The Sentinel Group
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Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009

Our team met with Pastor Doug Abner and John Becknell of Community Church of Manchester. Over lunch in the restaurant, they shared many interesting testimonies about the move of God in the city and surrounding county. We moved to the church to film their recollections of the circumstances leading up to the day local Christians said, "Enough!" and marched through Manchester – an idea inspired by the dream of local Baptist pastor, Ken Bolin. They described the overwhelming darkness and hopelessness throughout Manchester and Clay County stemming from extensive drug abuse, corruption, poverty, and church disunity. Doug and John listed numerous testimonies of how God has comprehensively transformed these problems which once seemed irremovable from the area’s identity.

We tried to flesh out the story’s most important parts to identify the most efficient and effective way forward with our short time here. Doug and John helped us set up schedules and interviews. They also provided six boxes stuffed with records, emails, newspaper articles, and pictures from the past several years. Our team finished the day sifting through all these things, reading books, and watching videos to try to better understand the story.

Friday, Sept. 25, 2009

John Becknell, the media director for Community Church, took us on a tour of Manchester.  We found out today he is the Director of Tourism for the City of Manchester. We followed  winding green roads of the city to the town center where the city hall, police station, public library, and administration building all lie within 500 feet of each other. We were able to grab a quick interview with Sheriff Kevin Johnson, who is a believer and has been very intertwined with all that God has been doing to bring this community out of the darkness. He  enthusiastically described how far the community has come and the key role the church has played in working alongside law enforcement to help bring about change. He also explained that Manchester still has a long way to go, citing the night before, when he had pulled over a vehicle, only to find the driver carrying a prescription provided by a Florida doctor of 400 pills of Oxycontin. Since it was a legal prescription there was nothing he could do, even with the knowledge that no one person would ever need so many pain killers.

In the afternoon, we interviewed Steve Collett for several hours. Steve related his story, involving decades of drug abuse, mostly involving meth. He had numerous stories of running from the law, being shot, and sleeping for days on nothing but a log in the Kentucky mountains, so the local law enforcement couldn’t find him. He told of his and his wife’s numerous incarcerations. His children eventually despised him for choosing drugs over them. He described himself as the “lowest of the low,” and, amazingly, one night, running from the Police just after he had been released from prison, he hid out in an outhouse outside a local business in a town he didn’t know. It was 19 degrees outside and all he had was a sweatshirt. He asked God that if He would keep him alive through the night that he would serve Him. Afterward, he connected with Community Church and found, for the first time, a group of Christians who truly loved him. The rest is history. Today, even with the devastating effects of decades of drug abuse, God has given him a divine capacity for the Word. Throughout the interview he would recite verses with no hesitation. He has led hundreds of people to Christ and weekly returns to the prison in which he was once held to preach the Word of God to inmates with whom he once spent every moment.

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009

We began the day traveling back to Community Church where we interviewed Pastor John Kessel from Harrodsburg Church of Christ. Harrodsburg is the oldest city in Kentucky. The Pastor shared what led him to join the churches that marched here in Manchester in May, 2004, as he hoped for the same changes in his own community. Since then he has been friends with the pastors in Manchester and has been partnering with them to work for the same goals in Harrodsburg. He described the life that is coming into his church in spite of the long-standing conservative traditions of the past. He is only one of the numerous leaders and pastors who have taken a spark from what God is doing here back to their home towns and churches.

In the afternoon we traveled to a local park where a city festival was scheduled to take place in hopes of getting some candid shots of the citizens of Manchester. Unfortunately, the dark thunderclouds, which had been overhead all morning long, began to pour even harder, effectively canceling the event. However, our team was blessed to join the bluegrass band under a park roof that decided to play anyway. The music reinforced the feeling that we were in a different part of the country.

Afterward, we returned to the church to individually interview the pastor of Community Church, Doug Abner. His personal account of the story went deeper into the history and emotional ride that has been Manchester for many years. Many times throughout the interview he struggled through tears as he described the dire straights that once claimed the city, and again, he choked up as he proclaimed the redemption of God’s power in his midst. He took out several newspaper headlines which testified to the change that has taken place here and is continuing to expand. It is truly an amazing story!

Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009

One team visited Manchester Community Church to film the regular Sunday services. The other team visited City of Hope Church, which is only 5 years old and pastured by a former drug/alcohol abuser, Donald Sims. The City of Hope Church was truly amazing, as people funneled in through the doors the pastor told me, “This lady was once addicted to drugs and raped….that man was addicted to cocaine for 15 years…” It seemed half the parishioners were recovering addicts or had some kind of terrible past. The service was very moving, they had a couple of young men from the local, federally funded, Christ centered drug rehabilitation center, Chad’s Hope, sing a song that one of them wrote about not being the same anymore because of what God had done in his life, it was very powerful. The church was extremely missions oriented, they had missionaries from both Poland and Uganda speak, both of whom they support.

Our team had the latter half of the day off. Some of the team used it to relax and catch up on other work and some went out to some federal reserve land to look for Elk, which is one species that has made a huge rebound over the past years since the turnaround of Clay County.

Monday, Sept. 28,  2009

The day began with the team splitting up to take care of different tasks. Some went to go shoot B-roll around the community of Manchester; some went through all the footage from the TV station owned by the church and another worked on tying up loose ends from a different project. We joined back together at the local police station which doubles as the 911 call center. Once there, our team met with the Police Chief and fellow believer, Jeff Culver, for an interview. It went very well and he was very open about how dark it was in the years past, even while he was on the force. He spoke of how much prayer and the church’s perseverance has been responsible for the change in the community. For several minutes we had to pause the interview as he turned away from the camera to try and regain his composure. It was very evident how grateful he is for what has happened here. He told us not a day passes that he doesn’t talk to a local pastor on the phone. At our request, he brought out several thousands of dollars worth of illicit drugs for us to capture on film, which included Cocaine, Oxycontin and Methadone. He told us just a single pill of Oxycontin can have a street value of 120 dollars. After the interview, the Sheriff was waiting to meet with the Police Chief, both of whom have a great relationship and cooperation with one another…after all their offices are only a couple hundred feet apart. This was another testimony to the work of God here as in the years past there was no cooperation between law enforcement departments.

After talking with the Police Chief we walked across the street to the City Hall and met with the Mayor of Manchester, Carmen Lewis. Carmen is also a believer and she gave a great interview and talked about all sorts of issues, good and bad. One of the things she spoke extensively on is a recycling plant that is considering moving to Manchester and setting up operations. This company will potentially provide 1,400 jobs with excellent pay and full benefits to a city of 2,200 people.

Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009

Our day began with an interview of Karen Engle, who is the director of Operation Unite. Unite is a law enforcement organization which has partnered with churches to provide a 12 step program for drug addicts as an alternative to serving jail time. They have also been very influential in political and community service areas in Clay County as well as Kentucky as a whole. It consists of local law officers and focuses on local communities. According to Doug Abner, Karen is one of the three or four most powerful women in the state and she works very closely with Kentucky congressman Hal Rogers.

We then interviewed Paul Hays, a former sergeant with the Kentucky State Police. He is now working as the Deputy Director of Operation Unite. Paul gave us testimony about the condition of the area while he was working as a trooper; how there was a never-ending cycle of arresting the same people for the same crimes time and time again.

We had a meal with them afterward along with Doug, John and Ken Bolin (Pastor of Manchester Baptist Church), who came in from out of town so the team was able to meet him. Unfortunately we could not interview him today but we had a great time listening to all the men tell stories and testimonies over the table. It seems every time they sit down to reminisce, new and unbelievable things come out of their mouths. We finished the day shooting B-roll around Manchester and met up to finish planning and scheduling our remaining time in Clay County.

Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009

Our team traveled to the Clay County Genealogical Society and talked with Charles House who is the local historian. He knew just about all there was to know going way back to the 1800’s when the family feuds occurred that really put Clay County “on the map.” He brought out various books and photos and described the life of a “Clay Countian.” Later he took us out to the sites of old salt works and river fords that were used heavily by the union army during the civil war before they were eventually destroyed by that same army.

Our day ended with a hearty meal at the home of John Becknell and his wife along with Pastor Doug and Linda Abner. As usual, they went around the table for hours sharing amazing story after amazing story ranging from close calls with the FBI to how they fell in love. They treated us to a hilarious documentary that has become somewhat of a legend in these parts about a tap dancing hillbilly entitled, “Dancing Outlaw.” It gave us a good laugh before heading home.

Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009

One team began the day with an interview of a Community Church member who lost his son to drugs. He gave a very somber testimony about the devastation drugs cause to a person and their family and he talked about how God used his son’s death to cause him to champion drug prevention and treatment for addiction. Later we traveled to Manchester City of Hope Church where we talked to Pastor Donald Sims, a humble and loving man who was once addicted to drugs and alcohol for over ten years. He shared an amazing personal testimony and talked about his church, which he told us, is 70% new converts, 50% of which, are recovering addicts. This small church is only five years old and has done more for missions around the world (of a church this size) than any other I have heard of. He continually spoke about how much the transformation videos have encouraged him and his church to pray and ask God for the same things to come to their own town.

The other team went out the entire day with former drug addict, Steve Collett, to travel to various important places in neighboring counties, which he mentioned in his testimony. The day ended with another planning/scheduling meeting.

Friday, Oct. 2, 2009

Today our team split up and one went to interview the District Court Judge, Sara Combs, who is a believer and comes back to Manchester where she buried her husband, Bert T. Combs, once the Governor of Kentucky. The interview went very well and she used the term “social exorcism” to describe what has happened here. They then went to Manchester Baptist Church to interview Pastor Ken Bolin who actually had the prophetic dream that was the basis for the march. They ended the day filming the local flavor at the high school football game and other festivals happening around the city.

The other team went back to the Clay County Genealogical Society where we gathered photos and articles of historic persons and events involving both the county and surrounding areas. We traveled to the city water treatment plant where the city bottles “Hope Water” which won best tasting water in the entire state of Kentucky last year. We then returned to the church to interview Pastor Doug’s wife, Linda. She spoke about the day of the march with much emotion and likened it to what Martin Luther King must have felt, marching against darkness. The city held a Christian festival called Hallelujah today that began with a parade where all sorts of churches came with floats and signs praising God, which we also filmed.

Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009

Part of our team spent the day with Leslie, Steve Collett’s wife, to get her story. She shared that for the first six years of their marriage they were constantly high on drugs. After both were incarcerated for several months during the same time, they were released and met each other outside the prison gate where she said they had encountered each other sober for the first time. It was such an unusual experience for them that they didn’t even recognize one another. Today, Leslie works in the Children’s ministry at Community Church in addition to working full time at an animal hospital named, “Noah’s Ark.”

The other team met with a descendant of the Baker family, which is one of the main family names associated with the historic feud in this area. He spoke on the history of the feuds and also shared the location of his grandfather’s cabin for us to go and film. Our team finished the day filming at 2 local festivals, one of which was Fall Fest, which is put on by the city, and the other was a Christian run festival called Hallelujah.

Sunday Oct. 4, 2009

One team traveled to Ken Bolin’s, Manchester Baptist Church to film part of the service; the others went to Community Church and presented the first public showing of A Force For Change to the congregation. It was received very well; in fact most of the praise came from the former addicts in the church.

After the service we stayed at the church to record some musicians who performed some very powerful songs for us that we might end up using in the video. We were blessed to have a former sound engineer from BMI Music in town from Knoxville who helped us set up the recording and will master the music for us all for free.

Afterward out team traveled out the Colletts' house to help them out with some projects on their property as gratitude for all their help. We had a great time of fellowship with them and all their animals, which they rescue today. We took off the remainder of the evening to regain our energy.

Monday, Oct. 5, 2009

The team got up early to go and shoot at the prayer meeting that occurs every Monday morning at City Hall with the Mayor and local believers. Afterward we traveled out to Chad’s Hope, which is a local Faith Based Drug Rehab center paid for by public tax dollars. There we filmed many interviews of both students and staff about the things going on there. The facility is located back in a very rural 50-acre site and is very beautiful. Everyone there seemed surprisingly happy to have us there, even the recovering students. We went into their classes and out around the property where they described all of their projects and duties.

We returned to the church to interview Steve Collett’s Parole Officer who had nothing but praises for Steve and his story. The team then split up and some went to interview a local barber in his barbershop about the great things happening in Manchester. The others went to shoot some b-roll around the county to get some additional footage of local churches, city and county road signs and scenery. Once again, with so much additional interviews, B-roll and reenactments still to shoot the team returned home to strategize and schedule our remaining time.

Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009

The day began with an early departure to Clay County High School where we filmed the 7:30am student prayer meeting. This prayer meeting is completely initiated and run by students. Apparently, the group grew so large over time that they were blocking the hallway and were asked to move into the gym. I was surprised to see around 70 of them join hands in a circle under the basketball hoop and bow their heads for a short but meaningful prayer. Afterwards we met in the principal’s office for an interview. He also happens to be Christian. He gave a good report on the positive trend the high school is seeing.

Part of the team split up to go an interview Doug Abner and Ken Bolin together to talk about their unusual friendship, being from opposite sides of the theological spectrum. The other team interviewed a younger couple that grew up in Manchester and attended Clay County High School to contrast the history and life of young people in regard to the social change that has taken place. The day continued with a lot of additional planning and scheduling with folks to maximize our remaining time. We ended shooting some footage of Lifeline, a weekly faith based drug rehab meeting, which Steve Collett leads at the church-yet another example for people to see the comprehensive change that is impacting the community.

Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009

The day began with part of the team going to interview the pastor of Lyttleton Baptist Church. This man was very instrumental in putting pressure on the local and state leaders to end corruption and God gave him a gift of letter writing, which became the voice of the community, especially the churches, at vital times during the process of purging Manchester of corrupt politicians and powerful drug dealers. Afterward we interviewed a local fish and wildlife expert who talked to us about the return of animals and flourishing vegetation that is new to the area in recent years. Next we met with a local high school student and her father who teaches there to talk about the way God is being brought into the school. The father shared about how openly the students are about their faith in school and how it isn’t uncommon for a student to open their Bible on their desk and several students to gather around and begin talking about faith in God. The day ended with a trip to Greyfork Baptist Church to film the weekly youth meeting and talk to them about how God is stirring them to be witnesses to their community. We also interviewed the pastor who has an amazing testimony and a spirit-filled church body.

The other team left Manchester and traveled to a historic area on the southern border of Kentucky called Cumberland Gap, it is the place where the ancestors of Clay County and the rest Eastern Kentucky passed through on their way. Once there, they gathered historic information as well as footage of the beautiful scenery.

Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009

The other team stayed in Manchester in the morning to interview two recovering drug addicts, which attend City of Hope Church. We were able to sit down with them and have them describe the darkness and hopelessness that was their reality for so many years. One of them also happened to have been a Satanist and he described that from a very young age he prayed to the Devil rather than God since he didn’t believe God cared for him. Today both men are walking in a passionate relationship with the Lord and you can see the joy in their face when they talk about it and reveal the freedom in Christ they now have. After finishing the interviews we hit the road to meet up with the other team in the Tri Cities area.

The team that spent the previous day in the Cumberland Gap drove to Saltville, West Virginia where they spent the day at a historic working replica of a salt works. There they filmed and were led on a tour around a salt works museum and were able to get access to old photos. After staying for a few hours they hit the road again this time headed for the Tri City area of Cumberland, Benham, and Lynch. Once there and reunited with the rest of the team we traveled a short distance to Kingdom Come State Park where we met up with a fish and wildlife expert who talked to us about the return of the black bear, elk and various species of fish to the area. He was a believer and shared his agreement with us about his belief that all of this was because of the Lord and what good things he has been doing in this area, just like in Clay County. We were also able to get some great footage from a spectacular vantage point overlooking the Appalachian mountain range. Our team ended the night at a restaurant with some of the local pastors and believers from the area.

Friday, Oct. 9, 2009

The team spent the night at the Benham Schoolhouse Inn, which is a historic schoolhouse that was converted into a hotel. When you walk down the hallways lockers still line the walls, it was pretty cool. Our day began with an interview of a local pastor at the Church of God building. He talked to us about all that God has been doing in the community and how there have been a group of several women who have been interceding faithfully for six years for God to come to the area. Afterwards the team visited the city hall and interviewed the mayor who was also a believer.

Later that day the team got a very special opportunity to take a tour of what was once the largest coal mine in the U.S. It is called Portal 31 and once swallowed a thousand coal miners a shift. We took a tram deep into the mine and found it almost like a Disneyland ride with stops and a narrator telling all about life for a miner and the conditions inside. The mine has been reopened to the public very recently and should prove to be a big source of tourism for the area – another answer to the prayers of local intercessors. We then drove back to Manchester and planned for our last morning together before the team would split up and half would head back home.