Moved to action by the faith of a child: letter spurs volunteers to help Dean church

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Workers from Camp War Eagle tear water-damaged roofing from the walkway at Dean United Baptist Church, south of Metalton. The crew gave the tiny, rural church a two-day makeover last week, in response to a young camper's letter. Photo by T.S. Strickland / Carroll County News

METALTON -- The metallic buzz of a circular saw rings out over the hills and hollows of Dean, followed by the thud-thud-thud of hammers.

It's 10 a.m. on Jan. 16 and frigid, but a small crew of workers from Camp War Eagle is huffing hot smoke, heaving plywood, and scaling ladders at Dean United Baptist Church, deep in the southern hinterland of Carroll County.

The workers have driven more than an hour to lift the spirits of this little rural chapel perched on a hill off Highway 21 South -- a trek inspired by the devotion of one young girl.

Chanci Walker -- the bubbly, outgoing, 13-year-old who is responsible --has grown up in this church. Her aunt teaches Sunday school, and her grandfather, Harley, is a deacon.

He guessed the flag-stone facaded building had stood on that hill for 100 years. In decades past, the church served as the community's school -- where several of the Walker clan received their early education.

The congregation is small these days. Walker said they had an average attendance of seven to 14 at their twice monthly services -- 15 or 16 "on a good day."

The sign hung from one wall in the sanctuary sums it up:

"ATTENDANCE TODAY ... 14.

ATTENDANCE LAST SUNDAY ... 13.

OFFERING TODAY ... $68.25."

The final line, reading, "BUILDING FUND," is -- unsurprisingly -- empty.

That's where Camp War Eagle comes in.

Chanci Walker has attended the the faith-based camp for the past three years.

Located on Beaver Lake in Rogers, Camp War Eagle was founded in 2006 by Alice Walton -- of Wal-Mart renown -- to give underprivileged children an opportunity to experience that quintessential American ritual of roasted marshmallows, relay races, and kumbayas.

After last summer, Walker wrote a letter to camp staff.

"You, my sisters," she said, "have given me so much hope and taught me how to be braver, stronger, and a better child to God."

She told them her Sunday school teacher had left the small congregation for another church, leaving her -- before her aunt stepped in -- to teach her 10-year-old brother.

"Why she did it, I don't know," Walker wrote, "but what I do know is that, yes, yes, our church is small. Yes, it does have a wasp's nest living in the ceiling. Yes, I think every now and then that the roof's going to cave in on us and the wasp are going (to) sting us to death -- But, let me tell you this: There is no other place I feel safer than that small, cold in the winter, wasp-infested church."

The staff at camp were so moved by the letter they dispatched a team of workers to lend a hand.

Rob Horton, the leader of the team, said they planned two days of work at the church last week, during which they would repair the water-damaged roof over a walkway, install a new door, and replace the ceiling inside the church -- also damaged by moisture.

Horton said the staff wanted to model the ideal of community service that they demand from their campers.

Many of the kids are allowed to attend at no charge. However, Horton said the children were expected to perform well in school and volunteer in their communities.

The idea, he said, is to teach campers that it doesn't matter where they come from. Rather, it is how they live that counts.

Walker seems to have learned the lesson. She said her time at Camp War Eagle had taught her to put God and others before herself. She spends her free time volunteering at the Loaves and Fishes food pantry in Berryville, or making signs inviting people to come to her church.

Her grandfather said she planted them all about town.

"Haven't had too much response so far," he said, "but you never know."

At any rate, if those people finally do start filing back into the little church on the hill, they won't have to worry so much about the roof falling in on them. And, for that, they can thank Chanci Walker, and the staff at Camp War Eagle.

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