Florence One Schools historically have had a less than stellar reputation for quality education, facilities and leadership.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this town – it’s my home.  Ashley and I are both products of Florence Schools.  I went to Greenwood Elementary, Southside Middle and South Florence High School ’94.  But, Florence has a long history of division and leadership struggles.  Still…it’s a good community and is filled with great teachers who love teaching students.  My mom taught at Greenwood Elementary most of her teaching career and my mother-in-law taught in Florence as well.  Our family has come full circle because now our own children are students in Florence.  Our three sons are students at Carver Elementary, Sneed Middle School and West Florence High School.

This pandemic, quarantine and e-learning has reminded me just how far Florence has come in educating students and embracing technology.  I pulled out an old article from our scrapbook that was probably written around 1983 in the the Florence Morning News.  It’s a story about the purchase of the very first computer at Greenwood Elementary.  My dad was ahead of his time.  He was passionate about computers and technology.  We were one of the only families I knew with multiple computers and even internet in our house in the 80’s.  He knew that computers were going to be vital to learning.  My dad was chairman of the PTA at Greenwood and he helped lead the school to raise the funds to buy the first computer for student use.  This photo is of me and the principal.  I know…that boy in the photo looks like my son Luke went back in time in a DeLorean to take this picture…lol.  He really is my mini-me.  But… imagine.  Imagine what life would have been like if this pandemic occurred when I was Luke’s age.  No one in the 80’s would have been receiving an education during these days of quarantine in Florence.  If this had happened even just a few years ago it would also be a different story.  Our students became 1:1 with technology just this school year.

I’m grateful for the leadership of our Superintendent, Dr. Richard O’Malley for helping our students be one-to-one with technology.  Because of some great decisions and careful planning, every student and teacher walked into this quarantine with the tools they needed to help them thrive through this last quarter of the school year.

We have a long way to go as a community, but I for one am grateful.  Where there was once one computer in my Florence One elementary school, now every student has one in their hands.  That is a reason to celebrate.  Well done Florence One!

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Today marks the tenth day of what seems like a weird new normal here in South Carolina and across the country. For many people on the other side or our globe it has been a much longer journey. The COVID-19 pandemic has literally turned the world upside down. Before now very rarely were words used like, pandemic, quarantine or social distance. There is much anxiety, fear and confusion swirling around our town, on the news and on social media. So, how do we as the church respond? If your church is like ours, you’re probably starting to settle into the fact that this may last longer than we had hoped. So, what do we do now? If we can’t gather as “the church.” How do we BE the Church?

Scripture teaches us that the church gathers and scatters. We are called to gather often for cooperate worship, small group discipleship and authentic community, but then we scatter throughout the week to do the work of ministry and mission in the world. In recent days there has been alot more scattered than gathered. And to be honest, it’s ok.  Though I love the opportunities we have to gather as a family of faith, we are not without hope simply because we can’t “go to church.”

I’m convinced that during these days of being scattered we will learn more about God’s purpose for us as his children. We can’t be comfortable simply being in the four walls of a church building. We’ve been given a unique opportunity during these weeks to BE the church and spend extra time in our homes and neighborhoods? How can we use these days to take ownership of our faith? How can we leverage this gift of time to glorify God, grow closer to our families and point others to Jesus?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. PRAYER – I’m guilty of finding lots of time for “ministry” and not enough time for prayer. If you’re like me – maybe you find that prayer too often falls at the end of your list. These days of shorter to do lists are a good opportunity to flip your list.  Use this extra time to pray. Let it not just be at the beginning or end of your day – but as part of every aspect of your new routines. My hope is that as we pray more during these days in isolation – we will continue that habit long after this virus is gone.
  2. HOME ISN’T CANCELED ( #homeisntcanceled ) This is a hashtag that was sent out by FamilyLife this week.  What a great reminder that though nearly every event and activity is canceled – home is not canceled. How can we as husbands, wives, parents, siblings and grandparents leverage this free time to grow together and grow as disciples? Isn’t this what we always wish for…more time?  How many times have you said, “If we had more time, we would eat supper as a family at the dinner table.” or… “If we had more time, we would do a family devotion.” Well, now is that time.  Never before have we had so much free time. Don’t let it slip away scrolling Facebook. Home is not canceled. Take time away from devices to engage with those closest to you. Talk with each other, read God’s Word together, memorize scripture and talk about your personal relationship with Jesus.  Do other fun things together like: playing together in the backyard, cooking lessons with the kids, reading a good book together, playing a board game, even practical skills like learning to do laundry or home improvement projects. We’re called to train up our children – now we have nothing but time to do it. Seize these days for your family and your faith.
  3. NEIGHBORING – Though many of us live in neighborhoods, most of us are far too busy to really know the people that live next door. Depending on your level of quarantine it might not be possible to go visit your neighbors, but you can still make contact. Write them a letter, stick a note to their front door or even make them a meal. Even a simple act of kindness like rolling the trashcan to the street for an elderly neighbor could mean the world to someone. So often we see missions as something far away – but it begins in our own backyard. Use this time to be a good neighbor. Share love and share Christ with those who live closest to you.  In addition, because we live in a world where people who are very far away are just a click away online – use this extra time to reach out to them too. Create a prayer list of your Facebook friends. Pray daily for them. Make a list of friends who need to know the Lord and set up a virtual lunch date to share your testimony and the Gospel. Pick one person per day that you could FaceTime or meet in a Zoom meeting to share your journey together. Be creative and use the time wisely.

One day very soon this whole COVID-19 ordeal will be behind us and things will return to “normal.” The question is, what will that normal look like? My prayer is that we will have used this time to recenter our lives on the things that are most important. Rather than seeing all this social distance and isolation as bad thing – what if it’s a fresh opportunity. An opportunity to begin again in our faith, our family, and community.  Being scattered isn’t a bad thing. It’s part of our calling as disciples. The church “gathered” is a great blessing – and we should gather often, but it’s not our only purpose as the people of God. Church was never meant to simply be a place to go.  It was meant to be a people to be. Lord, teach us to scattered well.  …and, when we get to worship together in one place again – may we never take for granted the gift of the gathered church.

1471386072This semester I’ve had the privilege serving alongside Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) on the campus of Francis Marion University.  FMU BCM holds a special place in my heart because it’s the place I attended occasionally as a teenager with my sister when she was in college.  It was my first experience seeing college students on fire for Jesus.  I still remember the great leadership of Dena Lucy who was the pioneer campus minister at FMU.  It was that experience as a young teenager in the late 80’s that left a lasting impact on my heart.  It helped lead me to get involved in BCM during my college days at Anderson.

This semester I’ve enjoyed getting onto the campus at FMU.  During this semester I’ve learned a few things:

  1. Francis Marion University really is a solid hometown college with a great team of faculty and staff who are providing an affordable – top quality education.
  2. The BCM is a bright lighthouse at FMU.  It’s an inviting and exciting organization that welcomes ALL students and introduces them to Jesus.  It’s not only the largest campus organization at FMU, it is also making an eternal difference.
  3. God is not dead on university campuses.  College students are seeking now more than ever and they want a real relationship with Jesus.
  4. I’m more grateful now for the work of Kendal Danford.  Though I’ve served for six years on the FMU BCM Council, I never fully understood what it took to make BCM great.  Thank you Kendal for your intentional effort to reach the entire campus for the glory of Jesus.
  5. We have an awesome team of campus ministers (missionaries) across our state who are doing vital work.  They are working to reach 275,000 students with the Gospel of Jesus.  They need our prayers, financial support and words of encouragement.

Tonight is my last official night serving with the BCM as a staff member and it’s bitter sweet.  As I look back on these last few months of late nights at FMU, I look back on it with a grateful heart.  I’m grateful one student accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord.  I’m grateful for the dozens of students who came to BCM for the first time.  I am thankful  for the awesome student leadership team as well as our fantastic co-director, Mary Cross.  I’m grateful for local churches who showed up each week to feed students.  I’m also thankful for the countless people who showed up to move students into dorms, make cotton candy, bring carnival games, cook hotdogs and everything in between that helped us connect with students who need the love of Jesus.  I’m grateful for Chad Stillwell and the leadership team at our State Convention.  I’m thankful that Ebenezer now has more students than ever going to FMU BCM.  In addition, I now have great relationships with campus ministers all over our state.  This will help personally connect our current and future Ebenezer college students with local campus ministers at a variety of colleges.

So, today I say – Thank You!  Thank you FMU BCM for letting me be your 43 Year Old Semester Missionary.  Thank you for welcoming me and letting me serve with your team at the local and state level.  It helped me far more than you’ll ever know.  Thank you Ebenezer for allowing me to serve outside my normal ministry duties.  And a very special thank you to Ashley for always keeping things together at home and for being such an encouraging wife and ministry partner… even on the nights I came home at 11:00pm.

Welcome back Kendal!  Keep making much of Jesus at Francis Marion University.