ALCOA, Tenn. -- The annual Hands-on Mission Project is going full steam ahead with a new packing location and the support of local churches, including a few that are leaving the denomination.
On May 31 and June 1, Cokesbury United Methodist Church will host the arrival of thousands of food, school and health “kits” collected by churches from throughout Holston Conference. Cokesbury will also be the site of rigorous packing of the donations into shipping containers bound for Liberia and Zimbabwe.
The relocation to Cokesbury in Knoxville marks a new chapter for the Hands-on Mission Project after more than 25 years of packing the mission supplies at the former Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville, said the Rev. Mike Sluder, Holston director of connectional ministries.
Fairview is disaffiliating from The United Methodist Church, a process that becomes official on May 29.
The new location in Cokesbury’s large parking lot fronting 9919 Kingston Pike, with close access to the interstate, will save an hour of driving time for persons delivering supplies from most of Holston’s nine districts, Sluder said.
Cokesbury is excited for the opportunity to host the project, said the Rev. Anna Lee, executive pastor.
"Our most favorite thing about Holston Conference and the UMC at large is that we are better together than we are apart,” she said. “That’s always been the strength of the connection, and it’s a driving force for us.”
Cokesbury leaders will welcome having the Hands-on Mission Project on site as an opportunity to remind their congregants that they’re part of the United Methodist family, Lee said.
“We’re also hopeful that as people drive by, they’ll see Christians working together on a mission. So often, what makes the headlines is disunity in the church.”
Holston district offices report that the collection of food, school and health kits for missions in Africa is going well, even though they have fewer churches than last year due to the departure of congregations from the denomination.
“I am getting a lot of calls about the kits so there seems to be more interest than normal, which is exciting,” said Joanna Corvin, administrative assistant in the New River District office in Wytheville, Virginia.
In Pulaski, Virginia, Randoph Avenue United Methodist Church has prepared 129 “health kits,” more than a quarter of the New River District’s goal of 400 total kits. The kits -- which include soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, washcloths, adhesive bandages, ibuprofen and other items -- will be shipped to the Ishe Anesu mission center in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
“They’re excited about the mission of the church,” said the Rev. Elston McLain, Randolph Avenue pastor. “They’re not the wealthiest of churches but they have a big heart.” Randolph Avenue has 63 in average worship attendance.
In Bristol, Virginia, Beech Grove United Methodist Church collected school supplies to help children at United Methodist missions in Liberia. This year, Beech Grove prepared 47 school kits, exceeding their own goal of providing 10% of the Clinch Mountain District’s total goal of 400 kits, according to Beverly Hayden.
“Before we send those to the district office, the congregation along with the children will offer a prayer of blessing for those who are to receive the kits,” Hayden said. “We all have a sense of being the hands and feet of Jesus.”
In Johnson City, Tennessee, the outreach team at First United Methodist Church decided they could provide more backpacks filled with school materials for children in Liberia if they asked church members to donate a set amount ($22.50). Then they bought the dictionaries, notebooks, pens, paper and other supplies in bulk.
The goal was 40 backpacks or “school kits,” says the Rev. Gary Ihfe. How many did they end up with? 122.
“I, and the whole outreach team, have been overwhelmed but not necessarily surprised by the generous giving from the people of First UMC,” Ihfe said. “We made it clear that each gift of $22.50 would support one United Methodist student overseas. I think making it a tangible and practical really did help people understand that a small gift could impact one person’s life.”
Disaffiliating churches were invited to participate in the project and a few congregations are responding, according to district offices. The former First United Methodist Church of Richlands, Virginia, recently delivered 50 “school kits” for Liberia to the Clinch Mountain District office.
The Rev. Gordon McBride, Richlands pastor, explained that the congregation had money and supplies left over from the 2022 missions project. They wanted to make sure the schoolchildren in Liberia were not forgotten.
“Mission is something they’ve done for many years, and they want to continue to do that,” McBride said.
The churches of Smoky Mountain District and Tennessee Valley District will deliver their mission kits directly to Cokesbury United Methodist Church on May 31 or June 1, Sluder said. Other districts will have designated persons to load up their mission kits and take them to Cokesbury in Knoxville.
Prior to the pandemic, Holston churches collected 9,042 mission kits valued at more than $220,000 for Liberia and Zimbabwe in summer 2019. Last year, churches collected 5,111 total kits for United Methodist missions in the two African countries.
Districts preparing mission kits for Liberia, to be distributed by United Methodist missionary Helen Roberts-Evans, include:
- Mountain View (food buckets)
- Clinch Mountain (school kits)
- Hiwassee (health kits)
- Three Rivers (school kits)
- Appalachian (school kits)
- Scenic South (home buckets)
- Tennessee Valley (food buckets)
- Smoky Mountain (food buckets)
- New River (health kits)
The Rev. Chris Brown, Holston’s new Missions Ministry Team chair, said the annual Hands-on Mission Project is a “vital and personal way” to connect Holston with the “needs of children and communities around the world.”
“There is something powerful about all of the different ‘hands’ that collect, purchase, pack, load, unload, distribute, and receive the items,” Brown said. “We plan to support these ministries indefinitely.”
Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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