New WMU Project HELP focuses on poverty, church connection

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--Woman's Missionary Union's new "Project HELP: Poverty" will connect churches to people's needs, said Randy Pool, coordinator of the Mississippi River Ministry of West Tennessee, who provided an overview of the project during the June 13-14 Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting in Indianapolis.

Through an initiative called Project HELP, WMU identifies a social and moral issue and then ties in national projects to address it over the course of two years.

Kentucky WMU President Cathy Chinn joined Pool in the in-depth look at how Christ followers should respond to help break the cycle of poverty, the focus of Project HELP from 2004 to 2006.

"How much do you love Jesus?" Chinn asked participants during a national WMU workshop. "Because the amount of love you have for Him determines how much you love others."

Project HELP: Poverty will use the recently published book "Breaking the Cycle: Issues Affecting Poverty" by Cathy Butler as its primary resource. In addition to addressing the issue of poverty, the book pulls together information from previous WMU "Project HELP" topics, such as hunger, AIDS, cultural diversity, literacy and restorative justice, into one resource.

The project will use the Christian Women's Job Corps definition of poverty: "The condition of a person lacking financial resources to provide for adequate diet, housing, clothing, health care or transportation for themselves or their family."

WMU will encourage churches to adopt local, national and international action plans during the next year, ranging from one-time, short-term or ongoing projects to donating a bag (or box) of food, a book and a Bible, to participating in or giving to humanitarian aid projects in Mexico, which is the International Mission Study country this year.

During the workshop, Pool suggested a variety of projects in support of the program, including getting involved in local ministry efforts.

"Take a look at your community and find out what they need. The needs will be different in every community," he added.

National WMU leaders told participants that suggestions for projects will be gathered from various sources and posted on the Volunteer Connection section of WMU's website at www.wmu.com/getinvolved/ministry/volunteer/.

In another workshop during the Indianapolis meeting, titled "Involving Preschoolers in Project HELP: Poverty," Joye Smith said, "People tend to think of poverty as something distant. But one in five children in the United States is poor, so there is a high likelihood that you'll have children in poverty situations in your church."

Smith, the national WMU preschool ministry consultant and author of the children's book "What Does It Mean to Be Poor?" told participants, "You can help your preschoolers understand that they can help."

She said poverty affects women and children in particular. Statistics on poverty include many working parents, many of whom are single parents, and many of those are women. One in three children will be poor at some point in childhood, she said.

"It's something that affects every race and all ethnic groups," Smith pointed out. She suggested five ways to get preschoolers involved in Project HELP: Poverty.

First, help preschoolers see the needs of people, she said. Workers can use simple explanations to talk about those needs. For example, to emphasize a need for transportation, discussion can turn to how someone could get to church if they did not have a car.

Next, she said to let preschoolers know God loves everyone, no matter what their needs are. Leaders should emphasize He doesn't only love those who have financial means.

Third, poverty affects all races and all ethnic groups.

"It is not something that happens only in faraway places," she reminded workshop participants, "but something that happens right in our own towns and in places close to where we live."

Fourth, Smith said to use Bible thoughts to help preschoolers see God wants them to share with and help others.

"Sharing what we have," Smith said, "is a concept that is difficult for preschoolers but one that is important in our world."

Finally, she told WMU participants to be sensitive as they work with preschoolers who may come from low-income situations themselves.

"Be sure they don't feel left out because they can't contribute to projects or feel that discussion is focusing on them," she cautioned.

"Many children who live in poverty may not be aware they are poor until they start school. It's important to let all the preschoolers know that everyone can help."

Suggested activities for preschoolers to help others include:

-- Bringing canned goods for distribution to shelters or to community families.

-- Putting stickers on canned goods in the church's food pantry.

-- Adopting a low-income family to help with their needs.

-- Taking children to shelters to sing songs or act out skits.

-- Decorating paper bags used to distribute food from the church's food pantry.

-- Collecting hygiene items for shelters and putting together hygiene kits in Zip-lock bags.


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