By Trennis Henderson
APPLING — Countless refugees around the world often cope with adverse weather conditions and inadequate shelter as they navigate hostile environments or endure crowded refugee camps. Inclement weather during Kiokee Baptist Church’s recent International Mission Study gave dozens of children an impromptu object lesson as they splashed from tent to tent amid a steady downpour.
The wet, rainy Saturday morning failed to dampen the impact of the refugee mission study attended by almost 100 children and leaders from seven area churches. As they gathered at Pine Knoll Farms in Appling, the children learned that refugees generally need such basic necessities as food, shelter, blankets, shoes, and medicine as well as the Gospel of Christ.
Providing area youngsters a hands-on glimpse of missions has been a key focus for event organizer Patty Blanton for years. Blanton, who taught Girls in Action (GA) at Kiokee Baptist Church when her own children were young, has continued to coordinate the church’s annual International Mission Study. In recent years, she has hosted the study at Pine Knoll Farms, her family’s spacious working farm and event venue.
Blanton and other volunteers spend weeks planning and transforming her farm into the featured country or people group being studied each year, including converting the façade of the farm’s event barn into Moscow’s Red Square for the previous year’s study of Russia. The painted onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral stood in striking contrast to Magnolia Barn’s more typical use as a setting for wedding receptions. Other studies have helped bring to life mission work in such diverse settings as China, Indonesia and Norway.
“I just really love doing it,” Blanton explained. “I want to make it an experience and not just going to a study and learning about a country. I want them to kind of feel some of it.”
For the refugee study, tents set up to represent a refugee camp included the event’s registration area, a study of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa who make their way to Greece and a crafts tent featuring tie-dying T-shirts as a memento of the study. Other activities included painting Grecian bowls, watching a skit and videos about refugee ministry, and hearing a mission study about ways to pray for and minister to refugees.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, more than 68 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced from their homes, including more than 25 million who officially are classified as refugees. Among refugees around the globe, more than half are under age 18.
In preparation for each year’s international mission emphasis, National Woman’s Missionary Union produces a variety of teaching guides and related resources to help leaders plan and prepare for the study. Noting that “the current global refugee crisis is a humanitarian disaster,” resources available at wmu.com encourage leaders to “provide children with an understanding of refugees and practical ways they can help.”
Citing the need for participants to grasp the plight of refugees, Blanton emphasized, “I hope that they will understand about refugees and that it is not something that the majority of these people can really help. … Whether you’re in a foreign country or here, it’s a major issue that people have to welcome strangers into their homes to help them from whatever disaster or situation that’s beyond their control.”
Planned hot air balloon rides for the children were scuttled due to the weather, but the rest of the morning went on as planned. Organizers even moved the rented balloon’s gondola into Magnolia Barn for the children to climb into and pose for photos. They also received paper hot air balloons to take home that had adorned the barn for the study.
Susan DeFoor, a member of Damascus Baptist Church in Appling, is among volunteers who work alongside Blanton each year. “Patty and I grew up together and we went to GAs,” she reflected. “My mother was the GA leader.”
Noting that “we were very into missions at an early age,” DeFoor added, “My sister, Jane, and I have carried that on in our church and Patty has carried that on at Kiokee. She’s been gracious to include us when she does the international study. … She has such a beautiful place here and she is so generous to share that with everybody.”
Affirming the impact on the children who participate in the mission study, DeFoor said, “I think it’s really, really important for them to get it at an early age and to understand about missions and missionaries and not just what they do, but how they themselves can be a missionary. We talk about that. We try to make it personal. We try to talk about it a way that makes it so that they can apply it to their lives.”
DeFoor’s sister, Jane Wells, a Mission Kids leader at Damascus Baptist Church, also is deeply committed to helping children learn about, pray for and support missions on a personal level.
“Our ultimate goal as parents, grandparents, leaders, church leaders as we’re teaching young children is to develop a desire in their hearts to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Wells explained. “I think the kids need to see that Jesus is very real and He comes to different people through different ministries.
“The beauty of these international mission studies is it brings it alive for these children. It makes it very real for them,” she added. “They’re open to seeing what this big world is all about and how they can play a part in it.”
Many of the children who grow up attending the International Mission Study go on to become personally involved as mission volunteers and supporters, Blanton noted. For all of the children who attend, she added, “I would hope that they would just be aware of missions or even just praying for the missionaries. If I do all of this work and I got everything ready and one child showed up, that’s good enough for me.”
As the tangle of kids made their way through the rain to waiting cars and church vans with their tie-dyed T-shirts, painted Grecian bowls and souvenir hot air balloons, it was clear that Blanton and her team once again had made a memorable impact for the sake of the gospel and global missions.
Trennis Henderson is a national correspondent for WMU.