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Column: ‘Gotta serve somebody’

Posted: July 9, 2018 2:36 p.m.
Updated: July 10, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Bob Dylan’s 1979 hit song, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” is about a diverse group of people who have one simple truth in common. Here are the words to the chorus. “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Bob Dylan wrote this song during his “Christian gospel period,” so it was an intentionally spiritual song. The song received mixed reviews, but was blasted by John Lennon who said, “No, you have to serve yourself.”

Bob Dylan’s brilliant chorus simply states that everyone must decide if the focal point of one’s life is in service to yourself or in service to something bigger. Church-going folks would generally say service to something bigger is a life focused on serving God. John Lennon took offense to Dylan’s use of the words God and devil, but he unintentionally actually agreed with Bob Dylan. Devout Christians believe that a life focused on service to yourself is essentially the same thing as serving “the devil.” Of course, non-church-going folks would state that one does not have to be religious to serve a greater calling, and they would be right. Great deeds have been done by men and women from all walks of life. However, Christian service is more than accomplishing good deeds. It’s about spreading the love of Christ. I think even Lennon would probably now agree that our excessive focus on serving ourselves instead of others is the root cause of many of the societal problems we face today.

Church leaders and mentors from great organizations like the Boy Scouts have taught me the value of service since I was 10 years old. I find that even when Lyttleton Street UMC chooses the hottest week of the summer for its annual Salkehatchie Summer Service camp, this week of service to others is one of my favorite weeks of the year. As Jim Tatum mentioned in his article, the Wateree Salkehatchie camp was started in 1991 and hosts around 70 people. We usually work on four or five homes. Since its beginning, the camp has been like an extended family. Volunteers range from 14 years old to 87 years young and include church members, children and grandchildren of those members, children of adults who came to the camp as teenagers, and friends from all over S.C. It’s amazing to watch as teenagers grow and become site leaders.

The camp’s first mission is to get teenagers involved in the repair of homes in an environment that is definitely out of their comfort zone. Volunteers help teach the teenagers valuable skills like roofing, plumbing, electrical work, carpentry and painting. Teenagers learn the value of hard work and teamwork, and accomplish an amazing amount of work in one week.

The camp’s underlying mission, though is to change the lives and hearts of teenagers and volunteer adults through service to others. Everyone at the camp is surprised to find families actually living in the conditions of the homes that we select to repair. Most new volunteers can’t imagine having to deal with leaking roofs, moldy walls, no air conditioning or limited heat, broken sewer pipes, or having to haul water in 5-gallon buckets from an outside spigot to get water to drink, bathe or flush a toilet. The teenagers see those situations and work hard all week. They learn that they can be the hands of Christ and have the ability to follow Christian singer Matthew West’s admonition to “Do Something.”

The teams also find that despite the poor living conditions, the occupants are welcoming, grateful and spiritual people. Homeowners are amazed at the work done by the youth and are always uplifted by young strangers showing they care. The teenagers typically start the week saying they just want to help someone in need, but quickly realize that through their service they will receive much more than they will ever give. The adults are always surprised and uplifted by witnessing the teenagers’ faith in action. For one week, we are reminded that true happiness comes from service to others. Everyone ends the week exhausted, but already talking about next year, and thinking about what family member or church member they can ask to join the Camden Salkehatchie family.

Every participant also sees what happens when a community comes together to make a difference. They see volunteers that not only pay to come to camp, but pay their own gas, and use their own tools, and they appreciate the community churches and volunteers that provide breakfasts, lunches and downright amazing dinners. The camp could not function without the wonderful community volunteers. So, thank you to everyone to helped make this camp successful.

“You’re gonna have to serve somebody. “One choice is better than the other.

(Dennis Turner, Amy Pope, Ellen Smith and Richard Hagins lead the Wateree Camp. They are supported by a host of volunteers. Dennis can be reached at


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