KINGSPORT, Tenn. -- Mickey Rainwater was sitting in the Farmers Market building in downtown Kingsport last summer, watching the mayor auction off cakes to build a school in South Sudan. Rain pounded the metal roof, and the cakes outnumbered the people in attendance.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘I wonder how much money this is actually going to generate?’” Rainwater said.
A voice inside his head answered, “You know that First Broad Street could build this school and be done with it.”
First Broad Street United Methodist Church did just that a few months later with a Christmas offering.
On Jan. 4, the Rev. Rainwater, senior pastor at First Broad Street, announced to his congregation that their generous giving during Advent had raised $198,000 to build a school for 420 students in South Sudan.
With an additional $19,000 from other churches, the Kingsport District raised a total $217,000 to support education for their partner church, Giru United Methodist in South Sudan.
“This is three times what the Kingsport District did for Imagine No Malaria in 2013,” said the Rev. David Graves, Kingsport District superintendent. “When God’s people come together around a common God-given mission, the results are out of this world."
After the June fundraiser at the Farmers Market, Rainwater talked to Graves and other Kingsport District mission leaders about devoting their Christmas offerings to building the school and latrine and providing classroom supplies for Giru.
“We’ve always had a Christmas Eve offering, but we always used it to balance the budget,” said Rainwater. “I said to our congregation, ‘We’re supposed to raise this money to build a school … We can do this.’”
The 57 churches of Kingsport District had previously raised $35,000 to build a sanctuary, parsonage and latrine in Giru, South Sudan. For Christmas 2014, First Broad Street set a goal of $100,000. The rest of the district churches aimed for $25,000.
Rainwater said he was inspired by the 2012 Christmas offering collected by Christ United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., which totaled $290,000 and was used to build Grace Home for Children in Pukuka, South Sudan.
Kingsport District churches used Rev. Mike Slaughter’s book and program from Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church -- “Christmas Is Not Your Birthday: Experience the Joy of Living and Giving like Jesus” -- to inspire church members to give as much to others as they spend on their own family’s holiday, Graves said.
Shades of Grace, the new United Methodist congregation making newspaper headlines with their homeless ministry, was the first Kingsport church to give to the offering, with $975.
“When First Broad Street had already received $52,000 by Christmas Eve, I was really feeling good about that,” Graves said, laughing. “I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a shot at this.’”
On Christmas Eve, First Broad Street had 1,366 in worship attendance, compared to 785 on an average Sunday. Rainwater said he watched in amazement as the offerings piled up in a basket placed in the center aisle during Holy Communion.
“It was unreal to watch that,” he said. “I got to be part of something amazing, and I believe the Lord was speaking to me on that day in the Farmers Market – and I’m so relieved that I heard him rightly.”
The extra funds will be used to provide teacher salaries and scholarships to Africa University, Graves said.
To top it off, First Broad Street finished 2014 “in the black,” Rainwater said.
Ginghamsburg's 'miracle offering' brings hope to Sudan (UMCOR, 1/15/15)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.