They're missionaries, but not the kind that serve overseas

They're missionaries, but not the kind that serve overseas

Church and Community Workers follow the call to "uplift the poor and disenfranchised"

Lisa Nichols directs two Chattanooga community centers that provide a myriad of services for inner-city residents.

Nancy Hobbs collects huge loads of gardening seeds and school supplies and oversees two clothing centers for rural Big Stone Gap communities.

Mark Stransky helps build ramps and replace roofs for needy people in three southwestern Virginia counties, and Harry Howe is training to be a physician's assistant so he can begin a medical ministry in the same region.

Holston Conference is the home for six Church and Community Workers. They are missionaries, but not the kind that serve overseas.

"We are extensions of the United Methodist Church into our own communities," says the Rev. Harry Howe. "A lot of times we work with people from other denominations, so we are also ecumenical."

According to the General Board of Global Ministries web site, Church and Community Workers are commissioned missionaries of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, who, in response to God's call, are devoted to uplifting the poor and disenfranchised in rural and urban areas throughout the United States. They work to change the social inequities of poverty, racial injustice, and domestic violence. As their name implies, they take the church into the community and bring the community into the church.

With the arrival of Mark and Linda Stransky in February 2007, Holston became the conference with the highest number of Church and Community Workers: six. West Virginia Conference is second with four. Fifty-two exist in the denomination.

What does it say about Holston, to be the leader in Church and Community Workers?

"It says the conference is willing to be in mission in so many areas," says Nichols, daughter of the Rev. Sullins Lamb. "It allows each of us to be in very different ministries."

The Stranskys came to Holston to join in the work of Project Crossroads of Marion, Va., which is currently expanding, according to Howe.

Mark is focused on the housing rehab ministry that was developed by Howe in Smyth, Washington, and Wythe Counties. Linda is developing a new ministry she calls Matthew 25 Hub. She will coordinate local churches to lead outreach ministries for the elderly and other needy groups. Howe remains executive director of Project Crossroads as he pursues his medical education.

Meanwhile, Nichols is serving as director of the St. Andrews Center and director of St. Elmo/Alton Park Partners. She leads after-school and summer programs for Hispanics, and coordinates numerous ministries including a reading center, transportation for children, and a Spanish-speaking Alcoholics Anonymous.

Hobbs is director of the Big Stone Church and Community Renewal Project, while Randy Hildebrant leads youth ministries and oversees the work camp program for Jubilee Project in rural Sneedville, Tenn.

Yet, in a year when the economy is squeezing church budgets and many local churches have been generous in contributing to overseas missions and disaster response projects, Church and Community Workers are seeing their contributions dwindle.

"We need to continue to remember these mission workers in our own communities," said Bill Daugherty, Holston missions coordinator. "Many of these people are our own, from our own churches."

By paying their Fair Share apportionments, churches are already providing a portion of funding for the Church and Community Workers and their projects. With the exception of Harry Howe, the workers also receive some funding from the General Board of Global Ministries.

However, each worker is required to raise some of their own funds, and Howe said he has a different arrangement in which he is required to raise all of his funding. Each of the workers also seek covenant relationships with United Methodist churches or groups who will promise to support them on a regular basis.

To contribute to the missions of Holston's Church and Community Workers, write a check to your local church. Write the worker's name and his or her project number on the memo line. The workers and their numbers are:

Nancy Hobbs: #299
Harry Howe: #020
Randy Hildebrant: #453
Lisa Nichols: #330
Mark and Linda Stransky: #571