FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Back-to-school season can be a challenge for many tightly budgeted seminarians with young children. They not only have to buy their own textbooks and writing materials, but they have to pray that they can buy pencils, paper, notebooks and backpacks for their school-aged children as well.
For a number of families at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, these prayers were answered by a group of employees from Dallas-based GuideStone Financial Resources Aug. 3.
The GuideStone staffers came to the Fort Worth campus and presented 37 children with packages containing the school supplies listed on their school supply lists. Each child also was given a $50 Wal-Mart gift card to buy other necessities such as backpacks, lunchboxes or school clothes. The GuideStone employees then treated everyone to a pizza party.
Azer Lilite, a Haitian studying for his master’s degree in music, and his wife Johane have four children of their own, and two nieces living with them, ranging in age from 4 to 15. The GuideStone employees provided all six children the school supplies they needed.
“This was such a great relief,” Lilite said. “When school starts, we have to save up about $100 per child, times six, for supplies. Usually we just pick and choose off the school supply list. So, when we receive such a great gift, we don’t have any headaches of going to the store and finding what we need.”
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins has consistently encouraged employees at the Southern Baptist entity to invest in the lives of the preachers, church staffers and seminary students who participate in GuideStone’s retirement funds, health insurance plans and other services.
This school supply giveaway is “who we are: serving those who serve the Lord,” said Tamara Quintana, GuideStone’s employee programs coordinator. Quintana took the lead this year after last year’s initial supply giveaway.
“Getting ready for the ministry and getting started in the ministry are two of the leanest times in a pastor or missionary’s life,” Quintana said. “We believe it is our responsibility to help get them to the field of service God has called them as quickly as possible and help support them financially as God blesses us.”
Quintana was assisted by Guidestone employees Beth Kaemmerling, Julie McPhail and Glenna Abraham, who were on hand in Southwestern’s Naylor Student Center to hand out the school supplies and put on the pizza party.
The school supply giveaway organizers coordinated with Kent Sanders, the seminary’s director of student life. Sanders’ office helped invite seminary families based on need and asked them to provide their children’s school supply lists ahead of time.
For the Lilites, another blessing of sending their children to school with all their supplies was that teachers and school administrators could get on with teaching without worrying about whether the children were prepared to learn.
“Now I have a better opportunity to play my part as a parent by fulfilling my responsibility to provide all my children’s supplies, on time,” Lilite said.
In addition to the school supply giveaway, GuideStone employees also have “adopted” several seminary student families during the past two Christmas seasons, providing gifts for each family member.
Kaemmerling hopes that other churches and businesses will become aware of the opportunity to help seminary families.
“This does not come out of GuideStone’s budget –- it is the employees that make this happen,” Kaemmerling said. “Many people here have a heart for seminary students…. Maybe one day some of the other SBC entities will adopt seminary kids from seminaries close to them. I would love to see that happen. It is our joy and privilege to have a small part in the lives of seminary families that need a helping hand.”
“Most seminary families live on a tight budget, and out-of-the-ordinary expenses such as amounts spent for school supplies can drain money from the monthly budget that would normally go toward a fixed expense,” Sanders said.
Sanders said that the school supply giveaway is one of several assistance ministries on campus, including:
— The Helping Hands House, which provides clothes and some furniture to seminary families at no cost. This ministry is particularly helpful to international families, Sanders said.
— The Dress for Success Project, sponsored by the seminary’s student life and financial aid departments to help ministers’ wives with the church search committee interview process by buying her a new outfit.
— Food giveaways are held year-round through the efforts of churches such as First Baptist Church in Haslet, Texas, First Baptist in Colleyville, Texas, and the student-led Manna Ministries.
“Guidestone always goes the extra mile in their generosity to Southwestern students and their families, and we are indebted to them for demonstrating their Christian faith in a tangible way,” Sanders said. “Our hope is that the blessing that these families have received will give these families a vision to reciprocate down the road as God provides a little surplus in their financial situation. This is the beauty of God’s economy.”