It's been weeks since church members purchased and packed up supplies for Liberia and Zimbabwe -- as they do every May and June for the Annual Conference Hands-on Missions Project.
After the conference-wide collection, 28 tons of dried beans and sugar, toothbrushes and vitamins, pencils and papers were stuffed into two semi-trucks. The goods were carted to the South Carolina coastline, where they were shipped across the ocean and transported by train and truck to their final destinations.
What happened to it? The Holston missions office recently learned the ardurous journey was successful. From Liberia, missionary Helen Roberts-Evans sent the following email in late August:
The children received buckets of food, school supply kits, and health kits. This is one of three orphanages that received your gifts. Hebron orphanage is operated by Mrs. Sheila Reed. She lives in a house with 12 children and many more children come to the house during the day. Mrs. Reed is a widow and felt that God called her to help the many homeless children in Monrovia. Her ministry depends on donations, and she and the children are very grateful for all that they received.
From Zimbabwe, missionary Maria Humbane sent the following email in late September:
I am happy to inform you that the container that was sent from the Holston Conference arrived here in Zimbabwe on September 16th. Everything in it was intact. Thank you so much for your very generous support in everything.
In other words, across the ocean a little girl is doing her schoolwork with the pencil and paper that you sent, and a little boy feels better today after eating some of the food that you packed. The brochure for the 2012 Hands-on Mission Project is already available for download.
Holston asked to pray as Liberia prepares to vote
On Oct. 8, Helen Roberts-Evans sent another email to the Holston Conference office, requesting prayers as her country elects a new president. The current president is United Methodist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who just won the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Please pray for Liberia as we prepare for national elections on Tuesday, Oct. 11," Roberts-Evans said. "The streets are filled with paraders supporting the 16 presidential candidates. I hope that with the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize winners, we will all consider peace. The United Nations Mission in Liberia has troops and tanks on the street to deter violence."
Peace With Justice Sunday: Let's revisit that
June 19 came and went, and so did Peace With Justice Sunday -- one of six "Special Sundays" in the denomination associated with a special offering.
It wasn't a great year in Holston for Peace With Justice. The total offering was $4,159 -- for 894 total churches. In fact, giving to this cause has declined for several years, according to these totals from the finance office:
An explanation is not easy to come by, says the Rev. Don Hanshew, Holston's PWJ coordinator.
"People often do not connect mercy ministries with justice issues," he says. "Your church may have a food bank, but have you asked, 'Why do we have so many people coming each month?' ... Because it is hard to measure and tell if it is successful, Peace With Justice giving is often something easy to cut or ignore."
PWJ funds enable the denomination to advocate for peace and justice locally and globally. The Annual Conference keeps 50 percent of the offering. Past recipients have included Strength for the Journey, Morgan-Scott Project, Soddy-Daisy Food Bank, and the "Abolishing Poverty" conference, Hanshew said.
The remaining 50 percent is used outside of Holston -- to save children from being used as soldiers or sex slaves in Congo, for instance, or to help inner-city children in Chicago. (See other stories.)
United Methodist Communications recently contacted Holston and other annual conferences, concerned about the decline in PWJ giving and the ministries that will be affected.
"You can give to Peace With Justice any time of the year," said Elsie Cunningham. "When you invite the people in your pews to share in the Peace with Justice churchwide offering, they will know that they are providing a voice to the United Methodist Church in advocating for peace -- around the world and around the neighborhood."
To order free PWJ offering envelopes, call 1-888-346-3862. Other resources are available at UMC.org.