers films “Courageous” and “Fireproof.”

“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 said, “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 the Team Rubicon veterans service organization, it has become a central distribution point for the entire community working with an interdenominational coalition of churches. Since the first major storm in January 2017, they have disbursed over $334,000 in aid.

Bevel gives God the praise for this.

“I haven’t had to beg for one dime,” he said. “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, and they were recently blessed with a new fully-equipped panel truck courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse.

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Even with all of the assistance coming into the community, the leadership at Sherwood realized more could be done both to 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 said.

He then thought of a quote from Charles Spurgeon – “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.

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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 school district. Sunday School classes from Sherwood and other local churches helped recruit kids to participate in the program, and 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 are 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.

Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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