For three decades, Lillie James has dedicated her time to teach children and adults about the Holy scriptures and the importance of God.
“To me, it’s the best place to go for spiritual advice,” she said. “In other words, we go there and if our hearts are heavy, the word of God will touch our hearts and we’ll go home better than we felt. We know that Jesus is coming back again and we have to be ready when he comes.”
As the director of Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Union Grove Free Will Baptist Church in Keener, the 79-year-old watched children give their lives to Christ.
After more than 25 years of directing the VBS program, James is retiring from the position. She was recently recognized for her years of service. James started the program in the late 1980s.
“Now we see more children interested in what they’re doing and just loving to come,” she said. “We think it has had an impact on their lives as far as the church is concerned.”
She recalled the story of a 3-year-old girl.
“It was amazing the things that she learned and how she was able to stand up each night and boldly tell the church what she learned,” James said. “That was the most amazing thing that has happened.”
The children have different backgrounds and James said some of them have not received any love. She said it’s shown at the camp.
“You find out it’s the way you speak to a person that makes the difference,” she said. “You can speak to a person and say it wrong and they will not receive what you said. But if you say it the right way, you’ve gained a child. To get a child to love you, you have really done something.”
James is grandmother to many children who attend vacation Bible School through the years.
“I love all of my children,” she said with a smile.
James is also an adult Sunday school teacher at the church. She said it’s important to get the message out so people can understand.
“People teach and the class does not understand it because it goes so far above their heads,” James said. “I break it down so that anybody can understand it.”
The longtime Sunday school-goer said it was not a part of her plan, but it’s something the church wanted her to do.
“That’s how I got there,” James said.
Teaching adults comes with challenges.
“Sometimes you don’t see eye to eye on situations,” she said.
But she never tells people they’re wrong about certain situations
“I say ‘can we look at it this way’ and then I’ll explain my point of view,’” she said. “Sometimes we can agree. But I don’t think it is right to tell person they’re wrong, because you can be wrong yourself.”
James did not receive theology training, but she spends a lot of time studying. If she needs assistance, her family is always willing to help. Her son, Larry Peele, is a deacon and her son, James Peele, is in the ministry.
Originally from Moore County, James has spent 60 years of her life in Sampson. She retired as a teacher’s assistant at Hargrove Elementary in 1997.
When James is not teaching at the church, she visits nursing homes and has prayer sessions during phone conversations.
“I do whatever I can for someone that needs helps,” James said.
Her daughter, Katrina Boykin, said her mother’s work with the church is awesome.
“It brings her much joy,” she said. “When she’s happy, we’re happy. Sometimes she tends to overdo it and we have to tell her to take a break.”
Despite the obstacles James faces, she continues her work.
“It makes us proud,” she said. “It gives us some insight into our future. If we can watch her endure sickness and continue, we should be very successful. We had a great role model.”