MCDOWELL, Ky. — “Thanks so much! If it weren’t for the GAP Christmas store, my children wouldn’t have anything at Christmas.”
Volunteers from South Gate Baptist Church, Springfield, heard these words several times from parents during a mission trip to Eastern Kentucky to serve with God’s Appalachian Partnership.
“It’s such a poor, impoverished area,” South Gate minister of
missions Debbie Yocom said. “We’re always met with gratitude for coming and helping…. People just seem glad we came.”
Eight South Gate volunteers made another trip Dec. 5-11 in a string of mission experiences that stretch back to 2001. A former church couple had been involved with the GAP and recommended it to the Springfield church. “We’re always looking for mission trip opportunities,” Yocom said.
That first year, South Gate planned to assist with backyard vacation Bible schools. But the area flooded and the team pitched in to assist with cleanup, instead.
In 2004, GAP coordinators Lynn and Angie Wagoner participated in South Gate’s missions conference. The church has sent teams every year since then.
At the Christmas Store, volunteers sort Christmas boxes, similar to the shoebox gifts collected and distributed through Operation Christmas Child, toys and other items by age. Because the ministry relies on donations, several South Gate members contributed funds to purchase items to stock the store.
As donations came in, Yocom’s team would go shopping to restock shelves with items for infants through teens.
Each volunteer assisted parents with their purchases, pointing to the appropriate age section. “We were there to serve them,” South Gate member Sherie Cooke said, including volunteers to carry parcels to parents’ cars.
And the South Gate team always looked for ways to witness. “We helped the parents…and in the process looked for opportunities to share Jesus Christ with them,” Yocom said. “We asked for prayer needs and were able to pray with some of them.”
“It was the best way to kick off Christmas for ourselves,” Cooke added.
The Kentucky trips are part of South Gate’s overall missions effort. For nine years, church members have ministered at a camp in Macomb, Ill. It maintains partnerships with two churches in Belarus. The congregation serves a meal each month at Bridge of Faith Church in Rockaway Beach, and assists an elementary school in Nixa.
In 2010, pastor Nolan Carrier will attend the dedication of the Baptist House of Mercy, a senior care facility in Belarus. Yocom will make a vision trip to Russia. The adult choir will minister in Mexico, and a team will return to Kentucky in December.
“We all can be involved in missions,” Yocom said. “The end result is we want to show Christ’s love.”