by Julie Walters
(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) – Nov. 11, 2014 – When Helen Henley, a member of Sunrise Baptist Church in Midland, Mich., heard Missionsfest would be in Toledo, Ohio, she “felt it was too close not to be a part.”
Henley was familiar with the city and the three-hour drive since her son had attended the University of Toledo in 2000–2004. He lived in downtown Toledo until 2007, just a few blocks away from her ministry assignment.
“I had visited the area before, but had not really been in the neighborhood,” Henley said. “I saw the city life that most people want to avoid seeing, but felt welcomed by those we spoke to and worked with.”
In the midst of an unseasonable cold snap, Henley was one of 77 volunteers from 11 states who served Oct. 1–5 in Toledo during Missionsfest. Ministries in the Toledo area and also in Defiance, Ohio, provided a unique opportunity for volunteers to serve in both rural and urban settings. Missions volunteers served each day doing construction, hosting a number of block parties, prayerwalking, evangelism/outreach efforts, and teaching English to international college students.
Rosann Lafata, a volunteer from Warren Woods Baptist Church in Warren, Mich., worked with Hope of Glory Church by going into their neighborhood and inviting area residents to a gathering on Sunday at the church. The assignment was something Lafata hadn’t done before and was a little outside her comfort zone.
“In the area we were in, at first I was kind of leery about approaching the houses,” she said, “but within a few minutes, that all changed for me. I don’t know who benefits more spiritually . . . the volunteers or the people we help.”
Sue Stickel, Ohio WMU vice-president, saw several benefits from Missionsfest from the perspective of a local leader.
“Missionsfest in Ohio helped to show our people they can do missions right where they live,” Stickel shared. “It doesn’t have to be hard, and there is a missions field right in your backyard.”
Stickel said a highlight for her was seeing how the pastors of the areas are serving God out of love for the people and wanting them to know Christ. “There were some rough areas to serve in,” she said, “but it didn’t stop anyone. Everyone worked together well.”
Teresa Bailey, WMU director for the Northwest Ohio Baptist Association, also saw several benefits.
“Missionsfest brings the people of God together in one accord to minister by using various skills to meet needs of churches and communities and make new friendships,” Bailey said. “It is a great opportunity to form future connections for missions work and to give area communities and churches a boost of encouragement as His people work together for one common goal—sharing Jesus!”
Cathy Pound, executive director of Ohio WMU and a member of Spring Hills Baptist Church in Granville, expressed gratitude for all the volunteers. “I am thankful because our brothers and sisters in Northwest Ohio are blessed with new friends, new partners, and new hope!” Pound shared.
Jeff Woolum, pastor of First Baptist Church, Perrysburg, Ohio, said, “The joy brought to one of our families, a single mom who is blind with two teenage girls, by the work done on her house cannot be described. (The volunteers brought) encouragement after encouragement.”
Missionsfest is a hands-on missions experience for volunteers 18 and older. This Missionsfest was a partnership between Northwest Ohio Baptist Association, Ohio WMU, and national WMU.
Visit wmu.com/trips for opportunities to serve in 2015. Already lined up are myMISSION: New York, May 22–25, for collegiate and young women; and Familyfest in Indianapolis, July 18–22, recommended for volunteers age 6 and older. It is ideal for families, adult teams and student teams.
Like many Missionsfest volunteers, Henley is ready for more opportunities to serve.
“I enjoyed seeing the larger body of Christ serving together and learning about the work in an area other than where I live,” she said. “I plan to share the information about Familyfest in Indianapolis in 2015. That is about six hours away for me, and too close not to go!”