It was time to seek where God wanted me to focus -beyond my comfort zone, beyond our community- to go, share and make disciples. Would it be a risk worth taking?
I am just one member of the Mission Committee. Because of our burden, our committee chairman and pastor invited Appalachian Region Mission’s Missionary Dewey Aiken to speak. Afterwards the committee chose to consider GAP as one of three ministries to visit on the August 2015 vision trip to Eastern Kentucky.
Led by our Pastor Jeff Maynard and Mission Committee Chairman D.C. Whitlock, we left the comfort of our community. The first two ministries tugged on my heart but lacked the answer I sought. The last stop on our overnight trip was McDowell, KY and the GAP. Missionary John Morris gave an introduction of the work and described the heart of the ministry. We toured the facilities and met Kathy Henson. After the introduction, as I walked the lodge property talking to the Lord, I knew where I would be engaged, learn and serve. My heart was broken and at peace. The process remained for others on the trip to understand what the Lord was saying to each of them. The Mission’s Committee remains unified that there is much work and opportunity in all three of the locations we visited.
My evaluation: I was impressed with GAP leadership, their prayer lives and their understanding of the community. They have in place a great potential to reach their community for many reasons; two are: their established local church relationships and their evangelistically developed process to build relationships within in the community. Also, they have in place many opportunities to utilize all the generations of our church with the least amount of pre-planning on our part. I believe GAP has the most in place to teach us about reaching the Leicester community.
Three of us who took the vision trip are members of the Empty Nesters’ Sunday School Class. As director of this class, I inquired of the other two where they felt the Lord drawing each of them? We were unanimous: McDowell and the GAP! Then in prayerful agreement with class leadership, the opportunity was presented to the members for prayer. Pastor Jeff gave his affirmation: “John and his team has established guidelines because he understands the dynamics of the community; this is a great opportunity to become involved.” With the agreement of the class, I contacted John. One aspect that intrigue us was the opportunity to be face-to-face with those whom we could minister. It wasn’t just delivering “stuff”. We would have the opportunity to get to know them. We agreed we wanted to build relationships that point to Jesus.
It felt both exciting and overwhelming to prepare for this journey with the Lord. There were times it was difficult to understand how the process could possibly work! A time or two I really wanted to re-do the process; selfishly, I wanted to do it my way. So prayer and more prayer as I recommitted to follow the Holy Spirit and the plan John had given our group. I would question, “He lives and walks among them, so who am I to think I know better?” I resolved to proceed in unity. It was a faith process.
As class members were considering each one’s level of participation, a few stepped forward to begin shopping for the list of items to stock the store for the parents. Others made financial plans to help sponsor a child. And several began planning the crafts for the party. All prayed. The main event was Saturday, December 5 at an apartment complex we had not visited on the vision trip. The all-day event involved setting up and tearing down “the store” twice. Once for the parents to shop for their kids or teens, and a second for the children to shop for their parents. The last event was a Christmas Party with crafts to make-and-take. The whole experience would focus on those we grew excited about going to meet! Six made commitments to go. Short on team members, the opportunity was extended to the whole church.
Finally, it was time to pack and travel. Gifts loaded. There were a number of vehicles traveling each at different times that Friday leaving Leicester, NC just west of Asheville. We were warned that GPS’s would be of little assistance once off the main highway in Pikeville! Yes, this was going to be an adventure especially for the after-dark late and early morning travelers!
The first vehicles arrived at the lodge. We unpacked, ate, met with John and staged the gifts and crafts for the next day. With confidence, most turned-in for the night. Like a nervous big sister, I waited for the last vehicle that night and then woke-up early to check on the early morning travelers. Everyone would arrive safely! I repeated: God has this under control! I just needed to rest in Him and watch the day unfold.
With three travelers still en-route, the morning began with breakfast and re-packing the vehicles. John and Kathy met us at the lodge to lead us to the northwest corner of the county. At the apartments, the last vehicle arrived shortly afterwards. It was a blessing to see this team absorb the instructions for the day. Then in one accord everyone began the first set-up. All day long we enjoyed working together! Peace surrounded us.
The age range of our 11-member team was retirement to middle school, but age made little difference. The younger ones had the same enthusiasm as the oldest one. With diverse backgrounds and skills, we were knit together for one purpose: serve those who came to spend the day with us.
The store set-up, it was time to greet the first parent scheduled to shop. A team member would accept the “personal shopper” role and guide the parent through the store. The parent would be shown the choices and choose items for their child/teen, spending the assigned number of points per child. Through this process we learned about their child. Gifts chosen, the “personal shopper” would be joined by a second team member and help was given to carry the gifts to the waiting car, or to the family’s apartment. Conversation continued. At the car or apartment door an offer to pray was given. Everyone welcomed the opportunity extending their hands to join the circle of prayer. Often hugs were extended to the team members. Every parent expressed their gratitude. 19 families with a total of 45 children/teens were served.
Next the parent’s store was set-up. The children came for their appointment and chose a gift for their parent/s. A wrapping paper station awaited the children so they could keep their gift a surprise. Again, the team members welcome the children and engaged them in conversations as the gift/s and wrapping paper were chosen. All the way to the last piece of tape the children were happy to be in the store. 17 children came to shop.
All day long the team talked with the residents inviting them to the Christmas party and the make-and-take crafts. Many residents seemed unsure about returning so we really had no idea who would return. We were overjoyed as the community room began to fill-up with moms, dads, toddlers to teens! Four tables were set-up and ready for making crafts: a twig tree ornament, a beaded candy cane ornament, a tissue paper ornament and especially for the teens a woven cord bracelet. The time flew as we worked and visited.
Asking for everyone’s attention, the work and talking stopped. Chairs were turned; toddlers grew quiet. The Story of Jesus’ Life was listened to with careful attention. Afterwards, there was opportunity to talk about the story as cake and punch were served and the craft-making continued.
Then it was time to clean-up and everyone return home. Saying our good byes, we realized they had touched our lives. Each one felt it: they had truly spent time with us. I am convinced, that as our group serves together, we are seeing spiritual strength and unity develop through practical applications of the Bible lessons we are studying.
Some comments by our team:
Cindy: “I was very happy to see the family participation at the party. It helped me feel like we were well received. I loved the fellowship with the other team members.”
Isaac (12 years old): “My favorite part was the party. We got to tell everyone about how Jesus left heaven to become human, died on the cross for everyone’s sins, and came back to life so we could live forever. It was good to tell why we celebrate Christmas.”
Lauri: “Being able to be the feet and hands for God is why I am here. Being able to know where God leads me and following His command puts such joy and peace in my soul. I am thankful God wanted me to share His story and love with the precious children and families in Ivy Creek, Kentucky. The country was beautiful and the people’s smiles were contagious.”
Dennis: “The people listened intently and were very respectful when I shared the Gospel with them. They were also very content and welcoming when we prayed with them.
Karen: It was a blessing meeting, praying, hugging, and having fellowship with the parents and children.”
Jim: “I thought I was going to go and be a blessing to those people there and I was the one that got blessed.”
Arriving home and continuing the conversation, we have a core group who are praying. Our goal is to return to the area four times in 2016 to help in the transition from lost-ness to planting a church. Our discussed plans include outside activities during the warmer months. We are already thinking about lawn chairs, grilling and outdoor games. About just being folks enjoying the time together with the intentional-ness of listening to them and sharing what God puts on our hearts. (To view more pictures of Christmas Project at Ivy Creek click on the above photo.)