San Antonio, TX—Delegates are gathered in San Antonio this week for the 78th International General Assembly. This year’s Heritage Exhibit, “Unto the Least of These,” tells the remarkable story of the birth and historical development of the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home in Sevierville, Tennessee
By David Roebuck
Beginning with four children in one small cottage in Cleveland, Tennessee, the Church of God Orphanage opened on December 17, 1920, and continues to provide care to children and youth through both foster and residential care on its current campus in Sevierville, Tennessee.
Until its postponement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, celebration of the centennial of the orphanage – and of benevolence ministries in the Church of God – was originally scheduled to take place at the 2020 International General Assembly.
Similar to the circumstances of today occurring more than a century later, delegates gathering for the fourteenth General Assembly in 1919 experienced the joy and excitement of meeting again after having had the Assembly postponed due to a global pandemic. Ready to do the business of the Church, they heard General Overseer A.J. Tomlinson present a bold vision highlighting the need for an orphanage. The 1918 influenza pandemic made his appeal even more urgent. Recalling the request of a dying mother, the general overseer challenged the Assembly, “The need of such an institution is staring us in the face…. We ought to be able to care for our own, and….we should be able to reach out a hand of tender love and mercy, and take in others and train them for God and His beautiful church.”
Located in the exhibit hall, “Unto the Least of These” also highlights many other Church of God benevolence ministries. These include the compassionate care of local congregations, more than a hundred ministries outside the United States, and those agencies under the oversight of the Church of God Division of Care.
“While the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home is perhaps the division’s best-known agency, other integral ministries are the Center for Ministerial Care, Iris B. Vest SpiritCare Center, Chaplains Commission, Ministry to Israel, and Operation Compassion,” stated Dr. Raymond Culpepper, First Assistant General Overseer and Executive Director of the Division of Care for the Church of God. “These ministries provide Spirit-empowered care to vulnerable people in their immediate need and often away from a church building—true beacons of hope in today’s world.”
Since 1996, the Church of God Historical Commission has partnered with the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center and the International Executive Committee to produce a General Assembly heritage exhibit. Following the Assembly, the exhibit will go on display at the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center on the campus of Lee University. A 40-page, four-color, magazine, also titled “Unto the Least of These,” accompanies the exhibit and is available in General Assembly registration packets and at the exhibit.
David Roebuck serves as Director of the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, coordinated this year’s heritage exhibit, is a member of the Historical Commission, and served as editor of the publication, “Unto the Least of These.”