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Church’s annual potato harvest: missions, service & fellowship

HARRISON, Ark. (BP)–Spending a hot summer afternoon in an Arkansas potato field may seem like a hard and dirty task, but for members of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Harrison, Ark., it has become an annual opportunity to sow seeds of kindness.
For more than 20 years, members of the north Arkansas church have planted potatoes each March for a crop which they donate to the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home in Monticello. In recent years the Arkansas Baptist Boy’s Ranch in Harrison also has been a recipient of the produce.
“The potato ministry is a way that our church can personally be involved in missions” as well as have a time to fellowship together, said Henry Paul Dart, church Brotherhood director whose father owns the potato field.
The ministry began in the late 1970s under the leadership of the late J. A. Hogan, a former pastor of the church. During the early years, Brotherhood men would tackle planting in early March and harvest the crop each July.
Since that time, a host of church members have stepped up to join the mission project. Each year, Woman’s Missionary Union members and senior adult groups volunteer to cut out the eyes of many of the potatoes to be used in planting. Several youth members, including boys who reside at the boys’ ranch, assist in the planting and harvesting process. Others assist in bagging the potatoes and transporting them to the children’s home more than five hours away.
During a good crop year, Dart said church members will harvest up to 9,000 pounds of potatoes. An average annual crop produces 2,000-3,000 pounds.
To date, church members have given at least 150,000 pounds of potatoes to the children’s home. This year’s harvest yielded 8,000 pounds, including 850 pounds which were donated to the Boy’s Ranch.
Pastor Marshall Boggs said the church’s ministry has opened the eyes of various church members to the true meaning of missions. “The church’s main purpose is to not only reach people with the gospel but to help show the love of Christ through serving others,” he said.
Noting that although church members have the opportunity to learn about mission needs and opportunities all over the world during WMU and other mission education meetings, he added, “We learn to put feet to our talk when we actually take part in a mission project such as the potato ministry.”
David Perry, director of the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries, called ministries such as the potato project a “tangible way” to be involved in missions. It allows churches “to become aware of our [children’s home] ministry because they are personally involved in doing something special for the ministry,” Perry said.
The uniqueness of the potato ministry has caught the eye of the children living at the home. The children report that they look forward to consistently receiving the potatoes, noted Debbie Mills, director of support services at the Monticello home.
“Consistency is one thing that these children have lacked throughout most of their lifetime,” Mills said. “They know that when July comes, the potatoes will be coming, too. This consistency makes an impact on them.”
Personally, she noted, “When I watch the expressions on their faces it is truly rewarding.”
The potato ministry also helps keep down the financial cost of feeding the children who reside at the home, which can house up to 75 residents. Noting that a 15-pound bag of potatoes currently costs nearly $5 at a local grocery store, she said that Woodland Height’s donation is a “blessing.”
“It takes a lot of food to feed these kids,” she jokingly said. “Having them [Woodland Heights] give the potatoes to us makes a tremendous impact on our budget.”
The yearly potato project is an opportunity to heed Christ’s command to help the needy, Dart said, recounting, “Jesus said, ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'”

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  • Stella Anderson