By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
TOWNSEND — For years Chilhowee Area Ministries (CHARM) has been a fixture in the resort community of Townsend in East Tennessee.
But CHARM does more than just share the gospel in local campgrounds, according to directors Steve and Sandra Monroe. “We are a part of the community,” the couple stressed.
The Monroes have been involved in CHARM, a ministry of Chilhowee Baptist Association, for nine years and have served as directors for three and a half years.
The couple noted that CHARM is comprised of volunteers “who serve the people who live, work and play in Townsend in the same way Jesus would — through servant evangelism.
“In everything we do we make sure Christ is presented,” said Sandra Monroe. “If we didn’t, we would just be a regular club or organization.”
This year, CHARM’s ministry in the campgrounds has picked up significantly over last year. The couple noted the campgrounds were full last summer, but only four of the 28 volunteer teams that had signed up to participate were able to come due to COVID-19. Nineteen teams are scheduled this summer.
Teams generally come from all over the country to serve in the campgrounds for one week to facilitate day camps and family nights, the couple shared. The day camp is a Backyard Kids Club for children whose families are camping while family night activities are designed to encourage families to participate and play together.
In addition, church services are held on Sundays in some of the campgrounds and Steve serves as camp chaplain. He also leads a weekly Bible study for employees and campers at one of the town’s campgrounds.
“We depend on our ministry teams,” Steve said, noting they want teams that are willing to be flexible and will both work and minister.
Teams are also asked to commit two days to servant evangelism in the community through CHARM’s Upside Down Ministry, he added. “We use practical acts of kindness to demonstrate God’s love and encourage spiritual conversations,” he noted.
The ministry’s name comes from the story of Paul and Silas in Acts 17 when they were accused of turning the world upside down as they shared the gospel of Christ, the Monroes related. “Our volunteers want to share and to serve.”
“Free” is the key to the success of the ministry, the couple agreed. “By offering free ice cream cones, washing car windows at gas stations, helping tubers out of the river or wrapping Christmas gifts for Townsend residents, we show God’s love in practical ways and sow seeds of the gospel,” they said.
Many church teams have made CHARM one of the prime ministries they support with not only volunteers but financial help as well throughout the year.
A church in Florida and in Georgia helped with volunteers and financial support when CHARM moved into its present building a few years ago. Other volunteers, including FAITH Riders, also come to Townsend regularly and have used their talents, skills and resources to help minister in the community. Also, three churches in Chilhowee Baptist Association assist financially.
“God provides everything we need,” Sandra confirmed.
Over the past few years, the couple has worked hard to build relationships with city officials.
“City Hall now calls us to help with events,” Sandra said. “Everything Townsend does, such as festivals, we do,” she added. She noted that city officials see them “as a part of the community” and that “Steve is seen by many in the community as the community servant minister.”
Though they live in Maryville, the couple comes to Townsend almost every day, even their days off because they love the community and ministry. Though many people think of Townsend as a resort community, poverty is real in the small town of about 448 people. Steve noted that about a fourth of that population live in condemned trailers and that meth and drugs are a reality in the community.
CHARM intentionally ministers to the men and women who work in the town’s hotels and motels. The couple noted that because Sundays are typically the busiest days for those workers, CHARM volunteers go to the hotels with bottles of water, snacks, weekly Bible study guides and cards of encouragement.
In addition, CHARM added a Blessing Box outside its building to meet practical needs of the hotel employees and other residents in the community who have needs. Items include non-perishable food, items of clothing and personal hygiene products.
The couple has countless stories of lives that have been impacted by CHARM’s ministry. Sandra told of a man who came by last year during the pandemic for food because his hours had been cut back due to COVID-19.
“He cried when we gave him a box of food,” she recalled.
Both Sandra and Steve are intentional in developing relationships and noted that people are wary at first but open up as they get to know them and their ministry.
“So many people think we will try to beat Christianity into them,” Sandra said. “Instead, she observed, “we have to love them to the Lord.”
Don Curry, owner of the Mountaineer Campground in the Rim, affirmed the work of the Monroes and CHARM.
“Our people love it. They especially like the things for the kids during the day and they also enjoy the family activities at night,” he said.
The Monroes are appreciative of the help they receive but would especially welcome churches from Tennessee that would like to volunteer in the ministry. If interested, contact them at email@example.com or 865-300-8827. B&R