MARYVILLE, Tenn. (June 8, 2018) -- When Jeremy Russell was 15 years old, he helped load the first-ever mission kits that Holston Conference sent to Zimbabwe and Liberia.
Nineteen years later, Russell watched on Thursday, June 7, as a new generation of teenagers loaded thousands of buckets and backpacks onto trucks that would soon depart for the South Carolina coast and then Africa.
Russell is assistant coach of the Maryville High School football team, which fulfilled some of their community service hours by helping to load Holston Conference’s Hands-on Mission kits at Fairview United Methodist Church.
“They know that this project helps feed people,” said Russell, as the athletes stood on ladders or tossed food buckets into the trailers. “This is a tangible, concrete way of how we’re able to serve people.”
The annual Hands-on Mission Project involves United Methodist churches from all over Holston Conference -- in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia.
Organized by district, congregations collect specific lists of food, health and school supplies to help United Methodist missions in Liberia and Zimbabwe.
On June 6-7, volunteer drivers from Holston’s district offices transported the buckets and backpacks to Fairview UMC in Maryville. Fairview UMC has been command central for packing the Hands-on Mission kits into the sea-carrying trailers for the last two decades, according to the Rev. Mike Sluder, Holston director of connectional ministries.
The Hands-on Mission Project was first organized by Bill Daugherty, former Holston missions coordinator, and the Rev. Jerry Russell, former senior pastor at Fairview.
Jeremy Russell, who is Jerry Russell’s son and a member at Fairview, said he’s only missed one or two packing parties since the Hands-on Mission Project began.
“We don’t understand how fortunate we are,” said Saige Gribble, age 14, a receiver and safety on the football team. Like his teammates, Gribble came to help load the trucks after an 8 a.m. practice. “Everyone should try to help these poor kids in Africa,” he said.
The Hands-on Mission Project has grown throughout the years – thanks to the enthusiastic participation of church members -- requiring tough decisions about the number and size of trucks needed to get the supplies to the coast and then shipped to Africa, Sluder said. This year, four trucks were loaded.
The grand totals and financial value of the thousands of pounds of buckets, backpacks, and boxes will be announced on Monday morning, June 11, during the Holston Annual Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C. Bishop Dindy Taylor will say a blessing in Stuart Auditorium before leading the cheer for the honk of the truck horns from the parking lot.
The totals will also be published in the Tuesday morning edition of The Call newspaper, for members who wish to share the numbers with their congregations at home.
Although Holston Conference was organized into nine districts over the past year, the Hands-on Mission Project totals will be announced according to the former 12 districts.
“We organized the project and made the lists for the kits when we still had 12 districts,” Sluder explained.
The 2019 Hands-on Mission Project will be planned for Holston's nine new districts and announced later this summer, he added.
Contact Annette Spence at email@example.com
2017 Hands-on Mission Project totals
Photos below: (1-3) Maryville High School athletes and other volunteers pack on Thursday afternoon. Jeremy Russell is pictured writing on buckets, wearing gray T-shirt with sunglasses. (4) Mark Horton and Rev. Robert Smith arrive with a load of kits from the former Wytheville District.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.