By Jessica Connor, editor
On page 9 of this month’s edition, I draw your attention to guest columns written by two Salkehatchie alumni – one a teenager, one an adult. What touches me especially about these columns is the do-gooder Christ-inspired sincerity these volunteers have about the annual summer service project. It’s a spirit I’ve heard echoed by a host of people since I started as Advocate editor in June.
And while I’ve never been to Salkehatchie myself, I must admit I’m inspired by these tales – and intrigued. So intrigued, in fact, that I’m seriously considering my own Salkehatchie experience next summer.
For those of you who don’t know, Salkehatchie Summer Service Project is an annual effort where people spend $200 and one full week of their lives in the blisteringly hot South Carolina sun to repair someone’s home. The brainchild of the Rev. John Culp, Salkehatchie started in 1978 with 25 participants. This year, its 32nd, offered 51 different volunteer weeks (three of them international!) spread out between mid-May and early August.
More than 3,500 people participated in Salkehatchie 2010, including 343 14-year-olds (the minimum age), 35 people over age 70, and 311 from out-of-state. The first year, Salkehatchie had a budget of $2,939. Today, its budget is $800,000 and climbing.
“It’s gotten so big, and every year, it’s a little more,” said Tammy Fulmer, S.C. Conference staffer who registers Salkehatchie participants. “To see it is unbelievable.”
Fulmer and Gail Corn, who assists her with registration, feel a bit like mother hens, watching something they care about flourish and thrive.
“It’s a pay it forward,” said Corn, who went on her first Salkehatchie experience this year. “There are other things you can do with your summer than be crawling under people’s houses, but these volunteers do for those who can’t do for themselves just to see the smiles on their faces.”
Eighty-three-year-old Robert Rutland, of the Columbia District, who has gone to Salkehatchie for 20 years now, said he feels God calls him back to Fairfield Camp every year. Even though the work is harder on his eight decades of bones than it was when he was in his sixties, he plans to go back next year.
“I see a need, and I see people who are really appreciative for what we do,” he told me. “Any time you see this work, you remember the Scriptures about helping the least of these, helping your fellow man in need, and you want to reach out and help him.”
Fourteen-year-old Clayton Sosebee, a Salkehatchie first-timer from the Anderson District, said much the same thing. His church has been sending volunteers to Salkehatchie for many years, and he’d always vowed that when he turned 14, he’d go, too.
“When you’re working on those people’s houses, and they don’t have anything, and you’re done and you see the smiles on their faces, it’s just awesome,” he said. “It’s a huge step in your faith. So many times, you are surrounded by non-Christians at school and other places, but Salkehatchie is different. It really helps you get closer to God.”
John writes, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:17-18, NRSV).
Registration for Salkehatchie 2011 begins in January.
Indeed, let us love in action.