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MissionsFEST helps churches in Maine engage communities

PORTLAND, Maine (BP)–Holding containers of frozen casseroles, Cindy Walker arrived at the homeless shelter with homemade meals to nourish and bless the residents when a man in his 30s with a backpack, wearing clean but worn clothes, parked his bike and offered to help.

While the man unloaded Walker’s car, he confided in her about the hard times in his life due to some poor choices he had made, which led him to the homeless shelter. For the rest of the evening, he talked about the Lord and life while Walker listened.

Before she left the shelter, he told Walker, “Thank you for listening. Most people don’t look at me when I talk, and I don’t know why. But, I see Jesus in your eyes.”

As a teacher and counselor, Walker knows the importance of listening, but she said the encounter served as a reminder.

“He reminded me that he needed to see Jesus by knowing that someone was willing to shut out everything else, concentrate on him and listen with ‘Jesus eyes,’” she said.

Just as the young man noticed Walker’s eyes, she likewise saw “Jesus eyes” in her own group of volunteers who traveled from Louisiana to participate in Woman’s Missionary Union’s MissionsFEST in Portland, Maine.

“I saw the eyes of my fellow team members — none of whom had been a part of a missions trip before — opened to Southern Baptist life away from the Bible Belt,” Walker said.

About 90 other volunteers from 17 states also participated in missions away from home as they partnered with seven churches in the Portland area in mid-September. Each day they contributed to the community through various ministries such as prayerwalking, block parties, light construction, yard work, day camps, door-to-door ministry and English as a Second Language classes.

Working with Little River Baptist Church, Dottie Eastman from Arlington, Texas, enjoyed visiting houses in the community as she gave out popcorn and invited the residents to “pop in” to church anytime. She even received a letter of thanks from a family who enjoyed the popcorn while watching a movie and said they wanted to visit the church.

As Eastman’s group delivered brownies to the police and fire stations on Sept. 11, led a women’s Bible study, hosted a fall festival and organized the church library, she began to realize the importance of these random acts of kindness.

According to the Maine Baptist Association, a fellowship of 18 churches in Maine dedicated to evangelism, missions and fellowship, Maine is one of the least-churched states in the United States.

“I believe MissionsFEST opened our eyes to this mission field … just 18 Baptist churches in the entire state compared to 400 in our local association,” Eastman said.

The trip also opened her eyes to the work of local Christians as they daily strive to revolutionize Maine for Christ.

“It was encouraging to work alongside Mainers as we joined with brothers and sisters in Christ in their ministry,” Eastman said.

Not only were the volunteers inspired by working with their Maine brothers and sisters, but Ann Lawrence, WMU executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, who has since retired, said the locals were just as inspired by the volunteers.

“Many of our pastors and churches were encouraged by volunteers coming to walk with them for awhile,” Lawrence said. “The volunteers certainly impacted our area, and they also showed our churches and pastors the value of a life dedicated to missions.”

Originally from Maine, Leslie Gipson, a volunteer from Wasilla, Alaska, knows the dire need for biblical teaching and missionaries in that state. She said the trip was an answer to prayer.

“I’d prayed for people to ask why we were there, and we were asked many times,” she said. “It gave us a great opportunity to brag on the goodness of our God.”

While serving with Gipson, her husband Lucky was amazed at the way God used the MissionsFEST volunteers to reach the people of Maine.

“The wide variety of talents and gifts I saw used were wonderful,” he said. “I was able to see God-given talents used to help others. Isn’t our God awesome?”

Keith Lawrence, associational missionary for the Maine Baptist Association, also was amazed at the way God used the volunteers.

“The community impact would have taken us months, but they completed it in a week. It’s amazing how hard these men and women worked,” Lawrence said. “It takes a while to build a relationship in New England and Maine. What MissionsFEST has done is put our churches at the forefront by doing missions projects. Now, the community can count on us…. It’s amazing what WMU’s commitment to pray and serve in missions can do for others.”

MissionsFEST in Maine was a partnership between national WMU, Baptist Convention of New England WMU and the Maine Baptist Association.
The next opportunity for adult volunteers to serve in a MissonsFEST will be Oct. 10–14, 2007, in Philadelphia and South Jersey. The entire family including children age 6 and older can serve during FamilyFEST in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, June 16–21 or Jacksonville, Fla., July 20–25. For more information, call WMU’s Volunteer Connection at 205-991-4097, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.wmu.com.

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  • Ashley McCleery