Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Prentiss Church Pastor Kevin Chapman has been overseeing the Buy a Tree Change a Life Christmas tree fundraising program in Macon County for the last few years. Around half of the proceeds of the sales of Christmas trees support efforts locally as well as in Cambodia, a country in which Chapman has worked and supported as pastor and missionary. This month, Chapman leaves Prentiss Church to pursue full-time ministry in Southeast Asia and China from his new home base in San Jose, Calif.
When Chapman, originally from Chattanooga, Tenn., began pastoring Prentiss Church in 2015, he introduced the national Buy a Tree Change a Life initiative, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 2012. Annually, a percentage of Christmas tree sales has been used to purchase backpacks for school-aged children in Macon County, while the remainder has supported ongoing efforts in Cambodia such as building projects, clothing, food, education, the needs of orphans and more. Historically, Cambodia has struggled with poverty and ongoing government oppression since Cambodia was ravaged by the Khmer Rouge regime under the leadership of Pol Pot and 2 million people lost their lives in the mid-1970s.
During the 2020 holidays, Buy a Tree Change a Life in Macon County raised almost $27,000. “Fifty percent stays local and the other half goes to Cambodian projects,” said Chapman. “All the trees were sold, and several people volunteered, including Randy Stoudemire, who will continue Buy a Tree Change a Life in my absence.”
Chapman said the project’s efforts resulted in $10,000 being donated to South Macon Elementary School for the purchase of updated equipment and a new playground for “exceptional children” attending the school.
“We’ve been wanting to refresh and rejuvenate the EC self-contained playground for a while,” said Principal Allison Guynn. “We are very blessed by Prentiss Church, which asked us if we had an area we needed help with. We typically have 45-50 children who might need to use this special playground … a space for them to play and run and use equipment that is appropriate for them. They need to be excited when they go outside and this new playground means they will have something to look forward to.”
Two weeks ago, volunteers from Prentiss showed up at South Macon Elementary School to install the equipment and landscape the playground.
Chapman, who has worked full time in church ministry for 25 years, said, “One of the highlights of living in Macon County have been seeing the good-hearted nature of this community. People are more than willing to help other people when there are needs.”
From his base in California, Chapman will be “leading church planting and teaching and preaching in areas where churches are planted.” His new title will be missionary and church planter. Chapman also leads an international virtual church twice weekly that includes “hundreds of people from 13 nations translated in three languages.”
“Sharing the gospel across the world is what is most important,” he said.
Chapman preached his last sermon at Prentiss Church on Jan. 31. He said Prentiss is actively interviewing for a new pastor, and services will host guests and visiting pastors until a new pastor is secured.
“I want to say ‘Thank you Macon County’ for making us, me and my family, feel at home. We will be back,” he said.