By Mary Catherine Gaston
Eric Tinsley has devoted his adult life to serving our country and his community. Now he's combining the skills and sensitivity he gained from 8 years in the military and 20 years in law enforcement to follow a unique calling to care for at-risk youth in rural Screven County.
Rural Roots: After retiring from a 20-year career in law enforcement, North Carolina native Eric Tinsley relocated to his wife’s hometown on Georgia’s eastern edge in Screven County. There, he’s combining a lifetime of experience as a pastor’s kid, soldier, gang prevention specialist and avid hunter to minister to at-risk rural youth.
What makes him a hero? The ministry Eric and his wife Jena lead in tiny Hiltonia began when the pair, both public school teachers, began delivering meals from their church to kids and teens in unreached, underprivileged communities on Wednesday nights. As a former school resource officer and gang specialist in central Florida, Eric knew that the environment these young people were growing up in was rife with opportunities and temptations to get into serious trouble. “We want to reach these young people before the world does,” Eric says. Pointing to the prevalence of alcoholism, drug abuse and violence many rural youth are exposed to, Eric feels called to make a difference by simply showing up and being a positive presence in their lives. The Tinsleys’ Wednesday night activities have evolved into an after-school ministry called Victory Village in Christ, complete with a permanent home in a renovated former liquor store. “What makes us heroes? We’re just being obedient to the Lord. If we’re heroes, it’s just because we’re trying to be obedient servants.”
A cause that is close to his heart: Eric is passionate about helping young people understand the
consequences of their actions and avoid making costly mistakes. “As a police officer, I saw all these young people making these bad choices that changed their lives forever. I wanted to help them, but there was only so much I could do as a police officer. As a servant of God, I can do so much more.” In addition to his ministry, Eric coaches youth football and is working on developing a program in partnership with the local Extension office to teach agriculture to the teens who frequent his ministry. “I want them to see there’s a better life that is possible for them. Ultimately, I want to make disciples.”
Something he wants every rural (and non-rural) Georgian to realize: “There is a God who loves them. All they have to do is call on him, and he will be there.”
Where he sees hope for rural communities: Agriculture and the trades. “The young people I work with, they think they can’t do agriculture,” he says. But he sees great potential for rural youth in agricultural work and skilled trades. “Imagine if we could teach these kids how to take care of livestock at a young age and give them that passion. Just imagine where they could go.” He says he’d like to see more churches get engaged in their communities—outside the building walls—and partner with other organizations on projects like this. “I want to see people reach out in a positive way to help local kids be successful.”