Pastor Thom Miles spent a portion of his day going through files and paperwork to figure out much money is left to help Sampson County’s less fortunate.
As the director of Enlighten The World Ministries, it’s something he did for several years at a building called “The Light House.” Those doors are closing soon.
After Hurricane Matthew, Miles said financial donations dropped by 66 percent. It’s something he couldn’t understand.
“As much as I went out and talked to people and tried to get people to start donating again, nobody would donate,” Miles said. “Was it something we did the community? We just couldn’t explain it.”
About $2,500 a month was needed to stay afloat. The organization received money from the local United Way and Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the funds did not pay for rent, utilities and the upkeep of the building.
“That’s the money we really needed from the community to survive and it just wasn’t happening,” he said. “Even if we got $1,000 from the community, we could have stayed afloat and even that wasn’t happening.”
Miles said he tried to keep it going with donations from his wife, volunteers and himself.
“We kept it going, but with the stresses of trying to find more grants and my own financial pressures, I fell into a depression,” Miles said.
He took a break and traveled to Alaska for a fishing trip, which helped with the decision. Miles is also into photography and while traveling on the scenic Seward Highway, he stopped to take pictures while crossing Lake Clark. He packed up his camera, food and water and took a two-mile hike up a mountain.
“I didn’t realize how treacherous it was going to be. I got up three-quarters along the way and I said to God ‘I don’t know if I can make it the rest of the way,’” Miles said. “I was going to have a heart attack.”
But he continued and made it to the top. With a crystal clear lake and purple and white flowers, it was the most beautiful place he’s ever seen.
“I just dropped to my knees and said ‘God, here I am,’” Miles said. “And that’s where he met me. He laid out my life. Where I’ve been, where I am and where we’re going.”
After having health issues resurface from a traumatic brain injury he sustained while serving in the U.S. Army, Miles said it was a sign to let go. He said dealing with the stress was one of the lowest points of his life.
“It’s time to close, but you’re closing a chapter with your walk with me,” Miles said about his talk with God.
Enlighten The World is staying, but The Light House will close. The facility on Rowan Road distributed food, clothing and personal hygiene products to homeless and needy people in Sampson County. It will continue to serve through September. The closing will leave a big void, but Miles stressed that other food pantries and churches are available in the area.
“I know they’re going to step up their game and they’re going to take care of people that we serve,” he said. “People will be well taken care of for food.”
Now, the focus for Miles and his wife is mission trips.
“When people read the newspaper and watch the news, they see how much hate there is in the world,” he said. “God’s mission for my wife and I is to spread the love of Jesus Christ. We want people to understand that hate is spreading across the nation so rapidly, that it’s ruining our country, ruining our communities and ruining our children. Our mission is to change that mindset. Instead of spreading hate, spread love.”
Miles said they plan to accomplish that goal by branching out of Sampson County. Next year, some of the mission plans include a poverty stricken town in Virginia, as well as New Orleans, Washington, D.C. and Africa. He expressed how he was successful with salvations at The Light House.
“If we can do that here, we can do that across the nation and see more people,” Miles said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
During disasters, Miles said the organization will help people in need to bring hope through Jesus Christ. Volunteers are welcome to help. Supplies were recently sent to Houston to help Hurricane Harvey victims.
“Instead of us just sending supplies, we’re actually going there,” he said. “By us closing this, it will allow us to really get our feet on the ground in places like Houston and whenever there’s a storm like that.”
One of the ways Miles plans to raise money for future endeavors is by selling prints of pictures online at www.thommilesphotos.com. Donations will continue to be collected through www.enlightennc.org. All of the funds will go to the organization.
Instead of distributing food a couple of days each month, Miles plans to do it twice or three times a year. Although The Light House is shutting down, the ministry will still operate the Diaper Bank of Sampson County, which distributes diapers and related products. In 2016, more than 2,000 families were served. In June, Miles said they gave out the 100,000th diaper since the bank was created in October 2015, with the assistance of the Sampson County Health Department.
“That’s a pretty big milestone for a rural county like Sampson County,” he said. “We’re really proud of that.”
In the next two years, he would like to double the total and expand the program beyond Sampson County.
The ministry also held financial budget classes to help people save money or get out of poverty, but an agency providing assistance for Enlighten The World indicated that they were not allowed to do that.
“That was a big part of our ministry,” he said. “Not giving an handout, but giving a hand up. If we can’t give those classes to give people direction and just give money out, what’s the purpose of that?”
A notice was given to the landlord of The Light House. Miles hopes the next tenant is another ministry or church that is going to serve God. Enlighten The World began as mobile ministry and next month, it will return to the Miles’ home.
Volunteer Roscoe McNair is one of many volunteers at the The Light House. During his time, he packed a lot of boxes to help feed families.
“I don’t think the impact of us closing is really going to be felt until we actually close,” McNair said about the large number of people receiving assistance.
In 2016, the program distributed 140,000 pounds of food to more than 12,000 people and helped about 50 families who were disaster victims. Utility and shelter assistance funds were also sent to families.
“A lot of the community is just becoming aware of what the ministries does,” McNair said. “I think it’s going to be a shock when they find out that we have finally closed.”
He’s met more people lately who acknowledged the contributions in the community.
“It saddens you to turn to them and say ‘we’re closing,’” McNair said.
Miles said places such as Enlighten The World and churches are facing the same problem. He conveyed how people who need help are the ones who suffer in the end.
“People don’t realize the magnitude of poverty and the problems people are struggling with in our community and communities across the nation,” he said. “I say over, over and over again that 32 percent of our children in Sampson County are going to bed hungry each night. If that doesn’t strike a chord in your heart, then there’s something wrong.”
Miles added that 25 percent of adults in the area are being neglected when people don’t give back.
“That’s why ministries like ours are closing,” he said. “It’s because of the selfishness of the felling that you don’t need to help.”
Nancy Sensenig, who serves as the secretary of the board, shared the same feelings. Several members of her family volunteer as well.
“I’m sad because I know these people need us,” she said. “There are other places to go, but they don’t do the things that we do.”
Sensenig expressed how the visitors seeking help enjoy Miles’ worship services. It’s going to be an experience she’s going to miss.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “If I say anything else, I’m going to start crying.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.