Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mindy Goes to a Missionary Meeting

Women’s Missionary Service at The Bridge Church, Fresno, California
I’m not much of a “women’s gatherings” kind of person. If I can avoid a women’s gathering, I will -- unless it involves missionaries. I’m all in for missionaries. So when a day off from work coincided with the monthly meeting of WMS at The Bridge, I made a salad, packed my scissors, and grabbed a cotton sheet...more about that in a minute.

The meeting room was full of activity when I arrived a few minutes after 9:00 am. At least ten women were already at work on various projects; others were getting coffee, and hot water (and ice water) ready. I put my salad on a table next to a box of home-grown grapes before going to a woman standing between a sign in sheet and an offering basket.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m new.”

She welcomed me and had me write my name, email address, and birthday at the bottom of the attendance sheet. I forgot to ask about the offering basket, but when I asked what the different projects were, she pointed to a table where women were working on items for Samaritan’s Purse (I think for Operation Christmas Child, but I’m not sure); another where cotton sheets would be torn into strips, then sewed and rolled into bandages for a hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One table was covered with card stock, colored pictures, decorative doodads, glue, and scripture passages for making cards. In one corner, a woman was tying a quilt stretched on a rack in preparation for binding. One long table held several sewing machines, where the bandage strips were sewed. Another table held fabric donated for quilt-making, and women were choosing fabric for the quilts they’d sew at home.

I left my sheet for the workers at the bandage table, and asked if I could help tie off the quilt. Another woman joined us and helped me find the right needle and a threader. When we sat down, they asked if I’d ever tied a quilt before. I said I had, but I noticed that this quilt was tied differently than the one I’d worked on with my sister thirty years earlier. They showed me what to do, and with someone on each of the four sides of the crib-sized quilt, we had three quilts tied in about an hour.

By then, donuts and coffee were out, and when a newcomer asked if she could join the quilt-tying group, I was happy for an opportunity to try another project. After getting a cup of coffee, I found an empty chair at the card-making table, where one of the projects was making scripture cards for students in an area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with little infrastructure and few possessions. These cards, with their scripture passage in Lingala and artwork cut from pretty greeting cards, are treasured by many of the students. After about half an hour, we’d made all the cards we could, and I moved back to the table where two women were making bandages.

One woman wanted to help set up for lunch, so she showed me how to use the bandage roller (yay!). The other woman at the table was also visiting WMS for the first time; her neighbor, a regular part of the group, had invited her to come. While I tried to keep my bandage rolled neatly, she and another woman chatted as they put away fabric to be torn and rolled at the next meeting.

Long before I finished rolling my bandage, the speaker and her husband had arrived and wandered back to our table as they looked at the various projects. Rachel’s been a missionary in the Congo for years; her husband, Gilbert, is Congolese. I wanted to ask her about the Evangelical Free Church’s child sponsorship program, and in the course of our conversation, she mentioned that she’d been in language school with Dean’s sister and brother-in-law, and that when Daryl and Carol were in the Congo last year, they’d stayed with Rachel and Gilbert. (I later learned that one of our nieces was named for Rachel). While we talked, the bandage roll was finished and all around the room, tables were being readied for lunch.

After some group photos and a prayer around the tables full of salads, we sat down to eat, and several women joined the group for the meal and to hear what Rachel had to tell us about her work.

Rachel is a missionary with ReachGlobal, serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near Tandala Hospital (where she was a nurse prior to the Second Congo War at the end of the 20th century. Now, she’s the contact for White Cross Ministry, a service branch of the Evangelical Free Church that provides cotton bandages and other hospital supplies to Tandala Hospital, along with supporting health and education work in an area with dirt roads that flood easily, less than spotty phone coverage, huge obstacles to education, and deep needs. Rachel is a liaison in country for the Global Fingerprints child sponsorship program.

I’ve always loved a good missionary slide show, and though brief, Rachel’s was compelling. Her husband, Gilbert, drives the truck that brings supplies to the hospital. Through the work of White Cross, people in the hospital and its clinics have access to the materials they need. Global Fingerprints provides a pathway for children and teenagers (and their families) to have needed medical care, food, hygiene supplies, and educational opportunities that otherwise don’t exist.

I get pretty excited about people helping each other. I get very excited about concrete, practical, simple projects that help and also bring people together. When those things also provide a way to show people the love of Christ, I start losing the words to talk about it.

Earlier this week, we shared Paige’s post about church gatherings that are scheduled in such a way that many women can’t attend. This was one of those the group of nearly 50 women, I saw one or two in their 30s or 40s as we worked on projects, and a couple more came just for the lunch and Rachel’s talk.

Church, there’s no need for missions to be just for women. Certainly, it’s not something only older women care about. How can we do better?