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WMU’s Volunteer Connection shares love of Christ in Pa.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Hands-on missions opportunities continue in full swing this summer as Woman’s Missionary Union volunteers traveled to Pittsburgh, Pa., for MissionsFEST June 20-26, and FamilyFEST June 23-26.

Approximately 165 volunteers, including 27 families, came together from 12 states to help with Backyard Bible clubs, surveys, block parties, light construction, landscaping, repairs, prayerwalking, and to prepare food at a children’s camp. Some volunteers even got to plant and pick vegetables on an 8-acre food farm for the Pittsburgh Food Bank. In all, there were 15 different ministry sites.

Bruce and Melanie Ward, along with sons Evan, 14, Forrest, 12, and 5-year-old daughter, Madeline, flew from Prattville, Ala., to participate in their second FamilyFEST. Following a great experience at FamilyFEST in San Antonio in 2003, the Wards were eager to serve again as a family.

“We feel it’s very important to teach our children about missions, about giving their lives to serve others and to serve our Lord,” Melanie Ward said. “There’s no better way to do that than to model missions to them, to show them by example how to minister to others and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We are just carrying out what the Lord has asked us to do.”

The Wards helped lead music and crafts and presented Bible stories and the plan of salvation to about 15 children at three Backyard Bible clubs at the home of a member of Lakeside Baptist Church in McMurray, Pa. Their son, Evan, also brought his puppet ministry to entertain the children.

“When I see my kids painting pots with other kids, or having kids sit in their laps while Bruce and I read Bible stories, I am reminded that missions work is the greatest thing in the whole world I could do with my kids,” Ward said. “It’s more important than soccer practice, choir practice … that’s what I need to be doing.

“Children need to see their mom and dad setting an example of helping and serving others. As parents, that’s what we are here for … to teach our children to live out their purpose in life, to love others and see others through Christ’s eyes,” she added. “This is the legacy we want to pass along.”

The Wards also spent several afternoons helping prepare for Vacation Bible School at Lakeside Baptist Church, where Larry and Melanie Hart, Mission Service Corps volunteers with the North American Mission Board, are members and Larry serves as associate pastor. Melanie Hart said it was exciting and encouraging to see how God used volunteers in Pittsburgh throughout the week.

“We have had ongoing outreach efforts and prayerwalking in this area for years, but until this weekend, there seemed to be little progress,” she said. “MissionsFEST and FamilyFEST have been incredible.”

Hart added that this opportunity also helped increase awareness of “how challenging it is to reach people for Christ up here.”

Both the need and the opportunities are great in Pittsburgh.

According to Lamar Duke, associational missionary for the Baptist Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania, there are 3 million people in the association, which covers nine counties. An estimated 2 million are unchurched, and many who are affiliated with a church do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

“MissionsFEST and FamilyFEST were a real encouragement to many churches in our area because it was the first time they had volunteers, especially out-of-state volunteers,” said Carla Lahey, a USC-2 volunteer with NAMB who works with Duke in the association. “Several of these churches, like Zion Hills Full Gospel, which was one of the ministry sites, are just recently affiliated with Southern Baptists and were shocked that people would actually come to help them.”

Penny Ellis and her daughters, Imani, 14, Nailah, 12, and Aisha, 11, were among a group of volunteers from Green Forest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., who served at Zion Hills Full Gospel Church. They witnessed, did surveys, and issued invitations to a block party, which attracted around 75 people from the area, resulting in 24 known professions of faith.

Adam Kinsel, pastor of Zion Hills, expressed gratitude through tears and said, “I am moved beyond words that so many folks would come so far to help us.”

“It was great for our kids to see how needed and appreciated they were,” Ellis said. “FamilyFEST was a wonderful time with my daughters of bonding, teamwork and increased awareness of missions instead of just hearing about it and praying for missions.”

Ellis serves as the African American coordinator for Georgia WMU, and she and her husband, who had to stay at home with their 3-year-old son, have been involved in missions and ministry for many years. But this was the first FamilyFEST experience for the girls.

Both the Ward family and the Ellis family are already planning to participate in FamilyFEST next year, which is open to anyone first grade and up. Sites in 2005 include San Diego/Tijuana, Mexico, June 26-July 1; Salt Lake City, July 12-16; and the North Carolina Triad, comprised of Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem, July 19-22.

For adult volunteers 18 and older, registration is still open for the last MissionsFEST of 2004 in New England, where participants may choose to serve Oct. 3-10 or Oct. 6-10. MissionsFEST sites in 2005 include New York City, April 9-16; Salt Lake City, July 9-16; the North Carolina Triad, July 16-22; the Appalachia region, specifically western Maryland and Clarksburg, W.Va., Sept. 17-24.

MissionsFEST and FamilyFEST in Pittsburgh were a partnership between national WMU, Pennsylvania/South Jersey WMU, Appalachian Regional Ministry and the Baptist Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
For more information on WMU’s FamilyFEST or MissionsFEST opportunities, visit www.wmu.com, or call (205) 991-4097.