From Boone to the Adirondacks
It was a successful mission, said team leader Brad Shields, who helped organize a week of projects centered on Lake Champlain Bible Fellowship, a historic church that has seen its share of challenges since it was formed in the mid-1990s.
Currently housed in a structure that was built in 1873 as a church -- and later used as a restaurant and bar before transitioning back to its original purpose in 2010 -- the LCBF is located in the heart of a once thriving town known for it large timber and iron ore industries.
For many years, Lake Champlain and the nearby Hudson River were used to transport the products to New York City and other locations before a connecting railroad was built.
However, the economic picture for the town's some 1,000 residents today is quite bleak, said church spokesman, John Hanchett.
Hatchett, serves in various functions with the church, including that of deacon, financial officer and building and grounds steward, said. "We now have a large number of people on welfare in this area. We still have some tourists who come here, but most go south to the Lake George area or north to Lake Placid."
To have Mount Vernon's team partner with the fellowship "not only physically, but spiritually, is such a huge blessing to us," Hatchett said. "The encouragement and prayers of this team is needed so much. What the group has done for us is such an enormous help."
Mount Vernon Baptist Church was first led to the New York location through Ed Helms, a representative of North Carolina Baptist Men's group. Shields came to know Helms through mission work he directed with his church at Captsone Baptist Church in nearby Bennington, Vt.
"Ed called me about helping with this new church start in Port Henry," Shields said. "It has surely been a blessing for all us to go and support the new work at LCBF, which was a church plant from First Baptist Church of Lake Placid."
With pastoral changes at Lake Placid, this new church start in Port Henry needed other churches to come alongside of it for support, Shields said.
"Thus, Hebron Baptist of Decula, Ga., Mount Vernon of Boone and Midway Baptist in West Jefferson stepped up to help. Through our feeding, construction and evangelical teams, we have worked with those of LCBF to meet some of the most pressing physical and spiritual needs of this area, which includes high unemployment, drug related problems and a very low evangelical presence," he said.
For three years, the Boone-based group has made the trek to the north woods for a week of intense labor, community outreach and support to a church family that it has come to know and love. For two years, Mount Vernon was joined in its work with Midway Baptist in West Jefferson.
"We have been blessed so much by the help of these churches," Hatchett said. "Without the assistance they have provided, we would have really struggled with with building repairs and other things that our community has needed."
Construction needs have topped the list in the past, as well as that of spiritual leadership, Hatchett said, which has been sporadic in the past.
However, in January 2013, Jeremiah Brinkman, along with his wife and two daughters, moved from Georgia to Port Henry to assume the pastorate of the Lake Champlain church.
Representing the North American Mission Board, Brinkman is better known, he said, as "a church planting catalyst" and is focusing his efforts, not only on this particular church, but also in developing relationships and forming partnerships in the surrounding Adirondack region.
"This church, this area, is so key to what we want to do here," Brinkman said. "We have to figure out how to keep it (LCBF) healthy and help it survive and thrive. We've got to keep plugging along, praying hard and bringing teams in to help fill the gaps."
It is Brinkman's hope that one church a year, will be established in the northwest area of New York. "It's crucial that we forge ahead to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ," he said. "Having folks like Mount Vernon and others who come to help us gives us the encouragement we need to see it become a reality."
Brinkman said statistics prove that his church is in the "least Bible-minded area in the entire country."
He said that 7,000 people live within a seven-mile circle of Port Henry, "but less than 1 percent of those people are engaged in a church."
On a good day, he said, 65 people might filter into LCBF, but regular attendance and participation is less.
It is the goal of the church, Brinkman said, to impact the community with the gospel message through small group Bible studies, worship services and servant evangelism projects "in order to bring glory to God."
With the help of Mount Vernon and others like it, he said, reaching that goal is a possibility.
On two of the Boone group's seven nights in the Port Henry, it helped the host church sponsor neighborhood block parties that offered free food, games and door prizes that drew in about 100 people in separate locations.
In addition to preparing and serving hamburgers, hot dogs, cotton candy and popcorn, the team made available Bibles, information and friendly conversation to those who attended. Earlier in the day, the younger team members canvassed the neighborhood on foot with hand-delivered invitations announcing the event.
In the meantime, all team members from Boone worked to complete the majority of projects that had earlier been requested by the church leaders. From erecting a classroom (from what was once part of the church kitchen), to installing underground waterlines, to painting, completing brickwork and scaffolding, installing lights and plumbing fixtures, to helping remodel a rundown building for an addiction recovery center, installing a floor and plumbing fixtures in the pastor's home, constructing flower beds and filling them with potting soil and colorful plants for a nursing home, the labors of love were evident by week's end, according to church officials.
"We would not be where we are today without the help of Mount Vernon Baptist Church," said Brinkman.
The old, but lovely, brick church has stood the test of time and continues to stand as a beacon in a village long forgotten by some; its steeple reaches high into the sky and a sign out front sends a message to the community: Lake Champlain Bible Fellowship -- A community of faith, hope and love.
The camaraderie, compassion and commitment found therein, is proof that actions speak as loudly, or perhaps louder, than the words outside.