Church pays for $2,500 in fuel, passes out food

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Saturday's gas giveaway was capped at the first 100 cars, but it was clear early on a lot more than that showed up.

Even before the announced start time at 9 a.m., when members of Shabach World Cathedral took hold of the pumps at El Cheapo, cars were parked along the side of U.S. 378 and down Eagle Road. Their drivers arrived early, some from long distances away, just for the chance that the church would give them gas for free.

The hubbub was caused by the announcement that Shabach would pay for up to $25 worth of gas for the first 100 cars at the station in a "Gas on God" promotion to mark the church's 14th anniversary.

Some 40 church members crowded the filling area handing out tickets to each eligible driver, directing traffic and handing out free hot dogs to those who waited. One member counted 120 cars wrapping around the block, with others trying to cut over from the westbound lane of 378 into the parking lot.

"This is even more than we expected," said T.L. Penny, Shabach's senior pastor. "Some people have been here since 1 o'clock (in the morning)."

The event didn't go entirely smoothly. One car driving alongside the waiting line rear ended the vehicle in front and had to be towed from the scene.

"There should be police out here directing traffic, because some people get kind of panicked when you say 'free gas,'" said John Bowen as he waited outside his parked car for the line to move.

Several drivers walked up and down the line chatting with other drivers during the wait. Heyward Choice got dressed up before he left his home on Cane Savannah Road an hour before the promotion started to make the best use of his time.

"I'm supposed to be at church, but it doesn't really get started till 12," he said. "I took a chance and got dressed before I left home, so I can be there on time without having to go back to the house."

Some drivers will come a long way for the chance at free gas. Sherry Junious drove 35 minutes from Rimini in Clarendon County just to wait close to the end of the line back on Eagle Road. But even if she didn't get gas, Junious thought "Gas on God" was a special event that was worth being part of.

"It's worth it just to enjoy the fellowship," she said. "I'm from New York, so I've been in gas lines where people start shooting at each other. But in the South, people are so nice."

Others arrived even earlier to secure their place in line. Teddie Simmons waited in the El Cheapo parking lot from 5 a.m. to be one of the first people to receive his complementary full tank.

"I need it," he said. "It was worth coming 10 miles."

While "Gas on God" was great for the drivers who arrived at the station early enough, Shabach's leaders hopes they took away an important Christian message along with their fuel.

"People have told me they will bring their children and families to our service (Sunday)," Penny said. "I hope whatever idea someone has about church, this will give them a positive image of us. Church isn't about 'me, me, me.' It's about 'sow, sow, sow,' sowing into people's lives. It's about showing Christ in the community."