Amid a national climate with 18.3 million children living without a biological, step, or adoptive father (according to a 2020 report from the U.S. Census Bureau), Truth in Nature is stepping in on the frontlines of the fatherhood crisis, upholding the integrity of the family unit using two lines of defense: mentorship and ministry.
“Our mission field is very specific: fatherless boys from a single parent home,” explains Daniel Beckham, Truth in Nature’s regional director of the Carolinas. Daniel, a Camden resident, avid outdoorsman, and father of three, has been involved with the organization since 2014. He refers to Truth in Nature’s legion of leaders as “the Boy Scouts that lead people to Jesus.”
Truth in Nature was founded in 2009 in Dallas, Georgia, by Carrie and Jeff Davis, a husband-and-wife duo who share a passion for the outdoors and a strong Christian faith. In the early years of their marriage, the two realized the potential that existed at the intersection of Christianity and creation. In response, they dutifully fanned the flames of the fledgling outdoor ministry program that evolved into Truth in Nature and, somewhere down the line, pegged single parent boys as the organization’s target demographic. The 501(c)3 nonprofit is a product of prayerful planning and careful cultivation that now spans seven states across the Southeast and into the upper Midwest regions of the country.
Each of the organization’s seven chapters offers monthly activities to boys ages 11 to 18 that are completely free of cost to participants and their families. The East Columbia chapter, led by Sean Hill of Camden, draws youth from Gilbert, Camden, Hartsville, Bluffton, and Chesterfield, with heavy participation from Kershaw County residents. Charleston and Hampton are also home to Truth in Nature chapters, the latter of which was announced in June 2021. With three chapters in the state, South Carolina’s program directors are beginning to identify more opportunities to bring their youth together for collaborative events, one of which will take place in the fall. Over the past seven years, the East Columbia chapter has grown from having one participant at its first event to a current roster of roughly 18, two-thirds of whom attend regularly.
“We’re excited about that growth,” Daniel says. “When you start to read statistics about single parent homes, it makes you want to grow the organization more.” He hopes to contribute to this growth in his new role as a liaison between Truth in Nature’s corporate staff and localized program directors. “I see Truth in Nature growing; I see it growing big. The mission field is there.”
The East Columbia chapter’s 2021 calendar of events includes fishing outings, rafting trips, sporting clay shoots, and a fall deer hunt — a crowd favorite that will bring together the East Columbia and Hampton chapters. According to Sean, mentors and volunteers alike enjoy the deer hunt because of the unique opportunity it provides for one-on-one conversations, given the nature of the activity: two hunters sit roughly 20 feet up in the air on a narrow bench seat, donned in head-to-toe camouflage, four eyes scanning the scene for movement. When the sights are slow, Sean has observed that the compact space in the deer stand becomes an excellent, albeit unconventional, setting for otherwise untapped conversations between the two sportsmen. Fishing in pairs is another activity that often lends itself to unrestrained conversations in a relaxed environment.
Still, Sean acknowledges that a few hours spent by a pond casting and recasting a line into the water, or in a deer stand waiting on a prize buck to come into view, only allow a small window of opportunity through which to make a lasting impact on the boys’ lives. “At a lot of these events, you just scratch the surface,” he says.
However, Truth in Nature mentors are well-practiced in maximizing the time they have with the boys. They do this by incorporating two types of activities into every event. “Man classes,” as they are referred to by those within the organization, teach life skills ranging from changing a tire to managing finances. They are designed, Daniel explains, to equip the boys with tips, tricks, and skills that may not otherwise be imparted to them, given the absence of a father figure in their lives. “When these boys show up to the events and you go to shake their hand when you meet them, they don’t even know how to shake your hand. You can really tell there hasn’t been a father in their lives,” he says.
Steven Jarrett, a two-year Truth in Nature mentor, is committed to using “man classes” as a way to show love through lessons. One class he led instructed the boys on how to tie a tie. All of the ties were emblazoned with American flags, and Steven walked them through each step until their knots were tight and tails were straight. He says of his strategy as a mentor: “You try to find some connection with them and you build on that relationship. That’s how you talk to them about God.”
When possible, both man classes and devotions tie in to the day’s theme. For example, if the group is on a fishing excursion, the devotion might be based on scripture from Matthew 4:19: “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” The organization is not affiliated with a particular denomination, and, as Daniel puts it, they are not interested in theological arguments. It is their primary purpose to plant seeds of confidence, provide a reliable male mentor, and help them find Jesus. “The greatest rewards for the boys are things that I will never know,” Daniel says.
Mentors are encouraged to engage with their local chapter’s youth outside of monthly meetings, when possible. Often, this communication happens in the form of a phone call just to check in, offer encouragement, or lend a listening ear. “Sometimes you’re a third-party person who might be a little easier to talk to than a grandmother or guardian,” Sean explains.
“You learn pretty quick; the ministry is for the boys, but it makes you a better man. There’s just no doubt,” Daniel adds.
Daniel frequently receives messages from mothers like Jackie Turner, who are elated with the positive responses their children have had to Truth in Nature programs. Jackie, a mother of one of the East Columbia chapter’s participants, says her son entered the program in February of 2021 as a reserved child with low self-esteem. After his first event — a squirrel hunt — he was hooked and has enthusiastically attended every event since. Jackie has noticed a promising rise in her son’s confidence and says he also shows increased interest in his faith.
“He always comes home and shares what they’ve talked about in their Bible study; he’s heard the message. That means a lot,” she says. She attributes these and other positive effects the program has had on her son to the dedicated volunteers that serve as grassroots operations managers. Truth in Nature mentors orchestrate each event in a manner that ensures every child receives ample instruction and attention.
“These men set an incredibly godly example of how a man should be,” Jackie says. “The leaders continue to remind the boys that they can count on the mentors … and remind them to never forget that they have their Heavenly Father as their number one father. They are trying their hardest to empower these boys to steer away from the earthly temptations of the world so they will follow Christ and become successful men.”
The East Columbia chapter currently has about 15 mentors consisting of a group of men equally as diverse as their mentee counterparts. “It’s a little bit of everybody,” Daniel says. Mentors come from many walks of life. Some plug into Truth in Nature through their churches, others get connected through friends. Likewise, while some are lifelong outdoorsmen, others consider the outdoors aspect to be somewhat of an aside; they are drawn to the organization strictly by the opportunity to be involved in a program that directly intervenes in the cycle of fatherlessness through mentorship and ministry. “These kids want to be loved. Not just kids in Truth in Nature, but all kids,” Steve says, adding, “You get to share not only God but you get to share life experiences with them.”
Daniel likens mentorship to religious bodybuilding. “It makes you a better man, a better Christian, a better dad, and a better person. It also makes you grateful,” he says.
When it comes to children of absent fathers, Truth in Nature volunteers see it all. Some participants have rough relationships with their fathers; others have never met their fathers. All participants are a mere sample of the statistics of fatherless youth in America, a small but significant indication of the vast pool of youth that Truth in Nature’s programs are designed to serve. “We’re not naive,” he says, forthright about the void that fatherless boys struggle with on a daily basis and the limited bandwidth of the program. “We understand that with roughly one event a month, 11 events a year isn’t all these boys need. Our hope is a seed we plant; our number one goal is to introduce these boys to the gospel of Jesus. We hope they take that and change the next generation.”