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FamilyFESTs in Hawaii & Wyo. unite families in missions


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–It was the prayer of one grandmother that her granddaughter would come to know Christ this summer. Thousands of miles from home in a quiet schoolyard on an island in the ocean, that prayer was answered as her granddaughter made a profession of faith during Woman’s Missionary Union’s FamilyFEST in Hawaii, June 30-July 5.

Sue Braun, 73, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, prayed hard about taking her granddaughter with her to FamilyFEST, a hands-on missions opportunity for families who want to serve together. Braun had been on three prior missions experiences offered by WMU’s Volunteer Connection with her husband, Paul. She said the Lord directed her to take her 13-year-old granddaughter, Rose Stebelton, with her this time.

“I really prayed about this because I wanted her to hear about the Lord and get a different perspective than what she had been getting and I wanted her to see what my husband and I have been doing, and I felt the Lord leading me to take her,” Braun said. “It was my prayer that if she didn’t commit to Christ, then at least the seed would be planted.”

That seed was more than planted as were many others during the week through 220 volunteers and hosts from 14 states who participated in a variety of ministry projects on Hawaii’s Big Island. The projects included construction and repairs, landscaping, prayerwalking, day camps, sports camps, Vacation Bible School, car washes, block parties, school repair projects, health clinics and a country crafts fair.

At the same time, another FamilyFEST was underway in Laramie, Wyo., where participants from 14 states served through similar projects.

Held in Hawaii for the first time, the FamilyFEST there was a partnership between the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention; local Baptist associations, including neighboring islands; Hawaii WMU; and national WMU.

Kristy Carr, WMU Volunteer Connection specialist, said she was appreciative of the extensive support from the local leadership and volunteers who traveled from the other Hawaiian islands to not only serve but also to teach volunteers about Hawaiian culture. In all, 15 ministry projects were tackled on both sides of the island, Hilo and Kona, and in between.

“It was great to have the participation from not only the 13 mainland states, but also from the other Hawaiian islands,” Carr said. “The Hawaiians were so hospitable.”

Bob Duffer, director of missions for Neighbor Islands Baptist Associations of Hawaii, said his first FamilyFEST was a positive experience.

“We had good participation from churches here on the Big Island,” Duffer said. “And all the volunteers were so cooperative and helpful and did what needed to be done.

“I appreciate everything that everyone did. This was an opportunity for the Lord to do tremendous work,” he added. “I think we’ll see the results from this well into the future. From the contacts that were made, the Scriptures that were read, the prayers that were prayed, I expect to see a great revival take place here.”

Many of those contacts were made as volunteers witnessed among the large crowds gathered for holiday festivities and the island’s fireworks show. Despite rain showers in Hilo, volunteers distributed bottled water along with tracks relaying the plan of salvation — the same track that prayerwalkers like Braun used during the week, and the same booklet that helped lead her granddaughter to Christ.

Duffer said he noticed the impact volunteers made when he walked through the crowds and saw almost every family with a bottle of water labeled “Showing God’s love in a practical way.” Carr reported that at least 20 faith decisions were made during the week.

Deanna Aoki, executive director of Hawaii WMU, said this FamilyFEST was the first time her family was able to participate in a missions experience all together and it was a true gift of God. Her husband, two of her sons, one daughter-in-law and her 85-year-old mother-in-law volunteered.

Aoki noted God worked through volunteers to touch particular groups. For example, she said Hawaii has one of the highest drug-abuse rates in the country and volunteers were able to meet and witness to some of those with addictions.

“We were praying for a spiritual wave to break the bondage of drug addiction and lostness, for people to know God personally and live life abundantly … to see what 220 volunteers from 14 states could do by loving God and loving one another,” Aoki said.

FamilyFEST is not just for families of the same household, but it can be a great experience for church families as well, Carr noted. For example, Braun and her granddaughter were among a group of 11 from Reynoldsburg Baptist Church in Ohio. Nearly half of them had never been on any kind of mission trip before, Braun said, and many have since expressed a desire to do more.

Les Colvin, associate pastor and minister of education and administration at First Baptist Church in McComb, Miss., led a group of 22 from his church. They participated in a variety of ministries, including major construction and repairs on the Baptist Collegiate Ministries facility at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Others helped with repairs to a local public high school.

“FamilyFEST’s greatest advantage is literally involving families and children in missions and the wonderful work that is being done,” said Colvin, a first-time FamilyFEST participant.

Duffer noted that the sports camp for children was very popular among the locals. Nearly 70 showed up, when only 10 to 15 were expected.

“One mother said, ‘I hope that you will do this again!’” Duffer recounted.

An added component to FamilyFEST in Hawaii was ministry opportunities specifically for female students. In partnership with Volunteer Connection, Kym Mitchell and Suzanne Reece of WMU’s student resource team worked with more than 40 students, many of whom were exposed to a new culture for the first time.

Carr said she tells FamilyFEST volunteers she hopes they will continue to do missions when they leave the missions site. One local pastor asked for extra prayerwalking cards because his church members were ready to start their own prayerwalking once they returned home.

“Many times, FamilyFEST is a catalyst that acts to get local churches involved in missions,” Carr said. “We encourage them to learn from what they’ve done during FamilyFEST and take it back home.”

Meanwhile in Wyoming, a young boy chose to have the image of a cross painted on his face. As the missions volunteer painted, he asked, “Do you know who died on the cross?” The boy answered “Jesus.”

The volunteer continued, asking if he knew why Jesus died on the cross. With the excitement of July 4th festivities in the air, the boy answered that Jesus died for our independence.

The volunteer said that was close, but then went on to share the plan of salvation and asked the boy if he wanted to accept Christ as his Savior. When the boy said that he did, Eric Searcy led him in praying the sinner’s prayer and asking Jesus into his heart.

“I knew I needed to do face painting, but I had never done it before and was concerned that it would be bad,” Searcy said, doubting his artistic skill. “But now I know why I was supposed to. I had the opportunity to share Christ and see what only God could do. It wasn’t about me, but about what God was doing in a little boy’s heart. I was to just follow Him and obey Him.”

Along with his wife Jenny and 12-year-old daughter Catherine Grace, the Searcy family, members of First Baptist Church in Andalusia, Ala., were three of 60 volunteers who served during the week of June 30-July 5. Eleven of those participants, a group from First Baptist Church in Statesboro, Ga., with experience in disaster relief, served by providing meals for the volunteers.

The other participants from 14 states served through prayerwalking, sports evangelism, Vacation Bible School, city beautification projects, park ministry during a city-wide Independence Day celebration, visiting nursing homes and assisted-care residences and hosting an international day camp.

Pat Townsend, a career Mission Service Corps missionary through the North American Mission Board who serves as missions and ministry coordinator for the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention, said FamilyFEST served as a catalyst for many possibilities for ongoing ministry in the area, especially among the Asian community and with seniors.

Doris Bane, local coordinator and member of Trinity Baptist Church in Laramie, which served as the host church, agreed.

“We were encouraged that 38 people came to the international day camp,” she said.

Bane said Trinity hosts a Chinese congregation, but this was the first time they proactively reached out to the Asian community. “We definitely will follow up with them,” she said.

Bane said Trinity members also are excited to follow up with those the volunteers met when they led music and devotionals at an area nursing home, an assisted-care residence and a senior housing area.

“FamilyFEST was a very positive growing experience for our church,” Bane said. “We were able to really get out into the community and be a positive witness as we connected with others. The Lord blessed everything.”

Bane also shared that through FamilyFEST, it’s exciting to meet others who make missions a priority, those who take vacation time and do something meaningful with a common purpose.

Susan Brown, a volunteer from Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, agreed that missions needs to be a priority for families. She and her 11-year-old son Wyatt served in Laramie while her daughter, 16-year-old Koye, served along with other Acteens from their church during FamilyFEST in Hawaii the same week. With Koye involved in missions, Wyatt wanted to do the same. So Laramie was close by for the mother and son to get the missions experience he longed for.

“[FamilyFEST] was so well organized and planned that it gives a positive experience to those who may have never been on missions trips before,” Brown said. “Wyatt felt like he made a difference and so it was a positive first-time experience for him, which was important to my husband and me. He learned to be more bold, and I think he really listened and watched his fellow Christians walk the walk.”

Brown enjoyed serving alongside her son. “I could see that it brought Wyatt and me closer together,” she said. “We had fun together.”

The Searcy family concurred. “As a family, we grew closer to the Lord and we grew closer to each other through serving,” Searcy said. Although the Searcys had been on other missions trips as a family, this was their first FamilyFEST and their first time to work with other families.

“We saw the unity of the body of Christ working together even though we did not know [the other families] before going to Laramie,” Searcy said. “The bond was really neat to experience.”

FamilyFEST in Laramie was a partnership between Frontier Southern Baptist Association, Wyoming WMU and national WMU. In addition to Trinity Baptist Church, other area congregations that participated were Laramie Valley Baptist Chapel and Snowy Range Baptist Church.

“FamilyFEST had a positive impact on the people that were involved here,” said Mark Porter, director of area missions for the Frontier association. “It made them more aware of missions. We were certainly blessed by the volunteers coming here and would recommend other churches to become involved [with FamilyFEST].”
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FamilyFEST sites in 2007 include El Paso, Texas/Juarez, Mexico, June 16–21, and Jacksonville, Fla., July 20–25. For rates, registration deadlines, and a list of ministry opportunities at these sites, visit https://www.wmu.com/getinvolved/ministry/volunteer2007_mfest.asp. For more information and registration materials, contact WMU’s Volunteer Connection at 205-991-4097 or e-mail [email protected].

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  • Amy Whitfield & Julie Walters