by Rachel Ellis / Dec 10 2020
After God miraculously provided a 94-acre property in Cocke County, Tennessee, for the future home of the Smoky Mountain Dream Center in 2019, director Emily Landers Houser and her team began praying for what God wanted them to accomplish in 2020.
Houser, an Appalachian native and U.S. Missions correctional chaplain, along with Intercultural Ministries missionaries Keith A. Hall and his wife, Alicia, sensed God indicating 2020 would be a year of building both physical and spiritual foundations for the growing ministry.
“I didn’t know about COVID-19, but the Lord was specific,” says Houser, 42. “We know that the needs — the drug crisis, the poverty, the abuse — are huge in Appalachia, and so we were to focus on building the support system in order to hold that kind of weight.”
Houser says staff members had started working on foundational items when coronavirus shutdowns hit in March. Suddenly she couldn’t get into the jail to minister. The Halls couldn’t minister in schools anymore.
“What’s awesome is the Lord knew it was going to happen all along,” Houser says. “It didn’t slow down what He told us to plan to do.”
Despite the pandemic, teams have safely been able to come from churches around the eastern United States to help install water units, septic systems, and electricity. They have constructed the foundation for a tiny home village and built the basic structure for a bathhouse.
The 24-by-48 foot bathhouse will contain a kitchen, a classroom, two showers, and a laundry room, so the Smoky Mountain Dream Center can serve the community as residents come for classes.
“We can meet spiritual, physical, and even emotional needs,” Houser says. “We're on the cusp of beginning to bear some of the weight of the needs of our community.”
While grateful for volunteers who supplied physical labor, Houser knew the property would need equipment as well to continue into the next phases of building. Plowing ground for a community garden, shoveling snow, clearing brush — all would require a tractor. Houser sought financial help from Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge.
Jamie Walton, compassion coordinator for BGMC, says after hearing how the tractor would help impact the ministry’s care for the community, the ministry wanted to help. Due to COVID-19, Walton gathered district leaders from around the country on Zoom to hear Houser’s mission.
“Emily really put out there her heart explaining what they needed and why,” Walton says. “Immediately we saw district leaders light up.”
Through BGMC, churches from around the United States began responding to make the tractor part of their giving projects. Children raised $52,000 in two months for the farm implement purchase.
“God gave us the most awesome tractor,” Houser says. The 2021 John Deere model has a cab front-end loader, bush hog, and hay forks.
Chaplaincy Ministries Senior Director Manuel A. Cordero is grateful for the BGMC quick response. The project received approval in June, and delivery took place in November.
“When Emily called me and said she was having a celebration for the tractor already, I was floored,” Cordero says. “What purpose God has for this is yet to be seen, but He wanted that tractor there and wanted it quick.”
The celebration of God’s provision cumulated in a tractor dedication Nov. 21 and the bathhouse dedication Nov. 22.
“We are going to use the tractor to make a community garden,” Houser says. Some of the food from that will be used in a forthcoming ministry called Taco Tuesday Trailer Park Outreach.
“We're going to do sidewalk Sunday School with kids in really tough situations,” Houser says.
While some potential donors may not consider a tractor or a bathhouse means of ministry, Houser disagrees.
“They are tools that are used in missions to further the gospel,” she says. “If we don’t have a tractor, we don’t have food. If we don’t have a bathhouse kitchen, we can’t cook. If we don’t have these buildings, children don't have a safe place to go.”
Houser says children in the West Florida District participated in creative group challenges such as washing cars, mowing yards, and building bird feeders. One girl made backpacks for the homeless and gave donations to BGMC and the backpacks to the homeless.
“There’s so much that adults can learn from these kids in terms of faith and belief in the impossible,” Houser says. “Jesus taught many times about having faith like a child. If we don’t include children, we miss out on a huge part of the army of God. We underestimate their purpose and their calling and their ability to serve.”