By Karl Kapoor
First United Methodist Church of Johnson City hosted a three-day, weekend-long mission’s conference in early February. This fourth annual event of its kind at this church serves multiple purposes: education and awareness of mission opportunities, fund raising for guest missionaries, work projects for the community, and celebration of how the people can join God at work in the community and world around us.
The Outreach Team led by Kathy Feagins and Missions Committee led by Kellie Bracken invited missionaries from outside of the congregation to come and speak to the church. In addition, tables or booths, sometimes with a representative, displayed a wide range of local and worldwide missions. There were over 18 mission efforts specifically featured at these displays including information on the Czech Republic, a conference Medical Mission to Mexico, the Wesley Foundation, Buffalo Mountain Camp, Appalachian Service Project, and more. Also, in the last three years there have been multiple hands-on mission projects for anyone to join in making a difference right in the neighborhood and entire community.
Two young married couples along with a regional representative and coordinator for Women in Mission, all connected with the One Mission Society (OMS), met with church members on Friday night in small breakout groups to share faith stories as well as provide background and information about their upcoming work.
On Saturday, following a breakfast gathering and devotional, those in attendance (about 60) divided into groups for the hands-on mission projects. This year, one group went to work at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Gray, Tenn.
Another group of volunteers worked on a new program at First UMC of Johnson City. Just recently, First UMC has developed and implemented a plan to open a community food bank on church property to serve our neighbors in the tree street community and families with children at a local elementary school. The plan became reality when rooms in an adjacent, annexed building (formerly the Holston Conference staff office) were emptied and then cleaned in preparation for shelf assembly.
The work crew not only put together all the shelves but stocked the rooms with food collected in barrels on site at the church as well as food purchased through an alliance with the Second Harvest Food Bank. The first food distribution day, a couple of weeks after the mission’s conference, was a great success with plans for a minimum of monthly distribution days planned.
The last hands-on event was the culmination of a project which had been months in the making. For the past several months, a specific item was collected all month long in an effort to assemble a list of materials for health kits. The kits are designated for the United Methodist Committe on Relief (UMCOR), specifically the Sager Brown Distribution Center. The Missions Committee set a high goal of 750 health kits. Each kit contained a comb, toothbrush, hand towel, wash cloth, fingernail trimmer, and bar of soap. Each kit was assembled and placed in a ziplock bag, then packed in boxes for delivery to UMCOR where the kits will be used for responding to basic needs during times of natural disasters, or other catastrophic events.
More than 750 kits were completed in one day, with additional odds and ends collected before the church finally sent UMCOR more than 800 kits. The congregation was also able to hear an especially moving story from one of the missionaries concerning an acquaintance who earlier in his life had been the recipient of a health kit -- just like the ones which were being made. All ages helped with this project. Children were able to take part by counting out six individual adhesive bandages for each kit. There were more than 2,500 bandages! (See photos on Facebook.)
The weekend ended on Sunday with a worship service and a fellowship luncheon. The church pastor, Rev. Tim Bracken, shared the pulpit with one of the missionaries who delivered the morning message. Those in attendance were able to celebrate the works God was doing in the lives of our visiting missionaries and the people they will touch, as well as the local efforts made during the hands-on projects. Even with all that has been done, the congregation was challenged to respond to the knowledge that even though the conference had ended, the mission of the church goes on. We are called.