BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Long before there was welfare reform legislation or the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future, Southern Baptists were involved in helping children at risk.
Children’s homes, mission centers, literacy programs, multihousing ministries sponsored by Southern Baptists nearly always offer ministries for disadvantaged children and their families.
During the April 28-29 Presidents’ Summit in Philadelphia, current and past U.S. presidents and other national leaders, celebrities and corporate executives called on the nation’s citizens to increase their involvement in volunteer efforts, especially those that help children in disadvantaged situations — a call which Southern Baptist ministries are seeking to meet.
Southern Baptist leaders agree with the summit’s conclusion that volunteers play an important role in the success of community efforts.
Gerry Hutchinson, director of the Home Mission Board’s church and community ministries department, described volunteers as the symphony behind home missions personnel. “While the missionaries do the leading in mission centers across the country, volunteers provide the music. Without them, little ministry could occur.”
Hutchinson cited as an example the ministry center in Columbus, Ohio, directed by missionaries Art and Charlene Bingham. The couple recently hosted an appreciation banquet to honor the 316 volunteers from 32 local churches who helped support the center’s ministries during 1996.
The greatest need in community ministries is for more mentors, Hutchinson said. “Mentoring is where lives are changed,” he noted. “We need more volunteers who are willing to enter into a long-term relationship with children and adults in need. The best rewards and best results come from this type of ministry.”
Southern Baptist leaders also affirm the summit’s emphasis on children. However, more efforts need to be initiated to impact a child’s entire family, said Lisa Beck, family literacy consultant with the Birmingham (Ala.) Baptist Association Center for Family Resourcing and Development.
“It is good to have ministries and programs that benefit children, whether educationally or socially,” she said. “But we have discovered through our work that if our goal is to change their lives, we must also provide help and training for the parents, especially mothers. In doing so, we not only help the child, but we also help the parent help the child.”
Trudy Johnson, special projects manager for Woman’s Missionary Union, also is pleased with the summit’s emphasis on children and hopes Southern Baptists who are interested in helping children will get involved in WMU’s Project HELP: Child Advocacy.
“There is something everyone can do to be an advocate for children,” said Johnson, noting “when we make a positive impact on a child, we are making an investment in our future.”
Johnson explained WMU launched Project HELP: Child Advocacy in June 1996. The overarching goal of the project is to lead Southern Baptists to do more to serve the needs of children through volunteer projects, she said.
Through support materials published by WMU — including a resource kit and a book, “Precious in His Sight” by Diana Garland — Project HELP: Child Advocacy focuses on ways to educate and involve Christians in responding to the needs of children (birth through age 18) and churches’ role as child advocates within the church family, community and the world.
Johnson said the project also has a global component which involves collecting money for a ministry in Naan, Thailand, providing housing and training for underprivileged children. Donations may be channeled to the ministry through the WMU Vision Fund, P.O. Box 830010, Birmingham, AL 35283-0010.
The resource kit and a variety of other materials related to the project are available through WMU Customer Service at 1-800-968-7301. Additional information may be obtained from Johnson by contacting her at P.O. Box 830010, Birmingham, AL 35283-0010; phone, (205) 991-4972; or CompuServe, 70423,355.
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