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Family members go ‘on mission’ together

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–For the 32 families battling the sweltering heat and humidity of New Orleans this summer, the inaugural Families On Mission project in the “Crescent City” was more than a mission trip. It was a chance to pass on a legacy of missions service, evangelism and faith to a younger generation.

The New Orleans week was one of five Families On Mission projects sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) taking place throughout the United States this summer. Other projects took place in Lynch, Ky., and East St. Louis, Ill. Slots are still open for the final 2007 FOM project scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 4 in Mobile, Ala. That project is aimed at families with children who are home-schooled or in private schools.

NAMB partners with state Baptist conventions and local associations to identify ministry areas and makes all of the needed arrangements so when families show up, they have everything they need for their mission week.

“I wanted to serve with my grandchildren,” said Ella Mae Myers, whose three grandchildren traveled to New Orleans from out of state to join her on the trip. “By serving with them, I hope they will always remember that we are to help others in the name of the Lord.”

Rick Head, adult volunteer mobilization senior associate for NAMB in Alpharetta, Ga., said one goal of the project is “to give parents the opportunity to share the missions experience with their children.”

“The legacy that we as parents, and as Southern Baptists, want to pass on to our children is that we are called to missions and to serve,” he said.

By partnering with Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Hope) Rebuild — the initiative of NAMB and Louisiana Baptists to reach New Orleans for Christ as they rebuild flooded homes — Families On Mission linked to families in need. From age six to senior adults, team members ministered together and modeled before their children and grandchildren a lifestyle of service and witnessing.

“This has been a terrific, terrific experience for me as a grandmother,” said Myers. “And the kids have loved it.”

Thirteen of the 98 Families On Mission participants worked at the home of Willie Bridges, a long-time New Orleans resident and one of the first in his neighborhood to return home following Hurricane Katrina.

The Southern Baptist team planted flowers and painted in front of Bridges’ house. When neighbors and passers-by stopped to comment, team members took the opportunity to hand out tracts and explain that their faith in Christ was their motivation for coming.

“We hope the neighbors see the love of God through us and understand that Christians want to live out their faith,” said Margaret Outlaw, who came with husband Joe and four children, ages 7-13, from Cumming, Ga. “And that’s what I want my children to see, as well.”

Seven-year old Caleb Outlaw painted and also helped prepare the flower beds by digging in the soil. When asked why he had come to New Orleans, Caleb said, “Because Jesus wants me to tell others about Him.”

For James and Cheri Tew’s two children, inner-city New Orleans, with its damaged and vacant homes, was far different from the Tew’s 2,300-acre cattle ranch in Florida where they live. The differences were somewhat intimidating, Tew said.

“We shared the Gospel with an older gentleman in the neighborhood while prayer walking,” Tew said. “My son said, ‘That was awesome!’ and after that, my kids were no longer nervous. We would not have experienced that if we had not come here.”

While watching their parents and grandparents share the Gospel, the children learned other lessons as well. Bridges told members of the group his story of the hurricane and his struggles to rebuild.

“Sometimes friends aren’t there in hard times,” Bridges said. “But there has never been a time when I got down on my knees in prayer that God didn’t answer.”

Said Tew, “I hope my children know that trouble is just a reality of life. But in those times, I want them to remember that God knows where His children are and that He will meet their needs.”

Blocks away, another team worked at a New Orleans home whose owner lived out of town while rebuilding. Rod Epperson, a salesman who came with his wife and an “adopted daughter” for the week, said the team prayed that God would give them an opportunity to share the Gospel with someone even though the neighborhood was predominantly vacant.

“No more than 10 minutes later, the homeowner walked in,” Epperson said. After allowing the gentleman to tell his story, the conversation turned to why the team had come to help. Epperson shared the Gospel and led the man to faith in Christ.

“We hope that modeling the Christian lifestyle before the children will not only lead them to the Lord but that God will use what we’re doing to call them to the mission field,” Epperson said.

God’s timing through the events of the week did not go unnoticed.

Fourteen-year old Elizabeth Hixson said the homeowner was grateful that Epperson had shared the Gospel with him. Later, Elizabeth learned that her mother, Sharon Hixson, had gotten into a conversation about the Lord with a man in the local hardware store while the team shopped for supplies.

“I told him that it was no coincidence that we had met that day,” said Sharon Hixson, who discovered that the man’s background was similar to her own before coming to faith in Christ. “It shows how creative God is to have brought people together in this way at this time to meet needs.”

Amy Byrd, the New Orleans Families on Mission project summer staff communications specialist and a college senior, said the projects are helping families gain an Acts 1:8 focus and an understanding of missions as “not a trip, not a week, but a lifestyle.”

“I want my kids to know that all people, no matter who they are, have the same basic need -– Jesus,” Tew said. “I hope my kids take away from this the desire to share Christ in our local community.”

Said 13-year old Margaret Hunter Outlaw, “I hope they know how great God is. And that it’s not us who are making the difference here, but God.”

To register for the final 2007 Families On Mission project in Mobile or for more information about the project, visit www.namb.net/fom.

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  • Marilyn Stewart