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Erasing the Lines

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Alexa Hudson cleans the walls of a vacant home during one of her days at the Erasing the Lines camp offered by The Refuge. This weeklong camp brings together students from different churches to perform community service projects in Kinston. “What happens is you have kids from one side of town going to serve in a part of town they didn’t even know existed,” said Sammy Hudson, executive director of The Refuge.

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By Kim Grizzard

Sunday, July 8, 2018

KINSTON — What stands out in Sammy Hudson’s mind after traveling to Philadelphia with a van full of teenagers is the last mile or so before arriving back home.

After a week spent working with the homeless, serving in an after-school program and feeding the hungry, they made their way through Kinston to Queen Street United Methodist Church. Things looked almost exactly as they had when the teens had left, but somehow they now saw it differently.

That trip to the City of Brotherly Love had helped to open their eyes to what it means to love their neighbors.

“As we were driving into Kinston, it dawned on the kids that we don’t have to go anywhere,” Hudson said. “We had all those same needs in our own community.”

The following year, Hudson and his church youth group decided not to drive 500 miles for a summer mission week but to spend it in their hometown instead. They have been here ever since.

Now in its 15th year, Erasing the Lines has given teens a chance to go places they have never been without leaving their community.

“Some of the roads that we go on throughout this week are roads that I would never touch or walk on outside of this week of summer,” said counselor Hailey West, 20, who began attending the camp as a high school junior. “And I’ve lived here all my life.”

Not all participants are from Lenoir County. Erasing the Lines has grown from two dozen campers to about 100 from Kinston, Greenville, Goldsboro, Raleigh and Morehead City. Ten eastern North Carolina churches take part.

“One line that’s immediately erased when we do Erasing the Lines is the denominational line because the churches that are represented are from every denomination,” Hudson said. “There are a lot of lines … whether it’s racial, whether it’s socioeconomic, whether it’s denominational, whether it’s government and church. What we’ve discovered is the only true way we can erase those lines is through Christ.”

Since 2007, Hudson has served as executive director of The Refuge, a Christian camp and retreat center on 165 acres in Greene County. Erasing the Lines is The Refuge’s largest camp of the summer, but campers do not get to take advantage of swimming, canoeing, low-ropes course and other amenities The Refuge offers.

The Refuge has room for about 70 overnight campers, so the more than 100 campers and counselors attending Erasing the Lines make Kinston’s Rochelle Middle School their home for the week. They eat in the school cafeteria, worship in the auditorium, and sleep on cots and air mattresses inside empty classrooms.

Instead of crafts, campfires and games, their daily activities often include construction, cleanup and gardening.

Still, 11-year-old Alexa Hudson of Grifton has been waiting years for her turn to come to Erasing the Lines, which is for rising sixth-graders through high school seniors.

“My youth group has been coming here and they told me all about it,” she said. “It’s just a really good impact. It’s a way to be helpful in the community, and it’s fun.”

Later in the summer, she will go to Girl Scout camp where there will be nature hikes and marshmallow roasting. At Erasing the Lines, she is washing mildew off walls of a home in east Kinston.

“They don’t have high ropes courses and swimming pools, and they don’t care,” Sammy Hudson said. “They don’t feel slighted at all because they’re not driving a go kart or playing putt putt. They don’t. They find value in the fellowship they have, and they are giving their all.”

Allie Curtis has been coming for the last five years with her youth group from Greenville’s Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Church.

“I like coming here every year because it makes such a big impact on people,” she said. “One project we did, the woman had cancer and couldn’t really do much herself so we pressure-washed her house and planted flowers, and it made her really happy.”

Sammy Hudson recalls how campers would spend part of their day working in Ella Warren’s yard and another part listening to her tell stories about her years of working at a juvenile detention center in New York.

The next summer, Erasing the Lines campers went to visit Warren in the hospital. When she died several weeks after camp, some of them attended her funeral.

“I think part of our goal in doing ETL is to help kids understand how to see need beyond their own,” Hudson said. “Most junior high or high school students, they understand their need very well, but until they’re confronted with the need around them, they’re not accountable to it. But all of us, when we’re confronted with it, now we have to make a decision whether we are going to do something about it or not.

“The reality is that we’re called to fill those needs,” he said. “I think the Bible says it this way, that we’re called to consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Something happens when you step into the need of someone else. The crazy part is what really happens is you find out that your needs are actually met.”

Lindsey Smith began bringing teens to the camp with her husband, Tim, a youth pastor at Kinston’s 902 Church, several years ago.

“I just feel like them being involved in other parts of the community that maybe you don’t get to see during everyday life just gives them such a perspective on the body of Christ and Jesus,” she said. “Going all around Kinston, just driving through, you don’t see all of these different places you can serve or where there might be a need.”

Last year, members of her church youth group spent time at Erasing the Lines visiting a veteran’s home, painting a house and building a new bed at a community garden.

“We didn’t give our kids an option,” she said of her son, Alex, and daughter, Miranda, who began attending Erasing the Lines last year. “We just kind of told them, ‘Hey this is camp week; we’re all going,’ and the whole family came. It’s really the best week of your life.”

In the last 15 years, Erasing the Lines has met a long list of needs in Kinston. Volunteers from the camp have painted restrooms at Rochelle Middle. They have helped to cultivate the Lenoir County Children’s Garden and have built camping platforms at Neuseway Nature Center. They have worked to paint the train station and to install a water station at a dog park. They have cleaned and painted homes for the ministry Hope Restoration and landscaped the entrance to Maplewood Cemetery in partnership with the nonprofit Pride of Kinston.

“We don’t have to just serve faith-based initiatives,” Hudson said. “We can go and we can fix our community playgrounds. We can beautify our downtowns.

“I’ve seen the things that have been done over the past 15 years in Kinston,” he said. “Our goal is to make a spiritual impact, but it’s not just spiritual. There are visible impacts that ETL has made.”

ETL campers receive different work assignments each day. Some might involve landscaping a yard for a senior citizen. Others may include helping to lead a vacation Bible school at Carver Court public housing community.

Once during camp, teens leave the middle school with no assignment except to “ask the Lord.” For this project, the group leader is given some cash, and campers are asked to pray and then ride around the community to look for needs they can meet.

“It’s incredible what those kids come back with that they’ve done,” Hudson said.

Some efforts extend beyond the city limits. Camper Dallas Hill of Hugo, who is in his third year at Erasing the Lines, said a group from the camp built a wheelchair ramp for his grandmother, who had recently had to have her leg amputated.

“I guess she was just in need,” he said. “She’s on a farm. I have no idea how they met her.”

Three years ago, The Refuge launched Small Town Missions, a spin-off of ETL that takes campers to small, neighboring communities for service projects. A Small Town Missions camp is being held this week in Greene County, and Small Town Missions: Farmville begins July 29.

“It’s been a really neat outreach for us in some of these small towns,” Hudson said. “Some of these small towns are forgotten. You don’t hear about a whole lot of community service work going into Walstonburg or Hookerton. These towns get so excited because it’s like new life is being breathed into them.”

Tim Smith of 902 Church, who has led youth summer mission trips to New York, Costa Rica and Mexico, said Erasing the Lines has given him a new outlook on youth missions.

“The other trips are awesome,” he said. “It’s awesome to go places and meet people. But I think we think we have to go halfway around the world to change something. My philosophy has changed over the years to let’s help our own community.”

Hudson agrees.

“I think what going out of town did for us was we were able to see into some areas in other communities that had need,” he said. “What that did was that helped us look into our own communities in those same places.”

For more information about Erasing the Lines or Small Town Missions, visit The Refuge website, www.ncrefuge.org.

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