Harmony churches team up to cheer troops - Word&Way

Harmony churches team up to cheer troops

SEDALIA — As Sedalia’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” parade wound its way along downtown streets on Dec. 4, Project Parachute reminded residents that Pettis County servicemen and women help keep life wonderful in their area.

Many churches and individuals across Missouri honor

Project Parachute, which ministers to military personnel all year, honored a representative from each service branch on a Christmas float. Servicemen standing with "George Washington" (Steve Luckey), center, are, from left, HA Zook (Navy), PFC Jeff Brown (Marines), Staff Sgt. Christopher Phillips (Army National Guard) and A1C Asher Tuttle (Air Force).

and serve the military by sending cards and letters and packages of goodies, especially at holidays. But for some, especially smaller congregations, cost often limits the number of times packages can be sent.

Project Parachute launched in March 2008 when someone suggested to a group of friends that Harmony Baptist Association churches could do more and save money through a coordinated effort. The group enlisted others, and now their efforts touch military personnel, their families and the community.

Individual participants take charge of one aspect of the ministry each quarter, and others assist. For example, Pam Toll — nicknamed “the birthday lady” — usually coordinates mailing birthday cards. Lonnie DeVorss is the current ministry leader.

Shirley Hayworth, a member of Olive Branch Baptist Church, has coordinated efforts with chaplains since the project began. Her husband is a U.S. Army veteran, her daughter retired from the Air Force, and a grandson currently serves with the Navy. Those strong military ties created a passion in Hayworth for the ministry.

“This is just a way I can let them know I care,” she said.

Churches keep Project Parachute apprised of members or family of members who are in the military, providing birthdates, military addresses and information about their families. Ministry participants send them holiday and birthday cards.

At least four times during the year — always at Christmas and Easter — they send a care package to each service person.

Individuals use their skills to create appropriate gifts. Nancy Richmond made handkerchiefs, and Keith Rowland created crosses for active duty personnel and veterans. A group of women made sand and cooling scarves for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others created Christmas stockings. Ladies baked 250 dozen cookies and batches of fudge to help fill holiday boxes.

Churches assist by donating food, personal items and small gifts, including paper, envelopes and pens for servicemen and women to use to write letters home. Bibles are donated or purchased for those who request them. And individuals and churches give funds to cover postage.

In addition, Project Parachute currently communicates with five chaplains and tries to respond as quickly as possible to their requests. The ministry has sent counseling material and supplied Bibles.

Recently, a chaplain requested Christmas lights and other holiday decorations. “I had just bought some new lights a day or two before we received his e-mail,” Hayworth said. She gathered them and other decorations and sent the box.

The past two Octobers, Project Parachute reached out to area military families by providing a carnival for their children.

The ministry keeps community awareness high, as well. It provides updated posters to each Harmony Baptist Association church of all military personnel being served. Churches also can request yellow bows as prayer reminders.

This Christmas, 30 Sedalia businesses are displaying ministry-provided yellow ribbons, each with a small U.S. flag and a card to remind locals to pray for service personnel, DeVorss said.

This year and last, Project Parachute created a float and participated in the community’s Christmas parade. Not only did this year’s entry remind residents of freedom, it also benefited the community. Churches donated canned goods, which formed a Christmas tree on the float and were donated to the Open Door Ministries pantry.