When the leaders of Christ United Methodist Church dedicated their Christmas Eve offering to building an orphanage in South Sudan, they set the goal at $85,000.
The amount seemed high, says Becky Hall, but the congregation is familiar with the Holston Conference ministry led by their former Chattanooga District superintendent, the Rev. Fred Dearing and his wife, Libby.
"People know the need, want to help, and know that the Dearings will oversee the project," said Hall, director of ministries.
On Dec. 24, more than 3,300 people attended Christ UMC's five Christmas Eve services in Chattanooga, Tenn. When the offering was counted, church leaders were stunned.
"I hope you will sit down before you read this email," Dearing wrote to ministry supporters after he heard the news. "God never ceases to amaze me."
The initial offering was counted at a mind-boggling $222,100. Since Christmas, members at Christ UMC have given a total $290,000 to help the helpless children of South Sudan.
"I can't stress enough how surprised we all were and are," said the Rev. Mark Flynn, senior pastor. "I am extremely proud to be connected to such generous people."
On top of that, the children of the church collected $11,000 to dig a well for the orphanage, Flynn said.
"We now have all the money we need to get started, furnish the orphanage, and a year's operating budget," said Libby Dearing, who has advocated for an orphanage since encountering numerous homeless children on her 2008 mission trips to South Sudan.
The new home, located in Pukuka, will include four houses to accomodate six children and a house mother, Libby Dearing said. The fence around the property is now being installed.
"Just putting the fence up is a really labor-intensive process," Fred Dearing said. "There are no precise measuring machines, no earth-moving machinery, not even a post-hole digger. Everything is done by hand."
Libby Dearing asked for prayers from church members in Holston.
"I am so excited about getting started," she said. "Please be in prayer for God to provide us with a Christian director and staff so that the children are loved, nurtured, and feel a sense of family -- both here on earth and with their heavenly father."
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.