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Soldiers to read to their kids via church’s book project

BESSEMER, Ala. (BP)–A church’s unique project to connect soldiers in Iraq with their children back home has been “a God thing,” one of the project’s organizers said.

Gina Jones, a member of Southcrest Baptist Church in Bessemer, Ala., said a plan to produce books on DVD for soldiers’ children came about soon after their pastor, Scott Bush, arrived in Iraq last June for his tour of duty as an Army chaplain.

Bush saw how the soldiers around him missed their children, and he realized many children don’t see their deployed parents for great lengths of time. Bush started thinking about how the men and women in Iraq could be connected to their children across the miles.

Bush soon had the idea of having soldiers read a book to their children, record it on DVD, then send the DVD home along with the book.

He told his battalion commander there was someone in the United States who could organize the project. That person was Jones, who works as the librarian at Kingwood Christian School in Alabaster, Ala.

Jones began by organizing a book sale -— held at Southcrest Baptist —- and inviting various churches to participate. Books were donated by the churches, and Scholastic books donated books at half price for resale. People were invited to attend the sale and purchase books to be sent to the soldiers with the buyer’s name and church printed inside the book.

“I loved doing this because it shows the soldiers and the children who receive the books that these were donated by people from different churches and different denominations,” Jones said. “It gives a great example of Christian love.

“Some people came in and bought books, others just donated money,” Jones said. “One person came in and said, ‘I want to donate 50 books.’ And we had people from Baptist, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Methodist churches. It was amazing.”

A total of 314 books were purchased for shipping to Iraq.

The support for the sale was just one way Jones said she saw evidence of God’s hand in the project. Another was the way the shipment of the books came about. Jones had no idea how to get the books to Bush in a reasonable time and at a feasible cost. The answer came when a former member of Southcrest, David Wheeler, walked into the church the Sunday of the book sale.

Jones joked with Wheeler, who works with the National Guard in shipping supplies from the Atlanta airport, “about getting us a good deal on shipping the books. He said it was no big deal and that if it was being shipped to Iraq, he’d get them there for free. We were able to send six cases of books…. It was just an awesome thing.”

When told about the book sale, Bush reacted with excitement by noting that the children and their parents would be especially touched by the efforts of Christians in Alabama. “Your work is going to mean the world to boys and girls in New Jersey and Minnesota and New York and Missouri and California, many who haven’t seen their mom and dad for over a year,” he stated.

Bush returned from duty late last year, and church members are waiting for word that the distribution has begun.

Jones said she and other church members ultimately hope the project will plant seeds in the lives of unsaved soldiers. Most of the soldiers in Bush’s battalion were unchurched and from New York and New Jersey, and Jones prays that the project will show that Christians back home care about them.

She also said the project reminded her of the sacrifice soldiers make in serving their country. “When a mom is over there, it must be so hard,” Jones said. “If a child doesn’t even remember a parent’s voice, that’s hard to imagine.”

Jones hopes to expand the project to send even more books to soldiers. To do so, she plans on asking Christian bookstores and other churches in the area to work with her, while also encouraging other churches and Baptist organizations to organize similar projects to reach out to soldiers at a time when they might feel especially lonely and separated from their families.

“God sent us just the right amount of books. He sent us someone to ship them,” Jones said. “God was definitely at work in this.” While awaiting word of their distribution, she said, “I really believe God has a time and a purpose.”
Cheryl Sloan Wray is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.thealabamabaptist.org.

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