On April 4, I penned the final words to my new book Founded on faith...Built on love. It was fitting that on Easter Sunday I brought to an end a project that spanned nearly two years––only to declare a glorious future. I believe God’s favor is on this ministry and I humbly thank Him for all He has done. My column this month is the recently released book’s preface, a perfect way to preview this “book for the ages.”
The dawn of Wednesday, November 11, 1885 blew into the little northeastern North Carolina town of Ahoskie with the weight of apprehension and the stirring of possibility. The breeze blew strong, and those few who ventured outside bent into it.
Just down the street from the Ahoskie Baptist Church lived Mary Presson and her nine-year-old daughter, and namesake, Mary Presson. Times were tough for them, but on this morning their fortunes dramatically changed.
As the sun peeked over the eastern horizon, both Mary Pressons prepared for a venture into the unknown. The younger Presson gripped her ticket for a train ride from Ahoskie to Thomasville, a trip to be taken under the guidance of her pastor, John Mitchell.
Mitchell, who had previously served the downtown Baptist church in Asheville, enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of Ahoskie. He was a close friend of John Mills—the stalwart, stubborn, bighearted man whose dream was to begin an orphanage reflecting the Christian values that had matured in him while he studied at Wake Forest College.
Mills teamed up with site selection committee member John Scarborough to find land appropriate for the dream that Mills said had “scratched at my skull until it bore a hole in it.”
Mitchell, Mills, and Scarborough arranged for little Mary Presson to be the first child admitted to the new orphanage and, later, for her mother to become the first matron.
Mary and Rev. Mitchell readied to board the train late that Wednesday morning. Mary clung to her mother, finally saying goodbye, but still not fully understanding what was happening. Few words were spoken as the train wound its way down to Raleigh, over to Greensboro, and, finally, to Thomasville.
Rev. Mitchell was first off the train. Warmly embracing his good friends Mills and Scarborough, he turned and introduced them to Mary Presson, who was comforted by their reassuring smiles. Knowing that her mother would soon join her brought even more comfort.
Mills knew this day would be a day of historic significance––November 11, 1885. He was a student of mathematics and history and he recognized that this was “a moment in time.”
A little building––appropriately named after John Mitchell and still standing today––would be the place where Mary Presson (and soon, other little girls) would live.
John Haymes Mills was a brilliant visionary. He had owned the Biblical Recorder and, within two years of his arrival in Thomasville, began the publication Charity & Children (1887), which continues today.
Known simply as the Thomasville Orphanage, a few years after its beginning it became affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. In 1956, the name was changed to the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH).
Little Mary Presson grew up in Thomasville and never left Davidson County. She moved as a young adult to Lexington and was an active member of First Baptist Church.
Mary loved her mother and was deeply saddened when she died. Mother Mary is buried on the grounds of Mills Home in the “God’s Acre” cemetery. Daughter Mary Presson Yarborough is buried beside her.
John Mills led the Orphanage for its first ten years. He is buried in the cemetery of Rich Fork Baptist Church, a church he was instrumental in founding, in Thomasville.
Baptist Children’s Homes was founded on Faith, the faith its visionary founders had in God to bring to fruition a home for the helpless. It has been built on Love, the love of those who serve the children and the sacrifices of others who provide such a home. “Founded on faith . . . Built on love” is our theme for 2020-2025 and is printed across the cover of this new history book.
God’s favor has been with us since 1885. I am humbled and honored to have led this great ministry of faith and love for all but 98 years of its history.
Winds will still blow strong, but we will stand firm against the blasts that would tumble others trusting in lesser foundations. We are strong. We stand on sacred ground. We shall not be moved.