Rural church provides fire-safety outreach in community

First Bethany Baptist Church in McCormick is using fire-safety home visits to share God’s love.

The church is active in South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief, and several members are former or current volunteer fire fighters. But it is their passion for serving the needs among the lost with simple, life-saving assistance that led to the project. In all, the church has provided 18 smoke detectors and eight fire extinguishers to rural homeowners.

The project idea came to former volunteer firefighter Richard Cline as he watched a news segment on how to check fire detectors. “It hit me that this would make a good witnessing tool,” said Cline. “I thought about going through the fire department or on my own, but decided to go through my church because, if a church group went to a house, they would expect the group to share about Jesus.”

First Bethany Church members distributed 18 smoke detectors in their rural community while sharing their faith with homeowners. Team members included (from left): Lynda Lackey, Rodney Cline, Richard Cline, Kathy Cline, Kathy Hollingsworth and Charles Hollingsworth. (Not pictured are team members Clifton White and Troy Seigler.)

First Bethany pastor John Alexander said it was perfect timing when Cline approached him with the idea, as the South Carolina Baptist Convention had just promoted a new online resource offering free smoke detectors. The North American Mission Board, in partnership with the Red Cross, recently launched the Send Relief website to provide materials and practical assistance to those going into communities in need. Alexander said his church customized its outreach plan based on the needs of its own community.

“We decided to run a promotional campaign announcing that First Bethany would provide the service from Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, by appointment only,” Alexander said. “We used word-of-mouth, local print advertising, flyers, and a Facebook ad. Everyone who called the church received a call back to set up home visits.”

Once the requests were finalized, Alexander ordered smoke detectors from Send Relief and only paid for shipping. The additional fire extinguishers were purchased from the church’s missions budget. Eight church volunteers formed smaller teams to make the visits.

Lynda Lackey served on one of the teams, which consisted of at least one person familiar with installing smoke detectors and at least one person who could engage the homeowner in a conversation. “Using the smoke detectors was a wonderful way to introduce yourself, share what you’re doing, what church you’re from,” said Lackey, “and it opened the door to witness to them. I enjoyed visiting people, and it’s good for the community to be visited by church families.”

Clifton White, a deacon and volunteer fireman, said he was surprised at the number of people who didn’t have a smoke detector or maintain the batteries. “The non-believers we met were open to talking with us and invited us to return,” White said. “When we helped people who we knew were Christians, it gave us an opportunity to talk and pray with them, too. What matters is the lives you can impact.”

Now in his third year as pastor at First Bethany, Alexander says his church is active and loves its community. Several church members are trained and active in South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief. A church mission team went to Boston in December to serve a church plant. The church now plans to regularly hold fire safety outreaches, with the next one slated for April.

“Providing practical help is a great way to share God’s love, make new contacts, and see the kingdom of God grow,” said Alexander. “I pray that as we continue to consistently provide such help, those around us who are far from God may give us a chance to love on them and point them to Jesus Christ.”

First Bethany Church’s outreach reflects one of the goals of an informal partnership South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief has with a state office charged with fire safety. Josh Fulbright, section chief for community risk reduction with the office of the state fire marshal, said South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief was identified as an influential link in the “Fire Safe South Carolina” program.

“As a defined network, the Baptist convention has the potential to help us share fire and life-safety information, and also reach impacted demographics across our state,” Fulbright said.

South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief director Randy Creamer said he commends First Bethany Church for engaging its community and for proving that smaller churches can make a difference.

“We are so excited to hear of congregations like this one making a difference, and we encourage other churches to consider an outreach like this one,” said Creamer. “The need is in every community in our state.”

Alexander said his church has tried to make a difference and will continue to do so. “It gives me comfort that we are trying to help prevent fire tragedies while sharing the love of Jesus at the same time.”

Online information about fire safety campaigns and materials through Send Relief can be found at

— Julia Bell writes for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.