On a typical day in 2017, Marijean Fleming passed by Thomasville Inn as she had many times before. This time, though, something was different. As she looked at the inn, she distinctly felt the Lord telling her to take the tenants pizzas.
On a typical day in 2017, Marijean Fleming passed by Thomasville Inn as she had many times before.
This time, though, something was different. As she looked at the inn, she distinctly felt the Lord telling her to take the tenants pizzas.
“I had really started cultivating my relationship with the Lord. I was spending more time in the Word,” said Fleming, a member of Carolina Memorial Baptist Church in Thomasville, N.C.
She recalls being more attuned to the Holy Spirit than ever before — so much so that a few months later, when the Lord impressed the same feeling upon her, she knew that she could not ignore it.
“I couldn’t push it off. My heart was really burdened,” Fleming said.
Tim Landreth, pastor of Carolina Memorial, remembers this moment as well.
“Marijean called me and said she just had a sense that God was asking her to go out there and serve them pizza, and she asked me to come along,” said Landreth, who was youth pastor at Carolina Memorial at the time. “She got permission from the Thomasville Inn’s owner, and we got 15 boxes of pizza, put a canopy outside and hoped for the best.”
Landreth recalls that some of the children were playing outside at the time. When they asked what was happening, the word quickly spread and the residents came out in droves.
That day, every slice of pizza was eaten, and a new ministry was born.
Fleming did not know much about this community when the Lord first placed this burden in her heart — but she did know that the Thomasville Inn was a place that most people avoided or ignored.
“Thomasville Inn is a local motel in a rougher part of town. Every town has a place like this,” Landreth said. “Basically, these folks are homeless other than just renting a room at the Inn. If they pay for a room, they often have very little money left to get out of the cycle.
“It’s definitely not the best part of town. There have been multiple shootings there, and a lot of drugs go in and out. But at the end of the day, there are still families there with kids.”
Today, Fleming, and many within her Carolina Memorial church family, are committed to serving these families however they can.
What started as one person’s act of obedience has turned into a church family deeply invested in the lives of this community — and a team of 12 people who regularly plan, prepare hot meals and share the love of Christ with a community in desperate need of hope and support.
Fleming remembers one family in particular: a dad and his kids. Through their ministry, Carolina Memorial was able to help this same family find housing and move in with the things they needed to furnish the home.
“We had the privilege of ministering to him and his kids,” Fleming said. “It started with inviting his kids to VBS, progressed to where they were coming to church and youth night, and eventually, one of his children got saved in the process.”
Another resident, who has been around since the ministry started, shared many ways that the Carolina Memorial community has stepped up for her and her family — from providing monthly meals, to hosting Christmas parties at the church with gifts for the kids, to regularly taking her daughter and other children in the community to church.
“I’m glad my daughter is going to church,” the tenant said. “She is always bringing little arts and craft stuff home and talking about church to me and her father. They help everybody so much. It is a blessing when they come out, spend time with us, minister to us and bring us hot meals.”
As they look to the future, the Carolina Memorial volunteer team is thinking creatively about how they can continue to meet this community’s needs — not just physical needs, but spiritual ones as well.
“Whatever needs come up, we try to meet them,” Landreth said. “If their stomachs are grumbling too loud, they aren’t going to be able to hear the gospel.”
In the past, they have shared short devotions and gospel presentations with the tenants, but now, they are considering taking their strategy door to door.
If their stomachs are grumbling too loud, they aren’t going to be able to hear the gospel.
“Sometimes, people are more comfortable in their rooms than coming to us,” Fleming said.
“It’s the same with church buildings. We have to meet them where they are, in a safe place, which for them is their rooms.”
They hope that by taking the food door to door, they will have even more opportunities to present the gospel.
“Everyone out there has their own story,” Fleming said. “Many of them struggle with some form of addiction, on-and-off-again homelessness or joblessness.”
But altogether, Fleming does not think they are that different from the rest of us.
“We’re all broken — even Christians,” Fleming said. “But the difference is, we’ve been made whole through the blood of Christ, and they don’t have that.
“They haven’t had a positive influence speak life into them to give them hope, to where they even feel worthy of love, and we just want to convey that they are loved.”
Fleming remembers what it felt like to feel “unworthy and broken with no place to go,” she said.
“Throughout my early twenties, I got tied up in drugs and addiction, and I lost my way,” Fleming said. “But my parents never gave up on me. Even at my worst, my parents showed me tough love and pointed me to God.”
Fleming said that just as Christ and her parents did not give up on her, she is not willing to give up on this community.
“At the end of the day, if I never see them come to salvation, at least I’ll know I’ve been obedient to the Lord and what He has called me to do,” Fleming said.
by Kari Wilson, N.C. Baptist contributing writer