First Celebrate Jesus Mission in Georgia a huge success
By ALLI SIMPSON
The congregation of Smyrna’s Bethany UMC chose to move out of its comfort zone, with the help of 15 lay missionaries from Florida and North Carolina by hosting the first Celebrate Jesus Mission (CJM) in Georgia in July.
A few months after Bethany committed, Crosspoint Presbyterian Church also came on board, and both churches embraced the heart of what CJM is all about: to spread the love of Jesus.
The missions were started in Florida in 1999, and have become an instrument to form communities out of local churches and their neighborhoods. Numerous churches in a geographical area conduct acts of kindness, offering God's love in practical ways to their neighborhoods. They take Jesus’ command to “GO” (Matthew 28:19) quite literally, and the missions are changing the hearts of the people in unbelievable ways.
The CJM consisted of three major components. The first was to reach out to the neighbors within a five-mile radius of the church and give them a gift with no strings attached. During the week, church members and guest missionaries knocked on the doors of more than 4,000 homes. Sometimes the residents answered and sometimes not. And sometimes the person who answered the door was friendly and sometimes they were not. However, in the majority of instances, once the person who opened the door realized that he or she was not being asked for anything and in fact, was being given a gift, they became very responsive.
In addition to a gift, each household received an invitation to a free block party and the opportunity to make prayer requests. The Bethany family was amazed at the willingness of neighbors to share their prayer requests; the intimate details of their lives and the hardships many of them faced.
In one instance, the missionaries happened to ring the doorbell of a family who had just received news that some of their relatives had been in a serious car accident in Texas. God had sent the missionaries to that door at that moment to be there, to share the family’s tears, and to pray. And there are many, many more instances of God working to have the missionaries knock on the door of people who needed His comfort and his Grace.
The second component was to reach out to neighbors where they live and work, acting as the hands and feet of Jesus, by performing random acts of kindness. These random acts included cleaning the restrooms of local businesses, handing out bottles of water and bus fare at bus stops, a free car wash by the youth, handing out free ice cream in front of the church and hot dogs and popsicles at local pools, and 5,000 homemade cookies delivered to local fire stations, hospital waiting rooms, doctor and dentist offices and hospices.
The youth visited with the homeless under the bridges and made 1,400 sandwiches for MUST summer lunch programs. One of the most touching moments during these acts of kindness occurred during a visit to a local nursing home, where the young people gave massages and manicures to the residents and the adults sang for the residents and the staff.
While the adults were singing, a young girl who had been massaging a residents hands, took a prayer request card over to the resident, listened intently, carefully filled it out, and then she and another young boy joined hands with the elderly woman, and prayed right then and there. That was a beautiful moment, and that is just one of the hundreds of “God sightings” that occurred.
The third component was really the culmination of the entire week. This was a huge, free block party, held on Friday evening, to which every member of the community was invited. The party featured food, inflatable activities for the kids, a rock-climbing wall, a live band and lots door prizes. This block party was attended by an estimated 2,000 guests, who came even though there were severe storms in the area.
For the majority of the party, the rains drove everyone inside, and at first, Bethany members were disappointed that so many of the outdoor activities were not being enjoyed. However, that disappointment soon turned to joyous wonder because the rain actually forced everyone indoors, where there was more interaction than there would have been otherwise. Everyone was enjoying the food, and mingling with each other. Music from the band upstairs and the impromptu DJ downstairs had people of every age, race, religion etc., dancing, talking and genuinely having a great time.
Other highlights of the week were the Wednesday mid-week celebration held at Vinings Baptist Church, where the missionaries from Bethany and Crosspoint got together and enjoyed praise music, had the opportunity to share some of their experiences, and to hear an uplifting sermon. After that celebration, the Bethany members surprised the guest missionaries with a candlelight serenade as they returned to the church.
On Saturday, a wrap-up celebration was held during which everyone enjoyed more praise music, more stories of the mission were shared, and the Bethany members bid farewell to the guest missionaries. Then on Sunday, a huge Celebration service combined both traditional and contemporary worship components; the praise band played, the choir sang, visitors were warmly recognized and welcomed and members shared their experiences of the entire week.
No words can describe the experience of hosting a Celebrate Jesus Mission. The degree to which people in the community were touched and changed is only a fraction of the degree to which the people of Bethany and Crosspoint were affected. During the week, the spark of desire to spread the love of Jesus throughout Smyrna and the surrounding areas became a roaring fire and the commitment to continuing this mission is VERY strong.
The doors of the churches have been thrown open and the people are coming. Bethany’s goal is to continue to reach out to her neighbors, to continue to be a place of open minds and open hearts, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
Bethany would like to extend an invitation to any and all Methodist churches in Georgia to host a Celebrate Jesus Mission. Sharing the love of God with your neighbors is so much easier than you can imagine and the blessings that you receive are beyond any your wildest dreams.