Agape House new facility opens Dec. 1

By Gay Ingram

In the fall of 1897, a small band of dedicated Christians gathered in a two-story white framed building. In use as a school for the children of Big Sandy, Texas, it became the first meeting place for the First Christian Church, organized by W. P. Mings. The schoolhouse was located at the intersection of what is now known as State Highway 80 and Wildcat Drive.

Among the charter members were W. P. Mings, Ginevra (Mammy) Mings, Mrs. J. R. (Mother) Meason, Mr. G. B. Prothro, Mr. W. L. Snow and others whose names have been lost.

When the local school system constructed a new building at another location, the congregation purchased the property as their church house. The present brick sanctuary was constructed in 1936 during the ministry of Dr. J. G. Ulmer. W. O. Davis and Tommy Baird, who were involved in that construction effort, and whose grandsons were members of the present congregation. An educational wing was added in 1954 while Ewart Wyle, Jr. was pastor.

By 2018, membership had dwindled to where they were no longer able to maintain their facilities. The congregation voted to disband with reluctance. But the giving to their community didn’t end.

In the summer of 1992, concerned that the community had no resources to distribute food and clothing to those in our area who had needs, volunteers from eight churches came together to form the Ministerial Alliance. Church members of the Ministerial Alliance included Brown’s Chapel C. M. E., Gospel Lighthouse, New Hope Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, and First United Methodist Church. Organized exclusively for charitable, religious, and educational purposes, it took over operation of the renamed Agape House. Each participating church agreed to make a contribution to the Agape House; donations from private citizens in the community augmented Agape House’s resources.

Originally named Ministry House, Agape House was a volunteer-run agency offering food, clothing and household items to the needy of our community that began under the auspices of New Life Fellowship with Deborah Leakie as director. It began life in a house located next to Two Rivers Grocery but soon moved into its own building at 306 N. Tyler with Brenda Lucas as Acting Director.

Karen Fenwick accepted the position of Acting Director on June 1, 1997 and the present Director, Sharon Hill, assumed duties in January 2007. Clients who qualify are eligible for monthly groceries…groceries that come from food drives organized by member churches and service organizations in Big Sandy as well as individual contributions. In the beginning, some food was purchased from the Regional East Texas Food Bank in Tyler.
The all-volunteer staff, other than director, have undertaken many projects over the years to assist the less fortunate in our community. When a generous donation of yarn was received from The Needlecraft Shop some years back, volunteers crocheted afghans for clients under the direction of Liz Field.

Donated box fans are accepted and distributed to those without air conditioning during the hot summer months. When a disaster destroys a home or a person needs to re-establish a place to live Agape House tries to meet basic needs. Through the generous donations of Big Sandy residents, community members can purchase clothes and shoes for all ages, kitchen and linen items, books, DVDs, and miscellaneous items at a minimum charge. Money from the re-sale shop help to offset expenses.

Each year, many families received a box of food containing the makings of a holiday dinner for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Perhaps the best-known on-going project is the Angel Tree Project. Under the capable direction of Marsha Buchheit from 2007 until three yers ago when it passed on to and now under the direction of Tiffany Lawrence, who was once a ‘tree angel’ herself.

Every Christmas season tree is decorated with angels containing the information about some child who may not have Christmas. Big Sandyites are encouraged to take an angel from the tree and purchase a Christmas gift for that child. Always included is a Beginner’s Bible with each wrapped gift.

Because of the generosity of the community, Agape House came to the realization two years ago that it had outgrown its facilities, even after purchasing a storage building to house the overflow. A building fund was started and contributions steadily grew the needed funds. The donation of a vacant lot helped advance their progress to a larger facility.

In the meantime, when First Christian made the decision to sell their property on Highway 80, they approached Agape House and offered it to them at a generously reduced price.
Purchase of this historic building means a continuing ministry to the community., The move made a temporary closing of the resale shop necessary. But Director Sharon Hill states all other activities continue. Her goal is to get everything moved setup, and the resale shop re-opened for business by December 1, 2018.