ROCKINGHAM — The Place of Grace Rescue Mission can begin work on its permanent building with the blessing of the Richmond County Planning and Zoning Board.
Approval was still uncertain a few days ago, but the Rev. Gary Richardson of New Life Church and co-founder of the homeless ministry said he felt things would go smoothly. It turns out he was right.
Tracy Parris of the planning and zoning department gave a brief but positive address to the board before public comments began.
“We’ve done some homework, if you will, concerning police reports and any complaints,” Parrish said. “There have only been a few and they have come from the shelter itself.”
The chamber in the county administration building was full of supporters donning white T-shirts with the words “Place of Grace Rescue Mission” emblazoned in blue script.
Charles Kempen of Rockingham was one of many people who spoke favorably about the Place of Grace, saying it saved his life.
“The question is, ‘is it a ministry?’ That’s a big question,” Kempen said. “Before I got in there, I was about to commit suicide. In November I had a three-hour standoff with police. I didn’t have anyplace else to go. I went to Pastor Gary, I trusted him. I didn’t want to be there any more than anyone else. But what you see before you tonight, gentlemen, is a man who has been changed.
“It is a ministry. I no longer need the alcohol, I have been saved. I am my brother’s keeper. We have seen more different denominations of churches coming together over this. Different cultures, different breeds, different backgrounds. We are a county of fellowship founded on the unity that is Jesus Christ, and have come together like never before because of this ministry.”
Robert Levine, founder of the Joshua Project, spoke of the need for the Place of Grace in the community.
“I’m a prison minister,” Levine said. “I seek those prisoners out there who seek to give back to the community, so we provide housing for those coming out of prison that are in need of assistance and who wish to minister to the community. Through the Place of Grace, we have had an increase in ministry.”
Diane Raines of the Place of Grace staff addressed concerns brought forward last year as the ministry was begun.
“I want to speak about the safety at the Place of Grace,” she said. “These are men with new attitudes. They can relate to each other, and all they need is to know they are loved. The longer they are there, the more respect they have for others. I’ve been the coordinator there since it opened and they are the best group of guys. If they have a problem, they will come to me or the pastor and they know we will find a solution, because that’s what Jesus would do.”
Lenna Watson who lives near New Life Church stood in firm opposition to the tent ministry last year, but during the Tuesday hearing, her speech was gentle.
“I still object to making a permanent site that close to our residence,” she said. “The only addition is that I realized that it has caused a decrease in property value. The way that I know this is that my neighbor put her house up for sale, and that no one was interested in it. Thank you.”
The Rev. Ricky Jacobs, pastor of Southside Free Will Baptist Church in Ellerbe said, “I’m not going to put my hand on the Bible, but I will say I’m going to speak the truth.”
He raised his right hand and promised his word was good. The board made no objection to his refusal to swear on the Bible.
“I stand here today to tell you these people you see right here today are souls. They are souls. And if we don’t care about souls and we are men of God, we’re in deep trouble,” Jacobs said. “I really believe we need more places and more people like Pastor Gary.
“The Bible said where there is no mission, people perish. God has placed a vision in his heart. Thank God that somebody is stepping up to the plate.”
The board voted unanimously to let the ministry go ahead with plans to build.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.