Mission-partnerships are about working together to do life-changing things!
The members of Faith Lutheran Church in New Florence, Pennsylvania (ELCA) were asked to host an annual event that provides school supplies to local children when the coordinator, who had previously overseen this important ministry, needed to step-back a bit because of growing health concerns. Change isn’t always easy, but members of Faith Lutheran Church saw this important local event as another opportunity to live-out their God-given mission: “Sharing God’s Gifts to Shape and Support Our Neighbors.”
The Spring of 2016 was filled with both energy and excitement! The Outreach Committee quickly realized that this new ministry could touch the lives of hundreds of students in its two neighboring school districts; and thus, the Faith Lutheran Church quickly decided to develop mission-partnerships with other local congregations, and with both the United School District and the Ligonier Valley School District. Leaders in local congregations began to collect the names of volunteers and began to write letters to local businesses and organizations asking for donations of both supplies and time. People from around the community donated their time, their talents and other resources to make the dream come true. And it did!
Backpacks were filled with pencils and pens and paper and notebooks and folders and binders and other school supplies during August. Volunteers initially hoped to reach about 100 children during their first “Back to School Bash,” but more than 150 children from the local area appeared out of nowhere! And the children continued to come. The next year, 265 children appeared. The year after that, 240 children came together on a rainy day to receive the supplies that they needed. The members of Faith Lutheran Church and all of the other community volunteers saw God working in their midst to touch lives as they were “Sharing God’s Gifts to Shape and Support Our Neighbors.”
But the excitement didn’t stop there….
The “Back to School Bash” quickly grew into a carnival where parents and children could gather to have some fun. Children were greeted by a teacher or cheerleader who helped them to gather their supplies; and then, when they exited the building, they entered a yard filled with tents. Local churches worked beside the Boys Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and other civic organizations to help children complete craft projects. Local cheerleaders painted faces. Children could dance with mascots and have silly pictures taken. Children could climb on the fire truck and see a real ambulance and police car! Local teachers’ unions even provided a light lunch to be shared by those who gathered and volunteered.
But, behind the scenes, even more was happening…!
Parents, also, had a chance to gather information about local services that were available in the community. Families received information about the Boys and Girls Club, about the Drug and Alcohol Commission, about Life Steps of Indiana County, and about other organizations that support local families. Local churches offered information about the time of weekly worship services and about the ministries that they provide throughout the year. Lives were touched. Families were strengthened. God’s work was done!
Pastor Ryan and Linda, the Chair of the Faith Outreach Committee, continue to be excited about the annual “Back to School Bash” and are looking forward to next year’s event. Pastor Ryan said: “We at Faith Lutheran Church are excited about this ministry as it touches so many lives. Through it we find ourselves living-out our mission statement: ‘Sharing God’s Gifts to Shape and Support Our Neighbors.’”