We are sent under the authority of Christ, charged with the responsibility of immersing people in the love of God, one neighborhood at a time.
Encounter with Autistic Teen Inspires New Ministry
“Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.”
Julie Miller’s son, Zane, is on the autism spectrum with manageable Asperger’s Syndrome. When Zane was first diagnosed, Julie searched for all of the help she could find. Unfortunately, resources were lacking in her community. At the same time, George Turke, pastor of Coldwater Methodist Church in Fayetteville, Tennessee, was praying for an opportunity for his congregation to reach out to their neighbors. During this season of prayer, Turke met fourteen-year-old Zane, and realized how little he knew about autism, its impact on families, and the scarcity of resources available. God used Turke’s encounter with a special teen to open his eyes and heart to a need in the community. After several conversations with church members, Coldwater Autism Awareness Ministry (CAAM) was born.
The goal of this ministry is to educate community members about autism, to provide a support for those impacted by autism, and to raise funds to help organizations with the research of autism. With the help of the school superintendents, guidance counselors, special education teachers, and speech therapists, CAAM team members learned about autism and developed educational programs to offer to the community. Rather than waiting for people to seek help and information, members of CAAM actively search for opportunities to train and educate people in Fayetteville and surrounding areas about autism. They hope that with education, negative labels for autism will disappear and understanding will grow. After a successful initial training, Julie shared this, “The enthusiasm and support from the CAAM committee members was overwhelming—they truly have a heart for this ministry.” CAMM also works collaboratively with youth pastors to offer guidance and support. Since many youth workers minister to students with autism, ongoing education and resources are essential.
To further their reach, CAAM members fundraise through efforts such as bake sales and a spring BBQ. The CAAM team recently participated in a local event called “The Host of Christmas Past,” selling baked goods to attendees and offering information about autism at their booth. The funds raised helped purchase special educational supplies, sensory products, and communication devices for members of the autism community, as well as resources for families who are raising children with autism.
Children with autism and their families often wonder if they are “normal” kids. CAAM breaks the barriers of “normal” by educating the community and celebrating each person’s unique “normal” as a beloved child of God. Through an intentional effort to reach people who are impacted by autism, CAAM ministers to its community, sharing the love of Christ through education and training. Today, Julie Miller and Zane are amazed at how God is working through CAAM. Julie praised the ministry, stating, “It has been incredible to watch God continue to open doors and bless this ministry at every turn. Zane and I are thrilled!” We are part of the 72.
72+ You Ideas:
- Form a group of people from the community (educators, counselors, and volunteers) who are willing to research autism and educate others.
- Create informational materials about autism and share them at community events, schools, fire halls, civic organizations, and local churches.
- Invite community members to regular organizational meetings and include a support component for families.
- Fundraise through efforts such as community events, bake sales, or BBQs, using public appearances as a way to not only raise money, but raise autism awareness as well.
- For more information about autism, see autismtn.org.
Annual One Day Event Brings 72+U to Life
Saturday, October 11, 2014 was a great day in Manchester as 22 churches and over 1,000 volunteers participated in the third annual, area-wide, ecumenical event called, “The One Day Event.” Volunteers prayed, planned, set up tents, gathered clothes, gave hair cuts, flu shots, and provided other services to meet the needs in our community.
As a founding church of the event, Manchester First UMC celebrated its third year of participation, identifying it as a tangible way to join 72+U movement begun by Bishop McAlilly at Annual Conference 2014. Each part of “The One Day Event” focuses on discovering, connecting, equipping, and sending God’s people into their communities to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Not only is the day about meeting physical needs, it also provides an opportunity for our neighbors to experience the unconditional love of God. A specific outflow of the event is an intentional strategy to follow up with attendees to connect them to local churches.
One of the unique aspects of the event is watching area churches cross denominational lines and collaborate to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the hurting world around us. “Honored Guests” receive grocery bags filled with food; they have the opportunity to get haircuts, flu shots, physical exams and other medical services, clothing, family portraits, and a meal. Kids get books to take home and enjoy a “Kid Zone” area to play and make friends. Young and old have the opportunity to pray with volunteers and have the opportunity to discover more about Jesus.
Another unique aspect about the event is that we offer ways for people to not only serve the community, but also the world. We partner with “Convoy Of Hope”, a nation-wide feeding program that can buy seven dollars worth of food for every dollar they receive from participating churches and communities. As a community we gave enough money to purchase a semi-truck full of food!
God’s people offered themselves for his service, let their light shine, and ministered to each other. As God’s people, we witnessed amazing things—lives changed, needs met, and God’s heart expressed through the hands and feet of his people. The world noticed, and God smiled. We are one of the 72.
Teenager Inspires Congregation to be in Mission
At the beginning of the summer in 2013, Shelby Vaughn, a junior at Hardin County High School, visited my office at First United Methodist Church in Savannah, Tennessee to share a mission project she felt called to do. Motivated by a sermon to serve others, Shelby wanted to collect shoes for “Soles for Souls,” an organization that gathers and distributes shoes to people all over the world. Captivated by her enthusiasm and determination, I agreed to the idea. The following Sunday during worship, Shelby told the congregation about her mission to collect shoes and explained how people could participate. Various people committed to help. Shelby’s mission became our mission.
After announcing the mission to the congregation, Shelby also publicized it in the church newsletter and bulletin, the local newspaper, and broadcast to as many as possible by word-of-mouth. By communicating the mission opportunity through various channels, she expanded participation in the mission. The result was more and more people donated shoes. Eventually, a trailer was put in the church parking lot with signs telling people where to leave donated shoes. As summer progressed, our collection of shoes grew tremendously. By the end of the summer Shelby, along with members of our community, had collected over 3,300 pairs of shoes. With the help of a friend and her family, Shelby boxed and bagged the shoes and took them to Nashville where they would be shipped all over the world.
Even though thousands of pairs of shoes had been delivered to “Soles for Souls,” Shelby’s mission was not over. In March, 2014, Shelby and her mother traveled to Honduras to deliver some of the shoes our church had collected. While they were in Honduras, Shelby and her mom washed the feet of children and adults, and placed shoes on each person.
Many people were blessed through our mission to help “Soles for Souls.” Shelby and her family had the opportunity to serve Jesus together, people who donated shoes showed kindness to total strangers, and individuals who once lacked shoes received footwear. However, the greatest blessing was for First Methodist Church. Because of Shelby’s passion and commitment to serving others, our congregation was inspired to begin new mission projects and try new things—just like Shelby! We now consider our congregation a “Lighthouse Church” shining the light of God’s love in our community and in the world. We are one of the 72.
Church With a Big Heart Makes a Big Difference
As a small membership church with an older congregation, for several years we had collected school supplies and money for uniforms for our neighborhood school, Berclair Elementary. Wanting to become more involved in our changing community, one of our big goals for 2014 was to participate more actively in the life of Berclair through building intentional relationships with the staff, teachers and students. To get started, we met with leaders of Second Presbyterian Church, located nearby, who were already serving the school. During our conversation, we asked two questions: What can we do? What difference can we make? Our answers shaped the ways Grimes United Methodist Church would become the hands, heart and feet of Jesus at Berclair.
Over the 2013-14 school year, we built relationships with the students by providing tutors for students in second grade, prompters for TCAP testing, help with a fall carnival for fifth and sixth grade classes, assistance with two Kindergarten celebrations, and volunteers for the Junior Achievement “Biz Town.” Each of these experiences offered an opportunity for our church members to demonstrate the love of Christ through a loving presence and consistent attendance. Each week, when Carolyn Childs and her partner, Martha Sledge, arrived to tutor two second graders, the children ran from the classrooms to greet them. As they left, the children eagerly asked, “When are you coming back?” Helping the children learn to read built their literacy skills and their self-esteem while nourishing our hearts.
As the school year progressed, we learned the school and students had more needs that our “little church with a big heart” could meet. We provided supplies to the kindergarten classes, gift cards to families during the holidays, a new winter coat and gloves for a young girl, certificates for a school-wide Awards Day, TCAP “support bags” (filled with candy, pencil, magic eraser, and a note of encouragement) to all of the third graders, and disinfectant hand wash and Kleenex to the first and second grade classes.
Spending time with the dedicated teachers and staff at Berclair, we discovered these individuals needed our help and support just as much as the students. Throughout the year, we prayed for the teachers and staff, offering prayers for safety, guidance and peace during a year of administrative challenges. We also distributed staff appreciation bags, travel mugs for teachers (in partnership with Shepherding the Next Generation) and lots of snacks for everyone during the beginning and end of the school year. These easy-to-execute expressions of gratitude and support were a meaningful way for our church to celebrate the gifted and committed team at Berclair. By showing the students, teachers and staff how much they matter to our community and our church, our church expressed the love and hope of Christ in real and relevant ways.
We thank God for the opportunity to be in ministry with the students, teachers and staff of Berclair Elementary. This life-changing ministry has changed the outlook of our church. Through our partnership, we have witnessed the power of what God can do through people who are willing. We have discovered invaluable insights about our community, the issues facing inner-city schools, and the importance of being the Body of Christ through collaborating with other churches and Christian organizations.
As a faith community, we pray our presence and partnership has reminded the children and staff of Berclair that they are supported and loved by that “church with a big heart down the street.” All of us look forward to another year as we make a difference in the lives of the students, staff and teachers at Berclair. We are one of the 72, offering Christ to a hurting world through love and literacy.
Bikes, Backpacks, and Water Bottles Bring Joy to Elementary School
I recently met with our new school partner, George A Whitten Elementary School, to discuss different ways to serve the school and students as we try to live out the challenge of being the 72. During our meeting, we mentioned items to donate such as backpacks, school supplies and “prizes” to help in their behavioral enhancement program. Unfortunately, the school couldn’t really afford larger prizes, so kids could only purchase trinkets no matter how many behavioral “dollars” they had acquired. I suggested they needed something big the kids could aspire to receive—like a bike. While they thought the idea was a good one, they told me the school could never afford to purchase such a prize. I left our meeting eager to find the school a bike.
Later that week, we received a rather strange call from a local business saying they had 28 bikes; including 14 youth and children’s bikes, and wanted to donate them. Earlier in the week, we had asked for one bike and now we were blessed with 28. God was at work!
Davis Taylor, one of our church members, volunteered to pick up the donated bikes and found something else when he arrived to get them:
“We, Good Shepherd UMC, were planning to pack a bunch of backpacks with school supplies. At the same time, a local business donated bikes for a behavioral incentive program. I volunteered to pick them up. When I arrived, the donor asked if we needed anything else, and opened a box near the bikes. Inside were backpacks and in other boxes were school supplies; the exact items we’re going to pack at church! There were 70 backpacks, several boxes of school supplies, and almost 1,000 plastic water bottles. Our God is an amazing God. All it takes is a little faith!” God was at work—again!
In addition to the bikes and backpacks, our church also wanted to provide water bottles for students to keep at their desks. Shortly before we ordered them, God showed up and provided the 200 bottles we needed, plus 800 more! God at work—another time!
While at Whitten Elementary, we also discovered that some children didn’t have proper shoes to wear, especially during the winter months. At the same time, our 1st-3rd graders were collecting shoes for another project. In an instant, we reallocated 24 pairs of those shoes to the school. The guidance counselor was overwhelmed by this donation as she reminded us of the many needs children have beyond school supplies. God was at work, still!
We are one of the 72—We started by going to our local schools and asking how we could help. Then God directed our path, and we faithfully did what God was calling us to do. When we started I didn’t know where this journey would go, and now I can’t believe where God has taken us.
Rev. Jeremy Squires, Pastor
- Find a local school. Use ZIPskinny to access local school demographics.
- Interview the principal or guidance counselor.
- Ask how your church can serve them. What needs to they have?
- Gather a team and pray about their requests.
- Choose one thing to do, and do it!
- Listen to God along the way.
- Share your story.
Discover more about being a sent congregation. To access the Send training components in Dropbox, click here.
Share your Send story at [email protected].