the Reverend Richard Joyner of Conetoe Chapel Missionary Baptist Church
realized he was conducting funerals twice a month
—a startling number given his town's tiny population.
Nearly 300 souls call Conetoe home.
The predominantly African American hamlet is situated in North Carolina's Edgecombe County,
where a quarter of households live below the poverty line
and heart disease kills more 20- to 39-year-olds than do car accidents.
"I've closed too many coffins on young people," Joyner, 64, says.
The pastor found it difficult to comfort the grieving:
"How do you tell someone who's just lost a child to poor nutrition that this was God's plan when it was totally preventable?
Who would hang out with that God?"
Driving home one day and beginning to doubt his own beliefs,
Joyner pulled over and began to pray.
"I heard a voice saying, 'Maybe you'd get further with your eyes open,'"
He looked around, and all he saw was farmland. It gave him an idea:
Get the kids involved.