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Getting the Word out

Morgan County youth group enters the publishing world


BUCKHEAD — Locals expect the assumption, so are ready with a clarification. When citizens of this rural community tell people where they’re from, an almost instant follow-up comes: “No, not that part of Atlanta where all the celebrities live.”

Scott Barkley/Index

On Dec. 1 students at Lake Oconee Baptist Chapel near Buckhead gathered together in the fellowship hall to prepare the most recent issue of Views from the Vine for distribution.

Ten miles south of Buckhead, Lake Oconee Baptist Chapel faced the challenge of other rural churches regarding youth. In a teen culture expecting entertainment and the occasional – if not consistent – fun outing, how do you keep students involved when the nearest movie theater is 20 miles away?

Turns out a generation used to being heard (see Facebook, texting, Twitter, et all) took to the idea of creating its own platform for peers to hear the Gospel.

Two years ago Teresa Wallace, a 30-year veteran of youth ministry who grew up in Morgan County, was given that challenge at LOBC. Lake Oconee Pastor Jerald Bishop, founder of the church in 1987, had met with other members amid worries over their graying congregation and lack of young families. For the first time in the church’s history, they decided to hire a youth minister.

“We put an ad in the paper and Teresa was the only one to respond,” said Bishop. “Our church is down on the lake and it’s pretty much only older folks who live around here. I told our people it would be hard to get a youth minister here but soon enough we had one.”

Strategies in reaching and engaging students have centered around drama presentations, a radio broadcast and self-published newspaper. The latter has determined to be a hook for youth to not only get involved but as an outlet for expressing and growing in their faith.

“One of our senior guys had the idea for a Christian newspaper,” said Wallace. “He said it had been on his mind for quite awhile.”

That senior, Jacie Rountree, graduated last May but remains involved with the publication – Views from the Vine.

“I got the idea from the ‘Left Behind’ books,” said Roundtree, who is currently working to become an EMT. “In the teen series the main characters come with the idea of creating a newspaper for their peers at school. When I told the group at church they thought it was a great idea and we started brainstorming.”

In November 2009 the inaugural issue hit the stands with issues taken to local schools and distributed throughout the community.

“I wanted to go through the proper channels,” said Wallace. “For a long time no one from the school responded to my requests.”

“We spoke with the board of education superintendent [about the idea],” added Rountree, who’s never taken a journalism class. “He liked the idea and gave us the go-ahead.”

With only a couple of youth to begin with, around 10-14 are active in the group now. Writing jobs for each issue cover areas such as family time, Bible characters, recipes, book reviews, and questions for teens. The current edition includes a section on the faith of John Jay, one of America’s Founding Fathers.

On Wednesday nights students take part in an hour of Bible study before a break for refreshments. That’s followed by 40-45 minutes of working on the paper until 9 p.m. “Sometimes they’ll come in on Sunday afternoons to finish up,” said Wallace.

The editing process has become a good teacher, she added. “Their message is so good, but the quality of writing can always use improvement.”

Stories are submitted to Wallace, who then lays them out before taking the product to a local printing company. Most assignments are emailed, though not all students have computers and thereby often use the local library to send stories in.

“Some of them were hesitant about taking the newspaper to school and handing them out,” admitted Wallace, who was the yearbook Activities editor as a student at Morgan County High in the early 1970s. “Copies are also placed at the library and throughout Buckhead, Madison and Rutledge.”

Teresa Wallace

During the season Benjamin Scoggin, preparing a story, hands out copies of the paper to teammates on the Morgan County High football team.

Missions and outreach are important to the church. Lake Oconee Chapel has led Morgan County Association in per capita giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions as well as Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North America Missions the past three years. Members give food baskets and presents to families during the holidays.

“God is really blessing our church and the students are a big part of it,” said Bishop, who added that in a time of struggling budgets and expectation of a dip in tithes, gifts to the church have actually been on the increase.

“There’s been a noticeable change in the youth,” he added. “They don’t mind giving their testimonies in church or helping lead services. When something happens in their lives, they share it with others. I like that.”

Rountree reported how the paper has affected others. “There are a couple of teens the paper helped convert,” he said. “I’ve seen true miracles of God through this.”

He added how his unofficial role as a leader in the fellowship hall/newsroom has made him grow and realize some realities in publishing.

“Putting it all together was a little tougher than I expected,” he admitted. “There were spacing, layout designs, names for the paper, and money issues to work through.

“This has taught me a lot about leadership. I had to be kind and gentle when we first started, but as time went on [that role] had to change. I would ask the writers to please not forget to bring in their articles for the paper, so this has been a learning experience, too.”