By Carole Kelly
Travel restrictions and canceled trips because of COVID-19 challenged First United Methodist Church’s participation in its 2020 international mission efforts. Plans had to be revised in order to continue the Share the Blessings ministry outreach that connects the church to people in the Republic of Belarus in Eastern Europe and the Central American countries of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
However, the perseverance of dedicated volunteers, both in Clinton and elsewhere, has overcome the discouragement of canceled mission trips and kept a number of efforts on track. Although the teams could not conduct the annual Vacation Bible Schools, a special project was successful through the cooperative efforts of competent contacts and resulted in needed wheelchairs delivered to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in June.
Share the Blessings ministry was formed as a way to complement some of the international mission trips and projects of the First United Methodist Church of Clinton. Bob and Melissa Jackson of Clinton have been volunteering since 2006, making numerous trips and meeting people.
“I have been blessed to be able to travel to other countries on mission trips,” said Bob. “There’s something special about staying in people’s homes and serving that allows you to experience the hospitality and culture more fully than I ever have on a vacation. I now have many strong friendships in these countries. Sigard Monroe, our Nicaraguan coordinator, is one of my very best friends and spiritual mentor.”
Monroe explains, “Here in Nicaragua, we provide meals to the elderly and also help with their medical needs, providing wheelchairs and sharing God’s word with them. Share the Blessings is the instrument God uses to help us. We provide scholarships for young girls whose parents have no way of giving them an education.”
Monroe affirms that it has been a modern day miracle the way God has provided for the ministry, adding, “We serve in the Name of Jesus.” He pastors a church at his home and conducts the non-profit Mercy Plate Ministry, which provides meals and Bible lessons for the elderly. Monroe works as a guide, driver, and translator for humanity and church groups working in his country.
Collecting, packing, completing custom documents for shipping, delivery and distribution demand hours of careful planning to ensure the success of Share the Blessings.
A normal year’s activity includes the wheelchair collection for Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Having sixteen wheelchairs already donated this year, the team met the challenge to ship the chairs in June. The wheelchair mission has been underway for fourteen years. A recent year saw twenty wheelchairs and 2,000 items of clothing shared with Belarus and Nicaragua.
Share the Blessings efforts of different groups across the country strive to achieve goals in basic humanitarian areas, with an intense focus on education.
The local Share the Blessings education support currently includes sponsoring three students: Alina from Belarus is studying for a master’s degree in English at Mississippi College; Ana of Nicaragua is in an optometry school; and Miria is in her last year of school in Nicaragua.
In Belarus, although teams could not conduct Vacation Bible School at two schools this year, sports and playground equipment donated to the schools were available for the children. A local carpenter hired by the ministry is completing the insulating of a foster home in the village of Kazlofka in Belarus. Other efforts include sponsoring foster homes for orphans, partnering with the Belarus Children’s Fund to allow orphans to grow up in a family.
Eyeglasses donated by the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis represent a partnership offering free eye clinics. An eye clinic in a past year involved a team of twelve students and doctors, along with seven volunteers from the Clinton area. The clinic was held in a Methodist church that First United Methodist of Clinton helped to complete in 2014. To continue the eye support, by the close of this month, 4,000 pairs of glasses will be shipped to a Nicaraguan optometry school.
Donations to Mercy Plate in Nicaragua maintain an elderly feeding and discipleship program once a week. Donations also go to the Belarus special needs children association, which covers some one hundred families.
According to a Share the Blessings newsletter, the fourteen-year program “. . . continues to look for and act on the opportunities that God puts in our path where we can be His instrument to make a difference in people’s lives. We seek to be good stewards of resources and use them where the effect is multiplied, to spend $1 and get $10 in return. We achieve the goals via blessings and a commitment to help those in need.”
“Good used wheelchairs are always welcomed,” say the Jacksons. Anyone with a stored wheelchair is urged to release it from the storage and let it be put to good use many miles away. Contact Jackson at email@example.com.