For many, Dec. 31, 2020, marked the end of a forgettable year. Yet as the new year dawned, the poor and needy of Newcastle, Texas, could look back with celebration because an Assemblies of God congregation stepped out in faith.
For Austin N. Bruton, 36, who with his wife, Tori, pastors Christian Hope Church, 2020 marked a year of Spirit-led ministry amid the turmoil of COVID-19. Bruton recalls that the effort to reach the rural community of 570 residents had been birthed in prayer. As he asked the Lord in September and October what could be done as the body of Christ, Bruton says God laid the number 10,000 on his heart.
At that point, Bruton brought what he sensed to the four elders of the church, and they began to seek the Lord together. Soon, the five spiritual leaders gained a sense of the Spirit’s leading.
“As the Lord directed us, we committed to put $10,000 from church funds into the needs of the community during November and December,” Bruton says.
That proved to be no small step of faith when many in the church faced financial uncertainty. A $10,000 pledge represented 10 percent of the annual budget at Christian Hope, a church of 80 regular attendees. In addition, the average household income in this blue-collar community is around $30,000 below the Texas average.
Despite the challenges, the four elders wholeheartedly embraced Bruton’s enthusiasm for this faith venture.
“We all responded with delight,” recalls elder Quentin K. Terrell. “Any time we are able to help the community in any way, there is no question that we are all in.”
Bruton and the elders also decided to keep the project anonymous, not even informing the congregation of their specific plans. They had practical reasons for such silence.
“So many in our church were among those in need, and sometimes people are hesitant to accept help,” Bruton says. “Also, we didn’t want to come across as saying to the community, ‘OK, we are going to do this, but you have to come to our church.’ We wanted to say, ‘We did this because we are part of the community, we love you, and we want you to know that God loves you.’”
Bruton began the project by approaching the local school superintendent Evan Cardwell, a friend of his in this closely knit community. Christian Hope paid the school lunch debts of every family with a student in kindergarten through 12th grade through the end of the semester.
“That way, families could start fresh after Christmas,” Bruton says.
Then Bruton moved on to city hall, asking what it would cost to pay the utility bill of everyone in town though the end of the year.
“We used some discernment,” Bruton explains. “We paid the bills of those who were attempting to pay it themselves: people on low or fixed incomes, or perhaps someone who had a water leak resulting in a large bill.” The church members whittled down $7,500 of outstanding payments.
At this point, opportunities began to grow. In a small town, nothing stays secret for long. A godly and successful businessman wrote a $12,500 check for the cause. Then pastors from two other Newcastle churches, First Baptist Church and First United Methodist church, heard about the outreach, and each agreed to contribute $5,000 on behalf of the churches they represented.
“When all was said and done, we were able to pour more than $32,000 back into our community in less than 60 days,” Bruton says.
Children returned to school in January knowing their meal debt had been paid off. All those struggling to pay utilities found peace in knowing the balance had been cleared. Several other needy households in the community received needed home repairs they could never have afforded themselves.
“It’s just doing life in God’s kingdom, giving all we can when we can, in a time of need,” Terrell says. “God gave us the provision and the opportunity to be the Church.”
Photo: Newcastle leaders include (from left) Jack McWhorter, Quentin Terrell, Austin Bruton, Bill King, and Chad Owen.