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Recycled cell phones connect kids to missions

TUPELO, Miss. (BP)–How do you get kids involved in missions? The answer came to Heywood Washburn in an unusual place -– some 35,000 feet above the Earth’s surface.

“I was on an airplane flight thumbing through a magazine when I saw an ad for a company that pays cash to recycle old cell phones,” the 75-year-old retiree recalled.

It was an idea that may help rank Washburn’s church, Calvary Baptist, among 2005’s top 100 givers to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, a designation they have held for several years.

Washburn volunteers much of his time with the children’s ministry at Calvary, located in Tupelo, Miss. As a Royal Ambassadors leader, he was hunting for a project to help teach Calvary’s youth about missions and the importance of giving.

“If we don’t keep missions on the forefront,” Washburn said, “it’s too easy to spend money on ourselves.”

A few weeks later, Washburn had a plan. Working in conjunction with AmericanCellPhoneDrive.org, the organization he had read about during his flight, Washburn set up a drive of his own at Calvary. Special drop-off boxes provided via the website were placed around the church, and Calvary’s Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action began asking family, friends and neighbors to sift through their junk drawers and surrender old cell phones.

While the kids started collecting, Washburn helped get the word out to Calvary’s congregation using flyers and the church’s e-mail newsletter. Two months and 75 phones later, the children were ready to package up their salvaged loot and send it off, postage paid.

When the check came back, Washburn wanted the church to know the kids had been successful and to inspire the adults to follow their lead. He arranged for the money, a total of $217.75, to be presented to Calvary’s pastor, Bryant Barnes, during Sunday services.

“The kids called it a challenge to the church,” Washburn said — a way to kick off Calvary’s giving to the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

Of the 100-plus children who took part in the drive, 10-year-old Mae-Emlyn Currie was one of two chosen to go on stage during a worship service and present the oversized check.

“At first my legs got wobbly and I wanted to run,” the fourth-grader said. “But I remembered that God is with me and helps me with all my problems.”

Mae-Emlyn personally rounded up three phones for the drive and said she thinks giving is important because the “church needs money to help other people.”

Mae-Emlyn added that she shares a common bond with the offering’s namesake: “Lottie Moon went to China, and I am from China,” she said.

Mae-Emlyn was adopted before she was 1 year old. Her mom, Vicki, describes her daughter as “precocious.”

“To me, it’s important that the children understand the world doesn’t revolve around them,” Vicki Currie, a mother of five and Girls in Action leader, said. “I try to teach from the perspective, ‘What can you do to make a difference?’”

Describing the cell phone drive as an “excellent” idea, Pastor Barnes said, “We’re trying to teach kids about the process of giving -– we want to help them feel a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Barnes, who chipped in one of his old cell phones, said Calvary Baptist is close to hitting its $75,000 Lottie Moon goal for supporting Southern Baptists’ 5,000-plus international missionaries. Though he admits that the children’s $217 is a drop in the bucket, Barnes believes that “size does not necessarily mean significance.”

International Mission Board development director Billy Hoffman agreed.

“We’re constantly amazed at the creativity churches use to raise money for Lottie Moon,” he said. “No matter how much money was raised, if this cell phone drive got kids excited about missions, it was worth every penny.”

Hoffman is asking all Southern Baptist churches who registered their Lottie Moon goal online to be faithful to register their results as well.

“Over 2,800 churches posted their goals on IMB.org,” Hoffman said. “Registering gives us an opportunity to dialogue with churches about the offering.”

2005’s national Lottie Moon goal is $150 million and it’s not too late to contribute. Hoffman said people can still give through their churches or directly to the International Mission Board.

“The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is so important because without it we could not send or sustain personnel overseas,” he said. “We are a faith mission -– we trust God to provide resources to support missionaries overseas.”

As for Heywood Washburn, he’s already making plans for next year’s Lottie Moon project.

“I’m thinking about getting the kids to piggybank a year’s worth of their parents’ pocket change,” he said. “Calvary is a missions-minded church. Anything that can enforce the importance of missions with these kids is critical.”

    About the Author

  • Mike Schueler