River Hill Refuge moves from dream to reality


It is a beautiful, hopeful day. We gather to make a new memory knowing this was the 20th anniversary of one of the worst days in the history of the United States—September 11, 2001. But on this Saturday, September 11, 2021, we stand in amazement of what God is doing at River Hill Refuge outside of Shelby, North Carolina.


I welcome old and new friends and supporters, faithful volunteers, and Baptist Children’s Homes’ (BCH) staff members.


“A river is a body of water with unending possibilities,” I say, “A river can be a source of recreation, fun, renewal. A river can be a place of glorious memory. For me, that memory was a visit to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. I put my feet in those waters—cool, clear, peaceful—splashed several handfuls on my face, and just let that “river of rivers” wash over me.”


My eyes close, I begin to sing, and voices join in as our hearts lift upward to Heaven. “I’ve got peace like a river...I’ve got peace like a river...I’ve got peace like a river in my soul.”


On this site, three new homes will be built for BCH’s family foster care ministry. It is sacred, holy ground. It is a place of peace for

children—no more hurricanes of abuse and tornadoes of neglect, just peace, peace, peace like a river.


“A hill is a place that signals hope and healing,” I say as my voice rises, reverberating across a crowd of almost 300. “Mary went into

the hill country to await word about the birth of the Messiah. Even that Hill far away where stood an Old Rugged Cross, even that Hill,

the emblem of suffering and shame, became a Hill of Hope and Eternal Life as Christ died—on that hill—for our sins. “


River Hill Refuge is a community set on a hill—ordained by God—to shed the light of hope and healing to the least of these, I tell you.


“God is our Refuge and Strength,” I whisper. “And because of that, there will be no fear. We will have no fear. This is a refuge for children.”


Children have a special place in the heart of Jesus. You’ve seen the picture, haven’t you, as He’s surrounded by children. What does He

say? “Let the children come to me, of such is the Kingdom of God.” And what is He saying today? “Let the children of River Hill Refuge

come to me.”


Of such is the Kingdom of God.


I never speak more assuredly than when I speak about the welfare of children. I am never afraid to ask for volunteer help or a financial gift when the wellbeing of a child is at stake. God assures me and from Him confidence bubbles up.


“God will guide our path,” I say. “God will give us strength for the journey. These three homes—set on a hill—will honor God, the One who makes all things possible. Listen to me. The Westmoreland Dream, the dream of brothers Wes and Jay Westmoreland to build these homes on their family’s prized farmland, will be even more than they dared dream. God is in charge. God is the architect.


Look around you today. See what is, the lush green pastures and the glorious vistas reaching into the distance, but also see what will be.”


I then surprise the audience when I wave, wishing five-year-old Jacob a happy birthday.


“Imagine with me six months from now or one year from now,” I say. “See the children playing? Look, there’s Jacob. He’s adorable.”


Everyone looks around to see him. I call out to Nora, Jacob’s older sister.


“Hi, Nora.” Nora is nine years old and she’s in charge. “Seeing the children play makes River Hill Refuge real. It is no longer a dream.

It is happening.”


I couldn’t help myself as once again I break out in song: “Lord, listen to your people praying. Send us love...send us power...send us grace...send us grace...send us grace.”


September 11 is an unforgettable date in American history. But on September 11, 2021, we added a new memory, one that has a positive and redemptive note, one that will come to our minds each year at this time.


“This is River Hill Refuge,” I proclaim.


“A River of Peace. A Hill of Hope. A Refuge of Healing. To God alone be the Glory. AMEN. AMEN. And AMEN.


Written by Michael C. Blackwell, President/CEO of BCH

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