Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Prentiss Church of God held its second annual Buy A Tree Change a Life fundraiser last November and within a week of launching the fundraiser, sold every single Christmas Tree on the lot. Selling out after just a week, Prentiss Church was able to exceed their fundraising goal of $20,000 and ended up raising $20,998.63. 

“We were able to exceed our goal and sell out of Christmas Trees in one week,” said Prentiss Church pastor Kevin Chapman. “We are so thankful for the community of Franklin in supporting Buy a Tree Change a Life.”

With more than $20,000, 85 percent of the money raised during the fundraiser was used to aid Prentiss’ efforts in Cambodia, while the remaining 15 percent was spent to help local ministries such as KIDS Place and Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center. 

“The money raised selling trees is used for the children in our orphanages, our learning centers, missionary support, and our ongoing ministries in Cambodia,” said Chapman. 

At the end of February, Chapman, along with other members of Prentiss set out on a mission trip to Cambodia. From spreading the gospel to helping build self-sustaining farms, the volunteers were able to spend time with the residents of Cambodia and meet their needs. 

“My favorite part of the trip was being able to travel with my son and allow him the joy of giving out soccer cleats to some of the poorest children on the planet,” said Chapman. Pastor Chapman’s son Kade, who traveled with him, is a junior at Franklin High School. “Soccer is such a worldwide favorite game. To provide these children with cleats to protect their feet and new soccer balls was a joy to see their reaction. In addition, in the Cambodia heat to play soccer against these children was a humbling experience, humbling because, ‘I lost.’” 

In addition to purchasing soccer cleats, laptops, other supplies, Prentiss Church has also purchased two acres of land for $16,500 in Cambodia to build an Academic Village for the continued education of the children of Takam Village. This was raised in addition to Buy a Tree campaign. Takam Village is a small village outside of the thriving city of Siem Reap and in this small village, only two to three youth will be able to graduate from high school. Prentiss has also helped establish a church in Takam.

”Now that we have purchased the land,” Pastor Chapman says, “with the help of five other churches we are hoping to begin building the Academic Village for the purpose of allowing these youth from Takam to have a nice dorm room, house parents, warm meals, and a great education. The project cost is $160,000. This Academic Village is going to provide an educational opportunity that the youth of Takam Village has never had, breaking the cycle of poverty one child’s education at a time. All of these projects are above and beyond the giving of Buy A Tree Change a Life. Buy a Tree Change a Life and its funds are used for the continuing education of our existing children in our homes, orphanages, our adult learning center, Takam Church, and to support our missionaries who are located in Cambodia.”

While in Cambodia, the volunteers also helped a village further their sustainable farming operations, which create a vital lifeline for the residents. 

“It was a humbling experience to be able to see where the money from Buy a Tree Change a Life goes globally,” said Randy Stoudemire, who was a member of the mission team. “This organization is a true example of God’s love. I enjoyed all of Isaac’s [Lutz] work with Takam Village Farm which is an amazing integrated farm that is teaching a community how to be self-reliant. Remember, at the heart of what we do is not a ‘hand out’ but a ‘hand up.’”

Isaac Lutz is a missionary who lives full time in Takam. Lutz has been instrumental in creating the integrated farm, teaching farming techniques and sustainable practices.

The opportunity to see the ministry in action was something the volunteers enjoyed experiencing and really opened their eyes to the importance of continuing the program locally. 

“We live in a culture and society of “IPhones” “Ipads” and “IMacs” and if we aren’t careful we can become a narcissist. Life will become about me and mine,” said Chapman. “The Buy a Tree Change a Life program allows the Prentiss Church and the Franklin community to make a donation to children globally and as well as locally, we made a contribution to KIDS Place and Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center. “ 

Volunteers were also able to visit with Sophal, someone the church has had the opportunity to support over the last few years. 

“During our recent trip to Cambodia one of the more memorable experiences was our visit to the Bob Pace Children’s Home where we celebrated the accomplishments of our good friend Sophal,” said Chapman. “Sophal grew up as a very poor child in Tramniek village on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia. She got to know People for Care and Learning (PCL), which is funded through the Buy a Tree, Change A Life program, through attending the weekly Sunday feeding program and Sunday school at People for Care and Learning’s PACE Children’s Home. 

It was on one of these Sundays that Sophal gave her life to Jesus Christ and her life completely changed. PCL has continued to walk with Sophal for more than 10 years, and supported her through high school and medical school. Now, more than 10 years later, Sophal just passed her medical exam and became a licensed doctor, realizing her childhood dream. 

“On our trip we got the joy of cutting the cake and celebrating with Sophal,” said Chapman. “This testimonial is the heart of PCL and Buy a Tree Change a Life. To break the cycle of poverty it has to be greater than a ‘hand out’ it must be a ‘hand up.’”

Buy a Tree Change a Life will be coming again to the Prentiss Church. The site will be open again beginning the day after Thanksgiving.

“This Christmas, when supporting Buy A Tree Change A Life, you are supporting PCL and hundreds of people like Sophal, bringing real transformational change to people in Cambodia,” said Chapman. “Buy a Tree, Change a Life is an organization that helps children globally and locally. Each year people all over the United States purchase Christmas trees. Why not allow that purchase to make a difference in a child’s life?”