At the start of each summer, Church Street participates in a special hands-on mission project in conjunction with the Holston Conference. In an unprecedented year, the need was greater than ever, and the task more challenging than ever.
Within the Holston Conference, projects in Liberia and Zimbabwe are supported by the fulfillment of buckets full of food and school supplies. For the past two years, Church Street has supported the Zimbabwe-based project Ishe Anesu, which is designed to provide education to under-resourced children. This is accomplished through the payment of school fees and the purchase of required school uniforms, books and stationery.
“American schools are funded by the state,” Associate Pastor Rev. Palmer Cantler says. “Many public schools in African countries are not free and require families to pay for the education of their children.”
The Ishe Anesu project also offers Christian education and values, family and social ethics and recreation while providing two meals a day. Those meals are supported in part by the Church Street congregation.
In the two years Church Street has supported Ishe Anesu, Rev. Cantler has set a goal of fulfilling 50 food buckets. In 2019, the Tennessee Valley region of the Holston Conference sent 716 buckets to Zimbabwe. So far in 2020, 220 buckets have been sent.
Each bucket is filled with 1 bag (4-5 lb.) sugar; 1 bag (4-5 lb.) self-rising flour; 1 bag (2 lb.) rice; 1 bag (2 lb.) dried beans; 1 powdered milk (10 oz. or less); 1 box (18 oz. or less) quick/instant oats; 1 bottle (48 oz. or less) cooking oil; 1 box (50 count or less) Splenda/sucralose; and canned ham (2 lb. total).
The 5-gallon bucket must be packed strategically, Rev. Cantler says, because if one thing is off, it can be flagged by customs on its way to Zimbabwe and the whole shipment could be delayed.
Before the pandemic, buckets would sit in the breezeway of the church, waiting for members to take them home and fill before returning on a specific day, or members could support the project financially. Volunteers would then check each bucket to ensure that each was packed correctly before sealing with a lid and loading for shipment.
But as time for the annual hands-on project approached in 2020, Rev. Cantler was unsure of how to move forward with the buckets in a safe way, let alone fill 50 appropriately with a food shortage. Missions chair Katie Heatherly sparked confidence and the team decided to give it a try.
Opting to ask the congregation to support financially, it was nearly a week before the donations from members funded 70 buckets, surpassing the annual goal of 50 buckets in record time.
In addition to the financial giving from members, a church member affiliated with Home Depot learned about the project from the church newsletter and approached the missions team about donating the buckets for packing. Rev. Palmer also connected with a Kroger and Walgreens partner to order the appropriate food. Each partner coordinated the best way to safely order and transport supplies to the church.
Masked and gloved, the missions team packed 70 buckets in one night, working socially distanced in an assembly line style. The buckets were packed and sent off to their recipients in Zimbabwe.
“It was really amazing that we were able to do more,” Rev. Cantler says. But, little did she know when she received the updated numbers the next week that donations for the project had jumped to about $5,000— almost double what was received in the first week.
In addition to learning that donations had far exceeded what she expected, Rev. Cantler felt confident that the team of volunteers could fill the gap caused by COVID-19’s impact on other churches in the Tennessee Valley region. She ordered more food, asked her contact at Home Depot for 50 more buckets and on Saturday, Nov. 7, volunteers packed 50 more buckets. This brings the total for the Holston Conference total to 270.
“I hoped for 30 at the beginning of the year,” Rev. Cantler says. “120? I was astonished.”
This miraculous act of giving by the Church Street congregation reminds Rev. Cantler of her word for the year: Flexibility. Early in 2020, events happened that began to be clear signs that God was showing her how to have flexibility in her life, and the Zimbabwe food buckets are no exception.
“A big lesson in 2020 for me is God is abundant,” she says. “God has continued to show up in abundance and generosity and shown generosity in this congregation.”
What started as a goal of 50 more than doubled, and it created quite the impact on the Ishe Anesu project as founder Maria Sabino Humbane and her team continue to support the immediate needs of the poorest of the poor. They can provide more opportunities for continued growth through vocational training and outreach programs to educate and empower mothers of Ishe Anesu children.
“I just keep praying for abundance and flexibility and staying out of the way,” Rev. Cantler says. “No matter what, God will provide.”
Want to become involved with Missions at Church Street? Learn more here.