Reshaping the Church

Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry combats poverty through compassionate presence

Posted May 16, 2024

by Justice Nwafor

Left to right: DeShondra Glenn (Hope for Tomorrow Case Manager), Harmony Lemerond (Hope for Tomorrow Resident Manager and Graduate of the program) Cindy Riley (Hope for Tomorrow Program Director), and Emily Bagby (Hope for Tomorrow Graduate) during the 2023 Walk for Your Neighbor fundraiser on October 8, 2023, in Downtown Black Mountain, NC. Over 350 people participated in the 1-3 mile walk to raise money and awareness for the needs of their neighbors. Photos courtesy of Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry

In 1975, local churches and community partners in Black Mountain and Swannanoa, North Carolina came together to share resources and combine efforts to support their neighbors in need. Now, that partnership has blossomed into Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, a nonprofit that provides essential support and compassionate presence to the people in need in the Swannanoa Valley.

At the very core of SVCM’s mission is the propagation of genuine love and friendship, as shown by Christ. They seek to establish towering examples of good neighborliness and what it means to be the body of Christ, by helping the needy and doing it with a heart like Christ.

SVCM operates in two capacities: a crisis ministry and Hope for Tomorrow program, according to their website. The former provides food, clothing and direct financial assistance for needs like rent, heating, utilities, transportation and medical bills while the latter is a transitional housing program for single mothers with children facing housing insecurity and homelessness.

A Friendship Approach

SVCM’s goal is not just to provide for these needs. They believe a person’s worth is not dependent upon their social or economic lived experiences and works, Executive Director Kevin Bates wrote in an email interview.

“We work to affirm every individual's inherent dignity and worth regardless of their social or economic background,” Bates wrote.

Volunteers for Woodyard Ministry, a subset of crisis ministry, cut firewood in Black Mountain, NC, for households. They cut, split, and deliver free firewood to houses on Saturdays during the winter

Giving generously and welcoming people to Christ despite their status is at the core of what SVCM does, Bates wrote. People are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

“People are worth the best we have to offer,” Bates wrote.

This clear understanding and mission informed how the SVCM volunteers and staff members interact with the needy as friends and not just as people who need to be helped, Bates wrote. Every activity and interaction in the ministry is mirrored in friendship, as Christ taught in John 15.

“At SVCM, I’ve learned that service is less about how ‘we’ can help ‘them,’ and more about how 'we'—as in all of us—can live in the Kingdom of God together,” Bates wrote. “That means being truthful and acknowledging our differences (whether those are financial assets, connections, resources, etc.). And yes, that also means working together for the sake of justice so that people’s basic human needs are met. But it also means sharing in life together and seeing every person as the God-gifted, beautiful person they are.”

One of the side effects of SVCM’s kind of work is “othering,” which occurs due to the perception of who has needs and who has resources, Bates wrote. In two years, SVCM has worked hard to change from a type of “client/provider” relationship to one of being a good neighbor and offering friendship — from “doing for” to ‘doing with’ and “being with.”

“At SVCM, I often quote the words of Dorothy Day, who said, ‘We must see Christ in the poor and love them to folly,’” Bates wrote. “Because of this, the whole of our ministry is centered around St. Benedict’s monastic rule that ‘all are to be welcomed as Christ.’ This statement is posted in every office and all around our building and each day we strive to learn how to better live in this idea.”

Bates explained that the true test of Christian discipleship is not only to be Jesus to others by showing love but to learn to see and encounter Jesus in others.

1109 households served in 2023

SVCM has grown over the years. They were originally part of the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry or ABCCM as ABCCM East, Bates wrote.

At the time, they handled the eastern part of Buncombe County known as the Swannanoa Valley, but a few years later, it became SVCM to focus their efforts and leadership locally in the Swannanoa Valley, Bates wrote. The growth did not just happen overnight – it took years of this labor of love and compassion from a team of committed staff, volunteers, churches and community partners.

SVCM continues to combine efforts with other community ministries and organizations to better resource and support those in need, Bates wrote. The partnerships have grown over the years, and currently, SVCM houses Meals on Wheels and Black Mountain Counseling Center, a nonprofit mental health organization, on its campus.

In 2023, SVCM’s crisis ministry served 1109 unique households with 2,385 members, Bates wrote. These numbers show how SVCM served about 16% of the combined populations of Black Mountain and Swannanoa, nearly 15,000 people or about 1 out of every 6 people.

In the same year, they gave a little below half a million dollars in direct financial assistance, the bulk of which went to $158,816.05 in heating assistance and $121,888.85 for Hope for Tomorrow, Bates wrote.

Volunteer Jean Gettys (left) receives donations from Peggy Phillips (middle) and Rhonda of CVS on December 21, 2023, at CVS Black Mountain. SVCM gives out received donations in their Food Pantry

Numbers are great, but the work and impact of SVCM transcend numbers: lives changed for the better, hope restored and Christ proclaimed.

When people learn to see God in others, perspectives shift. They are no longer above others but become like Jesus, who lowered himself, taking on the form of a servant — washing the feet of the ones He loved, Bates wrote.

Part of the fulfillment SVCM partners, churches, volunteers and staff receive is seeing the transformation their passion, commitment and labor of love bring to the lives of people in need of help and the great impacts they have on the body of Christ.

“Because of that culture of hospitality and learning to see, I believe we have witnessed Jesus come through the doors of our ministry each and every day as our unhoused, cold, hungry and poor neighbors,” Bates wrote.

Justice Nwafor is a Nigerian journalist. His work has been published by several outlets, including HumAngle, Earth Journalism Network, Reuters and the BBC. In August 2023, his work was recognized as the best in the Business and Environment category at the Sanlam Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism in South Africa.