Much more than a backpack!

Published 8:30 am Friday, July 27, 2018


It is unbelievable that tomorrow will be the ten-year anniversary of the Back to School Bash. The first Back to School Bash lives distinctly in my memory, and I will never forget what I saw and heard that day. I had been the pastor of Harmony for one year at that time and we were planning a traditional Bible School that year. That night, after praying about the Bible School and falling asleep, I dreamed of an event during which students received free school supplies. In the dream, I could see excited children and families receiving backpacks, school supplies, food, and clothing, all while having a blast playing games. I did not see just a few, but in fact, I saw a huge crowd gathered at our church. Upon awaking, I could not wait to share my dream with my church family. I am so grateful when I shared this dream with Harmony that instead of rejecting such an idea, they embraced it. We cancelled our Bible School that year and focused our sole attention on the Back to School Bash. We contacted other churches, businesses, and organizations in the area and shared the idea, and many of them decided to work alongside us. We truly could not envision what God would do through this ministry. In fact, the first bash laid the foundation for what the Back to School Bash Ministry has become today. It was orchestrated by God, and it has been directed by him ever since, and to him we give all the glory and honor! Thankfully, that first bash has sparked others to create similar events in other places. As I was reflecting upon these ten years, I decided to share just a few of those memories in this week’s Solution Column and show why this event is much more than a student receiving a backpack.
Let’s begin with that first bash in 2008. The crowds did show up just as the Lord had promised in the dream. As individuals stood in line to enter the event, Pastor LD Berry and his wife Susie greeted the crowd. They met a mom and dad who had brought their 16-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son to receive school supplies. The parents began to share a bit about their situation with Pastor Berry. They informed him that their daughter was pregnant, and they had scheduled her abortion for Monday morning. He listened without judgment and condemnation, showing this family unconditional love! He then shared the story of Jesus with this family, and he explained God loved them enough to give his only son’s life for the sins of the world. The entire family knelt on that asphalt parking lot and gave their lives to Jesus. They cancelled the abortion and the young lady went on to have that baby! Praise God! This child will be 10 years old this year! That, my friend, is much more than a backpack!
A single dad with two elementary age sons showed up that second Back to School Bash. His wife had left him, and he was doing everything in his power to ensure his sons had what they needed for school. You could tell he was very stressed about raising these sons without a mother, and I will never forget the pained look on his face. Once the boys got their backpacks, I overheard a conversation between them and their dad. They asked if they could stay, eat, and play all the games and activities. I heard him tell them that he only came to get their school supplies, and he was sure that all the food and activities would cost, and he had no extra money. The boys hung their heads in defeat. I immediately went over to the dad to let him know that everything at the event was free, and that it had been paid for by Jesus! Tears formed in his eyes, and he looked at his boys and said, “You can eat and do whatever you all like, and we can stay as long as you guys want!” These boys immediately ran over to try the cotton candy! They had never had cotton candy before, and they were thrilled. I don’t think I have ever seen two boys anymore excited eating in all my life. Cotton candy was all over that huge smile on their face! The dad then hugged and thanked me for what we were doing, as I stood with tears rolling down my face. It was again I realized that this event was much more than a backpack!
We have always done our best to provide undergarments to the students as well because this is a major need for many of these families. For many years Wal-Mart was able to donate these, but today we purchase and store these for the following year. I happened to be standing near the free undergarment tent when my perception of poverty totally came into focus. A single mother with a skinny blonde kindergarten daughter approached the tent. She was holding tightly to her mother’s hand. The mother looked tired and a bit embarrassed as she walked up. She told one of the ladies volunteering that her daughter only had one pair of panties and she was unable to afford anymore. She had been washing her single pair of panties in the sink and drying them on the porch. The volunteer handed the little girl a complete pack of Disney Tinker Bell panties. The child’s face lit up with excitement, and you would have thought she had received a pony! She said, “I love Tinker Bell, and I have my very own panties, Mama! I have always wanted some of these!” The mother was overjoyed, and the volunteer was able to give her some socks as well. I knew we had poverty in Carter County before this situation, but I did not understand the enormity until that moment. Once again, it is much more than a backpack.
These days many parents are unable to raise their children due to their addictions. Many times, the grandparents are stepping forward to raise their grandchildren. I have seen many grandparents attend the Back to School Bash over the course of these 10 years. After the Christian skit in the sanctuary, I give individuals a chance to come forward to speak with a counselor about their life. This grandmother came forward that day and she explained that she was a believer. She was weeping uncontrollably, and she had her four grandchildren in tow. She was a widow that lived on a fixed income, and she was struggling to meet all the needs of these children. She began to explain that both her son and daughter were addicted, and that she was raising these children on her own. She came up for us to pray her son and daughter would get help for their addictions. We prayed at the altar that God would do just that, and we prayed for her as well. All four children were able to get their backpacks, school supplies, clothing, shoes, and even a hair cut before they left that day all while playing and eating! At the end of the day, this precious grandmother made her way back into the church. Without saying anything, she grabbed me around the neck and wept tears of joy. I wept along with her as her grandchildren stood watching. Then one by one the kids came up and thanked me for the best day ever! They said they had wanted to go to Dollywood for vacation, but grandma said they did not have the money. Then they said, “This is our Dollywood, and we can’t wait ’til next summer!” The grandmother said the weight of the world had been lifted off her shoulders because of the bash, and that she could sleep without worrying about what she was going to do to make a way for her grandchildren to be ready for school. This is much more than a backpack!
I could go on and on with stories, but I am sure that you get the picture! The Back to School Bash is much more than a backpack. It is families having fun without the worries of money! It is the smiles and laughter of children as they eat, play, and meet their favorite princess or super hero. It is grandparents getting to be children again! But most of all it is a community realizing they are loved and cared for by God and the church! I wish I could give you a number of individuals that have begun a relationship with Jesus Christ because his Word was presented at the Back to School Bash, but only the Lord knows that number. My prayer is this event will grow bigger and better with each passing year. If you are reading this and your church, business, or organization is not involved in the Back to School Bash, we would love to have you all join us! Call us at 423-725-3338 for more info on how you can get involved. In fact, stop by tomorrow and see for yourselves, and you will leave with your own story to tell! You will know from experience, it is much more than a backpack!
WHAT: 10th Annual Back to School Bash
WHERE: Harmony Free Will Baptist Church in Hampton
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
All students and families are invited to attend!
Parking at Hampton High School and Carter County School buses will shuttle to and from the event.
(The Solution Column is provided by Pastor Brandon Young of Harmony Free Will Baptist Church, Hampton, and his associate, Hunter Greene.)

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