Three years ago, a South Carolina teenager prayed that her best friend would want to attend a Never the Same (NTS) youth camp that summer held in Central.

“Emalee prayed that Elizabeth would give her life to Jesus as they went to NTS camp,” said Pastor Niccole Franklin, who leads The Oaks Wesleyan Church in Goose Creek, South Carolina, and is Emalee’s mom. “Before camp ended, Elizabeth did, in fact, give her life to Jesus.”

Planted in 2018, The Oaks is a daughter church of Providence Wesleyan Church (PWC) in Summerville, South Carolina. Franklin planted The Oaks in the fall of 2018 in a run-down, closed bingo hall and bar.

Franklin and her family (she is married to Mark) moved to South Carolina in 2013. Since then, the desire to minister in the community has continued to strengthen. Unchurched as a child, Franklin’s heart is passionate about bringing hope “to people who have either been hurt by the church or are unaware of the hope that is needed.”

Since The Oaks launched, 25 people have placed their faith in Jesus, Elizabeth being the first. Fast forward to 2021, and Elizabeth is still growing in her relationship with Jesus.

High school freshmen Emalee and Elizabeth attend youth group at PWC. The PWC youth pastor, Cheyenne Bayles, talked more about Elizabeth’s faith journey.

“As we prepared to go to camp, Emalee’s heart so badly wanted her friend to know Jesus as her Savior,” said Bayles. “It was our first night of camp and God was moving in such mighty ways already. As we ended our first session and broke into youth group time … As we started discussing what we were feeling/experiencing, Elizabeth announced she gave her life to God. And right next to her, holding her hand, was Emalee.”

“Weekly, [the girls] talk about holding one another accountable,” said Bayles. “Praying with one another, reading Scripture together outside of group. You can also see how even though this world wants young Christians to hide their faith, these girls are proud. They are brave and unashamed to reach people for Christ, seeking the lost and those that feel unloved.”

RoAlice Jewett, youth director at The Oaks, said the same thing about Elizabeth. (Elizabeth and Emalee also attend youth group at The Oaks. They attend youth group at PWC on Wednesdays and The Oaks on Thursdays.)

“Elizabeth has consistently stepped up as a leader in youth group,” said Jewett. “She can often be found praying with and for others, as well as being willing to listen and speak Truth to those around her.  Elizabeth truly loves others and is quick to offer a word of encouragement or lend a hand wherever it is needed. She is often the person her peers seek out for advice.”

Not only that, Elizabeth’s unleashing a Kingdom Force in her own family. Her mom (Heather), brother (Joseph) and her brother’s girlfriend (Madi) have all given their lives to Jesus. Her dad also attends The Oaks, “but has not crossed that line of faith quite yet.” Madi’s mom has also attended the church.

Franklin noted that she and Bayles have been friends for years, beginning as a discipleship relationship. When they met nine years ago, Bayles wasn’t walking with Jesus. Their discipleship relationship has morphed into a deep friendship as they minister together.

In fact, their discipleship relationship has created a ripple effect making 20 new disciples. The most recent person to place her faith in Christ is Savannah, a friend of Emalee and Elizabeth. Savannah was baptized in January, and her mom and little brother now attend The Oaks with her.

Lives are being changed because of discipleship:

Emalee: “God uses me to bring joy to others. I enjoy serving and helping others.”

Elizabeth: “I grew up in church but didn’t take it seriously. Then I began [meeting] with Emalee and started taking it seriously. She invited me to church, and I really loved getting to know Jesus.”

Savannah, 9th grade: “I grew up in church but didn’t take it seriously. When we moved to South Carolina, we didn’t go at all. I met Elizabeth and was invited to youth group. She kept taking me, and after a while, I started to enjoy it and let God back into my life … life was chaotic; now I feel like I have surrendered and let [God] lead my life.”

Madi, 12th grade (Elizabeth’s brother’s girlfriend): “I have always had a weird relationship with God and the church. I honestly came to church the first time for the lunch afterwards. I decided to come back, because the people were so kind. I was invited to an event where people spoke into my life, and this proved to me that God was real and that he cared for me. So, I gave my life to God. I was baptized, went through a pretty hard time with my family, but I have grown through church camp and other things by making my relationship with God a priority.”

Heather (Elizabeth’s mom): “I’ve seen him [God] provide and realize now how he saved my life over the years.”

“Heather has had seven life-threatening accidents,” said Franklin. “As we walked through what Jesus was doing and how he had been near, I’ve seen her trust him more and her attitude change. Now when things are tough, she calls and we walk through it and pray about it. I am blessed to disciple her.”

Franklin noted that the “majority of these kids have no faith in their homes” and “will be ‘first gens’ of faith.” Knowing this, the ripple effect of discipleship making is even more important in these South Carolina cities.

“Cheyenne and I were talking about these ripples last night and just how grand this really is,” said Franklin. “We often fail to see what’s happening on a kingdom level, until the impact is several ripples deep. The truth is that relationships are key, and they are definitely the fuel the Holy Spirit uses to form discipleship that lasts and transforms. Without relationships, we wouldn’t be able to keep track of all  that God has done.”

What is happening in Goose Creek and Summerville is just one illustration of The Wesleyan Church’s strategic focus of “celebrating every time a disciple makes a disciple and a church multiplies itself until The Wesleyan Church has a transforming presence in every ZIP code.”

Pictured, left to right: Emalee Franklin, Elizabeth Grillo, Heather Grillo, Madi Odom and Savannah Shelton.