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High Calling in the Low Country

High Calling in the Low Country

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Early on, pastor Shaun R. Olsen and the congregation at Venture Church in Bluffton, South Carolina, concluded that reaching the world begins at home.

As the founding pastor, Olsen, a graduate of Global University, and a core group of families that started the church in 2017 envisioned helping people find new life in Christ. A lofty mission indeed, but Venture Church saw it as more than words on a page.

Olsen, who grew up in a ministry home, wanted it to be the church’s tone from the outset. So he and his team of eight people, during their 18-month preparation before launching in 2018, intentionally and regularly spent time serving the community by giving groceries to needy families and starting neighborhood kids’ programs.

In his ministry travels, Olsen, 40, met Benedette McGuire, who served as director of missions and outreach at another church. During her time there, two events unknowingly shaped the next season of her life. First, in her position at the church, she visited Dream Centers across the country and felt a passion to start one. Secondly, she worked closely with the humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse for 10 weeks in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which devastated the Carolinas in 2016.

Desiring to be intentional about reaching the low country of South Carolina (the four southernmost counties of the state, including the resort islands), Olsen reached out to McGuire to see if she wanted to join the team and bring her passion for outreach. She agreed, and became operations director for the church — essentially the director of the Bluffton Dream Center. It is rare to hear of a church starting such a venture in the earliest days of existence, but that didn’t deter Olsen.

“The path was so in front of me that I had to jump into it,” Olsen says.

However the group had a problem: where to meet? Not only did the Dream Center not have space, neither did the church, at least a permanent space. The church rented an elementary school for services at the beginning.

But during the pandemic, the church received a double blessing. New River Worship Center, another congregation in the area, agreed to merge, allowing Venture Church to move into its building. Then a space became available in a community built by a nonprofit organization. The church inquired about renting the space for the Dream Center and the new landlord leased it to them at 40% the usual cost, a perfect location for the job at hand.

The Bluffton Dream Center has a food pantry open to the public with no questions asked. When residents receive groceries, they are allowed to choose the items rather than just being handed a sack full of items. It’s both an acknowledgement of food allergies, and a means of providing food in a more dignifying way.

The Dream Center utilized the same system in December in giving away 400 pairs of new shoes, with students choosing their own pair in a makeshift store. Incidentally, pupils from the elementary school where the church started regularly bring groceries to use for the food bank.

In addition to after-school programming for kids who want to play or draw, the Dream Center hosts monthly Adopt-a-Block outreaches and prayer walks. A local businessman offers training for would-be entrepreneurs as a way of ending the cycle of poverty.

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