Friday, December 10, 2010

My first local missionary experiences

I have always been a giving person all my life. Most of my giving has always been monetary and donating slightly used items to shelters, thrift stores and local causes. For years now, there has been a nagging feeling in my gut to continue my ways of contribution but on a deeper level. How could I attain this and satisfy that growing desire? After my children and I survived violent crimes against us by a domestic abuser the state of Tennessee stepped in and began to help my family put our lives back together. This baffled me; that those I did not know were so eager to help a stranger. This, coupled with my giving nature, helped me to see how I could satisfy that nagging feeling. I knew I would have to start locally but missionary work began to become something I felt I needed to do.

I had no idea how to begin and was even somewhat frightened and PTSD, as a result of surviving domestic violence, certainly did not help my situation. How better to help one’s self to heal that expose yourself to that which you fear (speaking to those you don’t know) by enrolling in a Speech class or getting personal with a strangers life through missionary work. My son had introduced me into a church called The Gathering. It seemed the perfect place to start. After all, the church calls itself the missionary church.

As the holidays grew closer my pastor seemed to be teaching more and more on giving back to the community and doing missionary work. Eventually, he would make announcements that after service out in the lobby were sign-up sheets for anyone who wanted to collect food to fill the church warehouse in order to provide Thanksgiving dinners to families that might otherwise be unable to experience a holiday meal this year. That Sunday I walked out of the service area and into the lobby, glanced at the sign up table with people swarming around it like bees, and I kept on walking. “Too many people around that table”, “I would probably have to talk to someone I don’t know”, and “I can’t really do this”, were all thoughts swimming through my head. I went home feeling full of regret and disappointment. The next Sunday the pastor made the same announcement yet, I still walked past the tables. I went home and prayed and talked to a few people about it and received a lot of encouragement. That next Sunday I went to the volunteer table after service. It was sort of impersonal actually. It was a simple piece of paper that you fill out with your name, number and check off what days and times you were available to stand out in front of one of four local Kroger stores. So, I filled it out for three different weeks to be at one location collecting food for all of the Appalachian area in and around east Tennessee. That following Friday I received a phone call from someone with the church named Dave. He confirmed for me to be at the Kroger the next day at the time I had chosen. UGH! Now it was real. I was really going to have to show up and stand out in front of Kroger and ask people to give me food for the hungry. I was so very nervous. That Saturday I decided to approach it like a job. I got up, I got dressed, kissed the kids, and marched right out that front door. Inside I was trembling with uncertainty. I arrived and to my surprise there were many people from church, all of whom I did not know, (PTSD remember) at each entrance to the Kroger. I walked up to someone and asked for Dave, since that was the person who had called me. He handed me a T-shirt to put on that read “The LORD’s child” on each side and handed me a booklet of paper. One side of the paper had our information and that we were collecting food for the hungry children this holiday and the other side had suggested items you could purchase to give. He showed me where to stand and told me not to walk up to anyone or attempt to follow anyone into the store but to merely try and get a person’s attention with my voice or a motion of the paper and tell them briefly why I was there. Shyly, I would get a few people’s attention and would simply say “Mam/Sir, one item off this list sure would help to feed a hungry child this holiday”. I would not say anything further to anyone unless someone else said something back to me first. Then I saw Mr. Jessel, my composition teacher, approaching the store entrance with a woman. I happily said “Mr. Jessel!” He looked at me and said “Angel, what are you doing here, you selling something?” I began to tell him why I was there. He introduced his wife to me and took one of my papers and went into Kroger with her. After that I felt a release and much more comfortable talking to people on their way into the store. Yes, Mr. Jessel and his wife did return from inside Kroger and give one item to the church. I was very thankful on behalf of whomever the item would go to. I stood there four hours collecting food that day. I have not worked in some time so my feet and lower back were hurting. At the end of the collecting time my boyfriend had to bring my children to me because he needed to get to work. Dave came up and said “Great job everyone. I’m headed to the warehouse to unload and stock it until we pack the food boxes together for Thanksgiving”. I asked him if I could also help unpack the truck at the warehouse and he said I could. My son also helped to unload the truck and stock the warehouse shelves and boxes while my daughter played with Dave’s granddaughter. I went home later that evening feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment in overcoming my fear enough to be able to do something I had been longing to do for so long. The most meaningful part of that experience was that my children had the opportunity to encounter missionary work as well. I was not finished though, the church was about to present me with something to take this experience even further.

During another Sunday service my pastor began to speak about children in our surrounding area that were statistically considered orphans. He defined these children as being raised by either one struggling parent, another family member other than a biological parent, or a foster family. He described a theme called “Every Child Deserves a Christmas” and what the church was planning to do to help ensure these children have some sort of Christmas. Yes, there were tables in the lobby once again, for people to sign up and donate their time to go out and interview the children as well as child’s guardian. This time I signed up the very first time for two days of volunteering. That day I received instructions from my pastor’s sister to meet her in a parking lot because we would be traveling to Rogersville Tennessee. I had no clue where that was. When the day arrived I met her in the parking lot and got into her vehicle and we followed the church van and another car to Rogersville. Along the way Laura began to fill me in on what to do. I felt very uncomfortable because I was in a car with a complete stranger going out of town with her and all I had with me was a cell phone and a bank card. I believed I was safe but still felt very uncomfortable. When we arrived in Rogersville things seemed to move quickly. We were joining up with a local church there that owned a thrift store as well. We began to set up tables for interviewing, tables with toys for all ages, and a photo area. I was coached by Laura on interviewing the children as they came in. Only about fifty children total came into that location. I asked them questions from a piece of paper and recorded their answers. The questions included things like: what’s your favorite color, your favorite activity and favorite character or super hero. Simple and fun! Then I would take them to the tables full of toys and ask them to pick out three toys they liked best and then I wrote that down. It was an absolutely wonderful day for me. I had met Laura at eleven in the morning and returned home around eight at night. The next time I was to help with this event would be right here in good ole Sevierville at the church itself. I was told to arrive there at eleven. When I arrived on time the doors were already open and the lobby was jammed pack. The line was far out the door. It was very hectic inside and when I went to get direction from Laura she basically told me just to find a place and get started. Most people were already working with the children which left me to do the part I really did not want to do; the financial part. I began to sit down with guardian after guardian and go through check stubs and food stamps etc. finding out how many people in a household and the household income. It was brutal. I will say that not one single person there that day made a combined total income exceeding more than $1,200.00 per month. I was shocked. I remembered my ex-husband who used to bring home $1,000.00 a week after taxes just working for Kelloggs. I couldn’t believe it. It was a mad house and I was all over the place but we got it done. Later, I found out that they had opened the door thirty minutes early because people had started to line up outside beginning at 7:30am. What were these children to receive from the church? They would get a sweatshirt, a new winter coat, up to three toys, a stocking filled with treats, a food box and fun and play time on the day they come to pick up their donation. That is why I was told to ask the children things like their favorite colors and characters, so the church could try their best to customize what each child would receive. In total we had 500 children to come forth.

So far I have really enjoyed my experience and feel it has helped me to open up again and become more of the person I use to be before an abuser entered my life. My journey has not ended here. There will be the day when I am there to personally see most of the children receive their gifts because I am volunteering my time to hand the kids their gifts personally. I can hardly wait to see these children’s little faces when they open their presents. Don’t get me wrong, I did face negativity related to this experience. Most of it came from outsiders who were judgmental about the parent or guardian of the children. Yes, we do encounter drug addicted parents and out right lazy guardians who are too incompetent to care for the children they have. That however, does not excuse the fact that there are children who suffer and go without. I can look past the guardian and directly into the child’s eyes. That is why The Gathering requires those parents and guardians to bring the children themselves to the enrollment and the distribution. We make sure each child has in their hands what they have asked for and they open the toys and try on the coats. I will forever cherish this involvement and will continue to do even more. Pastor Makumbi Johnson came all the way from Uganda to help announce that they had begun the construction of The LORD’s child orphanage there and asked everyone to write down on a piece of paper one prayer request to take back with him to Uganda to be prayed over. My request was that GOD will continue to use me in missionary work that goes far and beyond my local abilities. At this time I have no idea how far I will go, only that I will get there somehow.
The LORD's Child

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