Brian Ford enjoys seeing hope emerge. Hope is one of the reasons he led Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church, Columbia, to return to Helena, Ark. for this year’s All Church Challenge.
Phillips County, where Helena-West Helena is located, is one of 20 of the United States’ poorest counties with whom the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Together for Hope initiative is partnering.
Little Bonne Femme, along with Nashville Baptist Church, Ashland, and First Baptist Church, Sweet Springs, traveled to Helena to participate in a week of the Challenge’s two-week Vacation Bible School-style camp, which included swimming lessons.
According to a report from the CBF of Arkansas, nearly 500 children participated in this year’s camp.
The camp, under several differenc names, took place in the local community park. Children rotated through a variety of stations, including Bible stories, music, crafts, games and swimming lessons. “Six years ago, the swimming pool was a disaster,” said Dee Friel, member of FBC, Sweet Springs.
“The first year, the group worked on cleaning it — getting rid of debris, frogs, etc. and getting it usable.”
Ford said the community had let the pool deteriorate because no one in the neighborhood knew how to swim. Lessons were too expensive for the community members.
During the past five years, the mission blitz has included a swim camp element. Now, Ford said, the camp offers instruction for a variety of levels, since the program includes children who have attended previous years.
The community has become supportive, as well. “Those who participate in Swim Camp have free access to the pool for the rest of the summer,” Ford said. “It’s why they come, but they take in all the other activities while they are here.”
This year, an evening swimming class was added for parents and adult community members, he said.
Karen Sherin, who serves with her husband, Kenny, as interim co-pastor of Nashville Baptist Church, taught in the five-year-old class at Kid’s Camp. “I was amazed at how many of the Bible stories the children already knew,” she said. “It challenged me to ask ‘If we were to plan a kid’s camp in our own communities, like we did in Helena, how many of the children would know the Bible stories like these children do?’”
Sherin’s son, Matthew, participated as a student in another five-year-old class. “I loved that Matthew could participate in the mission projects and activities,” she said. “It is great for families to be able to go ‘on mission’ together!”
This was a first mission trip for members of First Baptist, Sweet Springs. Both Friel and team member Beth Perkins are ready to return. Friel sent an e-mail to CBF of Missouri staff urging other churches to get involved in the Together for Hope projects. “If you don’t participate in one of these missions, please consider participating in another mission trip,” she wrote. “You will be so blessed!”
During the week, children sold their crafts in order to raise money to dig a well in Africa. The initial goal for the campers was $300 over the two weeks. “We are pleased to announce that the kids surpassed everyone’s expectations by raising 720 total dollars,” a report from CBF of Arkansas stated.
Local businesses contributed $1750, during Wednesday night community services $1400 was raised and a love offering from a local partner church, Faith Outreach, added $690.
As a result, two wells will be dug in Zambia, and $560 will go toward sending a local community member to participate in the drilling project, the report said.
The community hopes to raise another $3,500 so they can send two people to Zambia. “Our dreams include the empowering impact of someone from one of the poorest places in America going to another poor country to help them with a life-giving resource,” the report stated.
Ford said he has seen the change in the community firsthand. This was the first year that a church from Helena traveled elsewhere (North Carolina) on a mission trip, he said. “They actually have hope,” he said. “They haven’t had hope in a long time.”
Jennifer Harris is news writer for Word&Way.