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A Church with History – Whose Best Days Are Ahead


Central Avenue Church of Christ, Valdosta, GA

Last week, I was privileged to work with eleven teen-agers from the Central Avenue Church of Christ, Valdosta, GA along with their youth minister, his wife, and another lady chaperon. They had called several weeks ago to see if they could come to our small congregation to work with us as a “mission.”

They arrived on Tuesday, worked three days, and left Saturday. It was a great experience.

The Central Avenue church in Valdosta is one of the older congregations in our fellowship. Its antecedents:

go back to the 1830s when groups of settlers began moving from the area of Savannah to the wiregrass area of south-central Georgia. Most of these persons, not far removed from firstwave immigrants, were of European origin. Some were of English descent, but a significant number had names of German derivation, such as Waldhauer, Bergsteiner, Dasher, Ulmer and Wisenbaker. Some were Salzburgers from central Europe; some had ancestors who had suffered persecution at the hand of Catholic authorities, but in spirit of the Waldenses, the Wycliffites, and the Hussites, they hunkered down, waited for an opportunity, and sailed to America. [Note: quote is from the history of the church on its webpage.]

In south Georgia, Christian Dasher became a leader in a local reformation movement that soon merged with the work of Alexander Campbell.

This congregation, almost from the beginning, was very evangelistic. Many (if not most) of the present congregations in South Georgia and the contiguous parts of North Florida are “plants” from this church.

Nor were foreign missions neglected! While Joe Gray was preaching for them in the 1960’s, this congregation sponsored a series of “Treasure of Truth” campaigns in major cities of New Zealand. They were my “overseeing” congregation the first time I was in New Zealand from January 1963 – August 1965 – and put me in touch with what was then the Olive Street Church of Christ, Marietta, GA who provided my total support for my 2nd tour in New Zealand from August 1967 – November 1971.

There were several of the Treasure of Truth campaigns from 1963 on through the rest of the 1960’s. They sent a team from the Valdosta church, led by Joe Gray, to plant a congregation in Dunedin in 1969.

My family connection with the congregation goes back a long way before 1963, though. Green Starling, my great grandfather, grew up there as did Oscar Starling, my grandfather. Both of these moved to South Florida in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Green Starling and his wife, Amanda (McLeod) Starling, are buried in the Dasher community cemetery just south of Valdosta. When I came back to Valdosta after being in New Zealand the first time, I asked the elders if any of them remembered Green Starling. They did and told me that when they were growing up, the young people talked about how long his prayers were.

When I heard about the call from Chris Petty, youth minister, for their youth group to come work with us on their mission trip for this summer, I was delighted. And I was certainly not disappointed. The kids (aged 12 – 16) were well-behaved, polite, and hard-working. They also enjoyed having fun, but not at someone else’s expense.

If this group of youth are representative of the congregation (which now numbers c. 450), the greatest days for this church are in the future. This is where the greatest days of every church should be!

Another indicator of their continuing involvement in missions is that each summer they send a team of people to Ukraine to work in a Christian Day Camp. This effort is led by Bill Wharton from the Campus Church of Christ in Gainesville, FL. One of the ladies who came with the group to our congregation, Shauna Jarvis, has been to Ukraine a couple of times. She is the wife of Brian Jarvis, the current preacher at Central Avenue.

September 18 of this year, I will be hosting a dinner for Eastern European Mission in the Central Avenue fellowship hall with church leaders and wives being invited. This will be primarily to promote our Million Dollar Sunday, scheduled for October 31, 2010. This drive will be to fund the placement of Bibles into the schools of two entire states, one in Russia and one in Ukraine in the coming year. These two states will join four others in Russia and one in Ukraine where Eastern European Mission has already placed Bibles, beginning in 1998. (For more information on this effort, contact me.

I had lost touch with this church for many years, until about a year ago, although I have always had a fondness in my heart for them. With renewed contact, I am impressed again at the vitality of their walk with God, joy in the Holy Spirit, and commitment to the cause of our Lord. May they stand as an example of how great churches can be when they focus on Jesus instead of quibbling about every “issue” that comes down the pike!

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Jerry! It was an absolutely fabulous weekend all-around. Our students worked hard, formed and deepened great relationships, and created memories that will last a lifetime!

    Thanks so much for all the hard work you guys did on your end. We can’t wait to see you in September. Grace and Peace.

    • It was our joy to have all of you. I’m also looking forward to September and more of His blessings through you!
      Jerry

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