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Volunteers from 10 states take MissionsFEST to northeast U.S.

PHILADELPHIA (BP)–When many Americans are canceling travel plans because of the uncertainties brought by the events of Sept. 11, Southern Baptist women and men from 10 states kept their commitment to travel to Philadelphia for the first-ever MissionsFEST in the northeast.

“You have given a great testimony by merely showing up,” Wanda S. Lee, executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union, told the volunteers Oct. 5. “God’s presence and peace are with us when we know that we are following His will for us.”

The Philadelphia MissionsFEST events, sponsored by WMU, were held Oct. 4-6 and 7-13. The two events were in addition to two MissionsFEST and a FamilyFEST held in Stone Mountain, Ga., and Little Rock, Ark., in April and June, respectively.

The nearly 100 volunteers who made their way to the city of brotherly love were involved in a variety of ministry projects, such as sorting food at a food bank, sorting clothes at a inner-city mission, working with children in a multihousing community and helping build a Habitat for Humanity house.

The teams also helped local churches. In Spring City, Pa., several teams helped Schuylkill Valley Baptist Church, doing light construction and yard maintenance at its parsonage and door-to-door visitation in the neighborhood. One young mother made a profession of faith Oct. 11 during a visit with Bobbie Van Atta from Birmingham, Ala., and Dorothy Barham from Lillington, N.C.

Volunteers described their experiences on the ministry sites as educational and encouraging.

Memunatu Kollie from Rochester, N.Y., worked in a food bank processing food items, thinking as she worked how the “food could reach someone for Christ.”

Shirley Cambridge from Fort Washington, Md., said she discovered new skills through her assignment to work on a Habitat for Humanity house. In addition to being “blessed” by the experience, Cambridge said she was confident she could “go home and build steps for my house.”

The volunteers also discovered that their ministry was one of encouragement. Miranda Wallace from Amite, La., visited senior adults in a retirement facility. She recalled that one resident told her she wished she could be more involved in ministry, adding that all she could do was pray. Miranda recounted, “I told her that prayer was a very important part.”

For about 80 percent of the volunteers who attended the Oct. 4-6 event, the weekend was their first experience on a missions trip.

Jan Lowe from Siler City, N.C., lead the first-ever adult team from her church, Moon’s Chapel Baptist Church. Lowe expressed appreciation to WMU for the MissionsFEST experience, adding, “When we go back and tell the story of this trip, we’ll have many more teams in the future.”

Involving Southern Baptist women and men in hands-on missions is the primary reason for MissionsFEST, Lee told the group Oct. 5. “Our goal in establishing these events was to give you a hands-on missions experience and help you see that you can go back home and duplicate the experience in your community.”

Helping the volunteers understand what it is like to be a Southern Baptist beyond the Bible belt was a major goal for the local Southern Baptist leaders who coordinated MissionsFEST in Philadelphia.

“We wanted the volunteers to experience the Baptist work in Philadelphia,” said Tina Choi, church and communities director for the Greater Philadelphia Baptist Association, which includes 130 churches in a city of 5 million people.

“We wanted the experience to be eye-opening for Southern Baptists from other parts of the country,” she continued. “We wanted them to see what it is like to get from one Baptist church to another when the churches are spread out all over a city like Philadelphia.

“MissionsFEST has been successful from that vantage point,” Choi added. “The women and men who came here have a much better understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face as Southern Baptists living and serving here.”

The only disadvantage for the volunteers, she added, is that they only see the challenge, not the progress. “Those of us who serve here long-term see how God is working to open the hearts of the people here to him and Southern Baptists,” she said.

Successful is also the word WMU staffer Kristy Carr used to describe MissionsFEST. “The beauty of MissionsFEST is that it is a ready-made missions trip, very affordable and free of required skills,” said Carr, director of the projects for WMU. “We do all the planning for the events. All the volunteer does is show up and enjoy the experience.”

And volunteers do enjoy the experience, she added. “The question for volunteers after a project is not ‘if’ but ‘which one,'” she said. “They are eager to learn about the next set of projects.”

Five MissionsFEST are planned for 2002, Carr noted. They are April 7-13, Mississippi Delta; July 7-13, Chicago; July 14-20, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Seattle, Wash.; and Sept. 15-21, Baltimore. In addition, two FamilyFESTs are planned, July 4-7, Chicago, and July 10-13, Chattanooga.

For more information on the projects, call Carr at (205) 991-4097 or visit www.WMU.com/ministry/volunteer/projects.html.
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