Barbara Barrier never had the desire to go far to serve God.
She was content to remain near her church — Arden First Baptist.
“The Lord just placed it on my heart,” said Barrier after hearing the excitement surrounding a trip to Perry County, Ala.
What started as a youth mission trip to help Sowing Seeds of Hope grew to more than 70 church members in July. The church averages about 200 people on Sunday mornings.
“The people in the church just connected to the needs in Perry County,” said Jeff Porter, Arden’s youth and education minister.
After a scouting trip, Porter said the youth trip turned into something more.
“We were looking for an opportunity where the youth would have to be more involved,” Porter said. “We wanted the youth to have an investment in the trip.”
So, the youth planned the Bible Club and led morning devotionals during the trip. They decided who was going to do each aspect of Bible Club before they even left.
The church was able to do multiple projects with many different skill sets because of the number of people that volunteered to go.
“We tried to touch many different areas of the community,” Porter said.
Porter said they even had a group to prepare meals at a local elementary school, including a bagged lunch for each participant.
“I worked in a thrift store which doesn’t sound like a biggie,” said Barrier, but without air conditioning in July in Alabama, things got uncomfortable fast. “We took all the stuff out of the store (size of a grocery store).”
Her group painted and restocked the store with 500 bags of clothing and linens donated from North Carolina. At $1 per grocery bag the store did brisk business upon re-opening after the group left.
“I guess because I had never been, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said. “The key word was flexible.”
When they first arrived and saw the amount of work to be done in a week’s time, “it was overwhelming,” Barrier said, with the big question, “Where to start?”
Most of the teams were involved in their own projects so did not see the work being done at other sites.
Along with the thrift store, several other projects were completed: one major construction project; three smaller construction projects; a reading program, with 20 children receiving a book bag filled with school supplies; visited two nursing homes; cleaned school cafeteria and library, also hooked up cafeteria washing machine; painted and staffed fitness center; made several hundred phone calls for ministry to confirm needs within Perry County; and held a block party for more than 500 people on the courthouse grounds.
Before leaving for the trip, Porter said the group had three orientation meetings to prepare.
They discussed poverty and race issues and examined “stereotypes that we might bring into that environment,” Porter said.
One of America’s poorest counties, Perry County has a child poverty rate of more than 50 percent and an unemployment rate higher than 10 percent.
The group also toured the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham on the way down.
Barrier, who has been an administrative assistant at the church for 36 years, called Marion, Ala., a city of contrasts, with run-down houses next to finely-maintained, historic homes.
The group stayed on the campus of Judson College near the original sites of Howard College (now Samford University); The Alabama Baptist, the state’s Baptist paper; and the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board).
Barrier, who until this trip had been involved in local missions, now has her sights and prayers focused on returning to Perry County in 2009.
In the meantime, she’ll still help with her church’s ministry providing meals to a local hospitality house and area shelters and with special events like Trunk or Treat.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Sowing Seeds of Hope is a ministry of the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.)