By Linda Hass
Before Pastor James Hines was born, his mother ran into a burning house to save her children. She was able to retrieve one, getting badly burned in the process, but lost two in the blaze because firemen held her back from going into the house a second time.
The rescue made a strong impression on Hines, the senior pastor of Lily Mission Baptist Church, who uses it as a model for taking God-ordained leaps of faith today.
“To my mother, running into a burning building wasn’t a risk – it was a necessity. I feel the same way about today’s youth. In many ways, they are on fire, burning from the destruction caused by drugs, by fatherless homes, and by lack of guidance. I believe God has called me to run into the fire and save them,” he said.
For Hines, running into the fire has meant, among other things, going out on a limb financially. “I had a vision from God 17 years ago of a center where youth could get off the street, learn life skills, improve their grades, play sports and benefit from mentorships and scholarships,” he said.
So the intrepid pastor woke his wife, Leontyne, in the middle of the night and posed an unlikely question: would she consider giving up their life savings of $56,000 to start a youth center? He still remembers her affirmative reply: We’ve come here poor and we can leave here poor.”
The couple’s seed money, combined with a loan and other contributions, financed construction of the 20,000 square foot Lily Mission Center, which opened April 2001. Today the center, which is next to the church, hosts after-school and summer reading programs, sports events and extracurricular activities for participants ranging from pre-school to 21 years old.
Kristie Morris is one of many who benefitted from Hines’ calling. When her mother died unexpectedly, Hines provided guidance and helped her find scholarship money to attend Central Michigan University. Morris not only graduated from CMU, she received Teacher of the Year accolades when she worked at Dibble Elementary School several years ago, Hines said.
“Pastor Hines wants people to succeed and is dedicated to youth,” said Morris, who has since moved to California with her husband. “He won’t do the work for you, but he will give you the information and guide you to get it done.”
The center’s students include a former homeless youth who also works as a teacher, a pastor, an accountant and a lawyer. By all accounts, the center is a success, but Hines is not about to rest on his laurels. The confidant pastor is now taking his next leap – spearheading an initiative to pay off the center’s mortgage. “Closing the debt will free up $78,000 per year, which will allow us to offer more programs for youth, said Hines.
To that end, Hines sought – and received – a $75,000 challenge grant from the Weatherwax Foundation. The grant is contingent on the center’s ability to pay off the balance of its mortgage – $250,000 – before the Foundation closes on Sept. 1.
“I believe that the God who paved the way for the center to exist in the first place will continue to bless it,” said Hines, who is coordinating an Aug. 31 debt retirement fundraiser celebration called “Lily Taste of Gratitude.” The all-day event will include free food, entertainment, and a worship service from 7-9 p.m.
Hosting a fundraiser the day before grant money expires might seem risky for some, but not for this bold pastor, who is poised to publish a book titled “I Believe Him” sometime this summer. “I want to show people that the more you trust God, the more your faith grows, and the more your faith grows, the more he can work through you.”
Jackson resident Wally Niecko said he has been so impressed with the center’s positive impact on youth, and with Hines’ bold spirit, that he gave a significant donation to the center – and Niecko doesn’t even attend Lily Mission Baptist Church.
“Pastor Hines is going out of his way to help Jackson’s youth,” Niecko said. “I want to support that.”