By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Teachers in three Alabama school systems began the academic year with a little boost thanks to Russell Baptist Association churches.
More than 800 teachers in Russell County, Phenix City and Smiths Station received personalized bags filled with three classroom necessities in an effort coordinated by the association’s Missions Development Team.
The vision of the project was two-fold, said Russell Association director of missions Marty Holley, who took the helm at the association about 18 months ago.
“First, we wanted to build unity between our churches by doing a project together as sister churches,” Holley said. “A lot of our churches do great ministries but have become independently minded rather than pulling together as an association.”
Association leaders also wanted to open the door for better relationships between churches and area schools so teachers and administrators would feel they could reach out when they have spiritual and physical needs.
So the association sent a letter and a survey to area schools and asked teachers to give them a wish list of their top three classroom supplies. The missions team compiled the lists, and 28 of 34 associational churches donated items like hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, colored copy paper and dry erase markers.
On July 26 volunteers set up at three churches — Smiths Station, Summerville and Ladonia — to pray for the teachers and to pack more than 800 bags with each teacher’s top three choices. The personalized bags had a printed message of appreciation to teachers. They also included a card with a special e-mail address and an invitation to use that e-mail to request prayer and share needs throughout the school year.
“The teachers see their students every day and know those that have the greatest needs,” Holley said. “Our vision is that teachers will begin to use that e-mail address to share those needs with us so we can help.”
Holley envisions associational churches providing shoes, coats or other essentials for students in their area as the school year progresses. The teachers don’t have to share the student’s private information — just the need. The association will do the rest.
On Aug. 5 the three churches served as pickup stations for teachers to get their bags and enjoy a few refreshments as they met church members and other teachers.
Summerville pastor Robert Goodman said the teachers who picked up supplies at his church expressed appreciation and even awe at the gifts, especially the fact that each one got exactly the three items they requested.
“One teacher who has been teaching for 25 years said it was the nicest thing that had ever been done for her,” Goodman said. “She was very excited not just about the supplies but about the opportunity to have a vehicle by which she could share prayer requests. We are praying this is the beginning of building a bridge and bringing the church into the lives of the teachers.”
The thank you notes sent to Goodman already show the vision is taking hold. One teacher wrote to say she would “love to have someone come to my room once a month or so to visit for a few minutes with my students.” Another wrote that the expression of love and support was a “great way to start off the new school year.”
Holley said it’s widely known that many teachers take money out of their own pockets during the school year to meet their classroom needs. He called the bags a “jumpstart” and an “excellent way for us to represent our Lord Jesus Christ and show His love by showing appreciation to our teachers.”