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Back to school means back to backpacks for church ministries

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A child at Legacy Commons in suburban Atlanta chooses her backpack filled with school supplies. Nearly 200 backpacks were distributed July 27-28 through Mission Service Corps missionaries Cornelia and Keith Harrell. JAN WESTBURY/Index

With Georgia school systems now in pretty much full swing, churches statewide are moving into ministry modes that provide a Christian witness for children as well as their parents.

In central Georgia just north of Forsyth, First Baptist Church of Barnesville gathered school supplies along with other church and civic groups for children beginning their Fall term.

Kristi Miller

Children’s Minister Kristi Miller said the church joined with the Lamar County Family Connection Collaborative to provide school supplies last week. The non-profit organization is part of a 159-member network that seeks to improve the quality of life for children and families.

The church provided 300 markers and 300 glue bottles as part of the collaborative’s goal of distributing 300 backpacks.

Miller said the involvement allowed First Barnesville to tell its story with the community and build visibility for its ministries.

A place of comfort and opportunity

“We were able to tell them about our upcoming Fall Festival and Upward Basketball program that begins in October. Children and their parents may not visit us on Sunday morning, but we feel that is a good first step for them to come for another activity," Miller pointed out.

“We want to help them become comfortable being here.”

Keith Harrell begins to distribute backpacks with help from two of the children in the apartment complex. JAN WESTBURY/Special

She added that it is an opportunity “to love on our kids and our community by being involved with this back-to-school emphasis.”

Further south in the state, members of churches in Summerhill and Merritt associations drove five hours on Friday to distribute 610 backpacks for needy children in Appalachia. The churches – which are also very involved in the Christmas backpacks ministry coordinated through the Georgia Baptist Mission Board – distributed the materials through Mountain Ash Baptist Church in Williamsburg, KY.

“We began giving away the backpacks at 1 p.m. on July 29 and were finished by 2:30 p.m. I wish you could have seen the excitement in the faces of the children,” said Director of Missions Curt Hampton.

The most worthwhile part of the 10-hour roundtrip drive was the 21 professions of faith that occurred at the end of the day, he added.

Cornellia Harrell, left, and husband Keith stuff backpacks for Friday's distribution. JAN WESTBURY/Special

'Parents were just begging ...'

In Gwinnett County, Cornelia and Keith Harrell distributed a record-breaking 193 backpacks to children in the Legacy Commons apartment complex in Tucker. The couple serve as Mission Service Corp missionaries through the North American Mission Board.

Two years ago the Harrells distributed 85 backpacks and expected 120 for this year’s outreach. But when the list quickly filled up they expanded the number to 144 and it continued to grow.

“Parents were just begging and begging to be placed on the list,” Keith Harrell explained.

Double the response

Members of Mountain Park First Baptist Church, where the couple are members, provided the backpacks for the needy children.

“We wanted to be sure the backpacks had the proper materials that the children were going to need rather than just generic supplies. So we asked Nesbit Elementary and Lilburn Middle School for their back to school supplies list for incoming students,” she said.

Children lined up 90 minutes before backpack distribution at Mountain Ash Baptist Church in Williamsburg, KY. CURT HAMPTON/Special

Individuals and Sunday School classes at the Stone Mountain church did the rest.

“The number we were able to give away surpassed our wildest dreams,” Keith Harrell noted. “We never thought we would have more than double the response of just two years ago.”

The couple use the giveaway to attract even more children to their nine-year-old ministry known as The Table Mission. That’s where they provide after school tutoring and help with homework in the complex’s leasing building. The large, private upstairs room provides the perfect setting for the ministry, Cornelia Harrell explained.

The ministry offers refreshments as the couple tell Bible stories during the afternoon gatherings, “trying to teach Bible truths and good moral values. We are trying to sew gospel seeds in their young lives that will take root for eternity.”

The team from Summerhill Association prepares to distribute backpacks in Kentucky on July 29. CURT HAMPTON/Special

In June, Rockbridge Baptist Church provided 50 Lunches of Love every Monday for the children who did not receive meals through the closed school system. The church provided 200 meals during the month, which the Harrells distributed to latchkey children.

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