BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–It all began at Lea Mutter’s kindergarten graduation, when the 5-year-old said she wanted to be a teacher and a missionary one day.
“She may change her mind a million times,” her mother, Deanna, said, “but the Lord put it on my heart right then to look for missions opportunities where we could participate as a family.”
Upon learning about FamilyFEST, Deanna, who is raising Lea, now 7, and her son, Bobby, 11, on her own, drove from their home in Joelton, Tenn., to join more than 130 volunteers from 15 states for the Woman Missionary Union initiative in Omaha, Neb., to serve others and share the love of Christ.
From July 10–15, both national and local volunteers conducted Bible clubs, engaged in a variety of servant evangelism projects, held block parties and prayerwalked. In addition, through Baptist Nursing Fellowship, also a ministry of WMU, some volunteers utilized their nursing skills by conducting health fairs and meeting medical needs at the Omaha and Winnebago Indian reservations.
“Opportunities like FamilyFEST help them [her children] feel confident in sharing Jesus. I feel like that’s the call on our life,” Deanna Mutter said. “I don’t have any special skills, but I love God and am available to Him. That’s what I want them to see, that all we need to do is be available to be used by Him.”
The Mutter family worked with two other groups, one from Texas and one from Wyoming, in leading Bible clubs and prayerwalking. “We all talked on the phone before we got there, so I felt like I was part of a team before I even met them,” Mutter added.
It was the first time for the Mutters to lead Bible clubs or prayerwalk, but both proved to be great opportunities to learn new ways God could use them and to learn more about each other. “We plan to make FamilyFEST an annual commitment,” Mutter said. “The kids are already talking about serving next year in North Carolina.”
Linda Iler, associational WMU director and FamilyFEST point-person for the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association, said one of the highlights for her was witnessing prayer become reality — to meet the 130-plus volunteers who made their way to Omaha.
“My desire was to see God at work,” Iler said. As she visited FamilyFEST ministry sites, she was struck by how teams from across the country embraced the lost and hurting of Omaha, including American Indians, Sudanese refugees, blacks, whites, Hispanics and the poor and homeless. “The volunteers were eager to serve with not only a great deal of openness to God’s work, but also with a willingness to do whatever was needed to share Christ,” Iler said.
Sharing Christ through servant evangelism is the entire focus of Journey Church, a community of believers in Omaha who, by design, are without a church building. Pastor Andy Williams led a group of 21 youth and adults from five states as they worked with Sudanese refugees and partnered with the housing authority to clean 14 flights of stairs at Jackson Towers, where many homeless frequent the stairwells at night.
Krystal White, 16, who traveled to FamilyFEST with her grandmother, Pat Wagstaff, from Lindsay, Okla., was one of the volunteers at Jackson Towers. “[The stairs] were really dirty. I am not going to explain what was on them, but nobody could have paid me to do this,” White recounted. “But I learned that no task or job is too gross or too big for God. People asked me why I did what I did, and I said that we were just showing Jesus’ love in a simple way. They appreciated that a lot.”
Iler said the smell in the hallways of the building was unpleasant, “but upon entering the stairwell one knew immediately that something was different. It smelled like someone cared! For the residents of this building, and for the homeless who sometimes use the stairwells, the message was loud and clear: Jesus loves you, and His people love you too.”
White’s experience with Journey Church also broadened her views on the definition of a “church.” “They had church in their homes,” she said, “and I thought that was really cool. I learned from them that the people are the church and not the building.”
A group of 24 volunteers, including several Acteens, joined in FamilyFEST from the St. Joseph Baptist Association, encompassing more than 40 churches in northwest Missouri. Funded by donations from member churches, the association allows smaller churches to join together to do missions and outreach.
Sharon Hurst, who coordinated the association’s teams, said FamilyFEST helped build relationships with other team members and was an enriching experience. Hurst said it was a joy to see team members, some who had never been on a missions trip before, experience missions and grow in their love for serving the Lord.
Mark Elliott, director of missions for Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association, said one of the strengths of FamilyFEST is its family atmosphere. “It is a good format for families because it allows downtime in the evenings for them to spend time together,” he added. As one of the original contacts for the project, one of Elliott’s responsibilities was to promote and encourage pastors to get involved. He said that more than 25 pastors and others from Omaha churches assisted volunteers, providing meals and meeting other needs that arose.
It was great to have the diversity as far as participation — literally from Hawaii to Georgia and the Carolinas,” Elliott said. “That was great — to see those folks networking and worshiping.”
The Omaha FamilyFEST was a partnership between national WMU, Kansas/Nebraska WMU and the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association.
For more information on WMU’s FamilyFEST or MissionsFEST opportunities, visit www.wmu.com; click on Ministries, then Volunteer Connection; or call (205) 991-4097.
Julie Walters is WMU’s communications specialist; Noel Forlini is an intern with WMU and a journalism student at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.