FirstLife Blog

Christmas Shop: Building Lasting Relationships

Posted by Rachel Bell on

First Baptist’s first annual Christmas Shop will take place on December 5, and will benefit 75 children from South Knox Elementary School families. This shop is the next step in our 11-year partnership with SKES. Gifts will be available for all the children in participating households – not just the children who attend SKES. In exchange for these gifts, parents will partner with First Baptist volunteers to complete 6 volunteer hours in designated South Knox and community projects.

First Baptist ministers, Susan Tatum and Arthur Clayton, are heading up the efforts. With this shop, they hope to build lasting and meaningful relationships with SKES families, as well as cultivate relationships we already have. 

This past July, Susan and Arthur got a glimpse into the true nature of our relationship with SKES families, when Makayla, Matthew, Kaydence, and Carly Clark suddenly lost their mother to a heart attack. Makayla, Matthew, and Kaydence have all been part of First Baptist’s KidsHope mentorship program and have accompanied our youth and children at Kids Camp for the past few years.

Carolyn Garner, the children’s grandmother and guardian, says her family’s relationship with First Baptist has “grown tremendously” over the years. Supporting the children through the death of their mother was a natural outpouring of the friendship we’ve cultivated. The children’s mentors attended the funeral. Susan took the children lunch on the day of the funeral, prayed with the family, and has regularly called to check up on them. She also arranged afterschool care for the siblings during the two weeks before school started with the Lonsdale Boys’ and Girls’ Club.

“We went through a tragedy in July,” says Carolyn. “First Baptist has just shown love and compassion to my family. Susan made it so I didn’t have to worry about where the kids were going to go while I was at work. And the mentoring my grandkids have had really gives them a positive outlook on life.”

Over the last four years, Dickie Kaserman, Elizabeth Mosely, and Perry Austin have mentored the Clark children. Perry, who had Matthew for the last three years, offered Matthew stability and a safety during his visits.

Every Friday at 10:30 am, Perry and Matthew would shoot basketball, play checkers, or do homework together. Afterwards, he would eat lunch with Matthew and his friends. After his second year of mentoring, Perry realized all these young men had the same need.

“All these boys had no daddy in the home,” says Perry. “So I realized God was using me to say, ‘Here’s a man, and men can love, men can cry.’ These little guys needed a guy’s touch that they knew was safe.”

Because of the safety and trust in their relationship, Perry was able to encourage Matthew to realize his potential in school – especially in math and science. He taught Matthew how to deal with anger, how to trust, and how to treat others the way he wanted to be treated.

And, in the process of teaching a child to encounter the world in a new way, Perry found himself encountering the world in a new way. He saw himself in Matthew.

“Children are learning. They’re trying to figure out this thing we call life,” says Perry. “And I’m almost 70 years old, and I’m still trying to figure it out myself. Mentoring gets you to contact your inner child and remember it’s ok to laugh and smile and listen and learn. Those are things all of us do.”

Perry is right. Laughing, smiling, listening, and learning are things we all do. These basic interactions are cultivated through KidsHope. These basic interactions are what we’re endeavoring to build at South Knox Elementary. We want our laughter, our smiles, our listening ears, and our open spirits to define the love we have for our community. This is why we are taking the next step through the Christmas Shop.

“We desire to be that example of Christ – that light,” says Arthur Clayton. “We’ve had people walking alongside Carolyn and her grandchildren for years. We care about them, and we don’t always have the answers to what a relationship looks like, but we want to be available. And it’s not all needs based. We have conversations and dialogue. Our church needs more relationships like that. We don’t just want them – I think we need them.”

Carolyn is looking forward to the Christmas Shop as more than an opportunity to provide for her grandchildren. She wants to give back to her community what her family has been given. That’s what the shop is about.

If one relationship built on Christ, trust, and genuine friendship comes from the Christmas Shop, it will have been a success. If one child is impacted long-term, it will have been a success.

Over the past few months, we have secured all the volunteers we need to make this shop happen, and we have the community projects ready. Thanks to the Elizabeth Dryburgh Memorial Fund and your generous giving to the monthly Benevolence offering, the entire process if fully funded.

After the holidays, we have plans in place to follow up with the families on their prayer requests and needs. We are pursuing relationship.

“The idea of this shop is not to get people to come to our church,” says Susan Tatum. “We aren’t looking to add to our numbers in any way. We just want to minister and meet needs. We can’t reach everybody, but when God says, ‘Here are 150 kids,’ we know what we’re supposed to do. The face of our children’s ministry has changed, and that’s a good thing.”


Get Involved

We are asking our First Baptist family to please pray. We ask you to pray for the volunteers, the families involved, and for lasting relationships. Pray that we will be the light of Christ in our community.

If you would like to volunteer with the Christmas Shop, contact Arthur Clayton at to have your name put on the list for next year.

If you would like to connect to your inner kid through giving one hour a week to a child, contact Jill Hobby at .



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