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Mississippians send coats to Russian children for Christmas

12/23/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By Woody Woodrick*

JACKSON, Miss. (UMNS) - Nearly 500 Russian children will have a special Christmas thanks to Mississippi United Methodists.

About 20 people from Mississippi will travel to Russia in late December, in time for the Russian Orthodox Christmas season, to deliver coats to the children, who live in five orphanages in the Penza region of Russia.

The project is a cooperative venture between church members in the Senatobia, New Albany and Tupelo districts of the denomination's Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference, who provided funds, and members of Penza's New Life United Methodist Church, who determined coat sizes and made the purchases.

The Rev. Danny Dabbs, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Hernando, Miss., developed the plan and organized the trip, building on the North Mississippi Penza Russia Initiative.

"We've been working since 1995 to start a church in the Penza region of Russia," said Dabbs. The effort culminated in September 2002 with the establishment of New Life church. "The congregation was registered with the city in April," Dabbs added.

Dabbs and the other members of the team - all from the three districts - leave Mississippi Dec. 30. They'll spend New Year's Eve at a hotel on Red Square in Moscow, and then travel to the Penza region.

"We're going to an orphanage each day and have a Christmas party. We'll be singing, and the local folks will dance wearing traditional Russian costumes," Dabbs said.

"I'm looking forward to getting in there and spending five or six hours with the kids. We'll meet administrators and the kids," he added. "We hope that, in some way, the Lord will open a door for us to share Christ from our perspective."

The idea for the coat purchases came from Tom Clark of the West Virginia Volunteers in Mission, he said. Dabbs traveled to Russia in August to get the ball rolling. Fund-raising efforts began in October, when he asked each Sunday school class in the three districts to contribute $25, the cost of one coat.

"Our goal was to raise $12,000," said Dabbs, who has made 11 trips to Russia.

He received little response at first, he said. "I was sweating until about the first week in November."

Then donations began to pour in - nearly $20,000. Dabbs said churches of all sizes have joined the effort. "One of the little churches I first served in Pittsboro sent $25. Some churches sent $4,000 or $5,000."

Coffeeville United Methodist Church contributed $500. "Our people wanted to support this particular mission project because of the work already done in Russia by the team," said the Rev. Billy McCord, pastor. "Coats for Kids' was attractive to us because of our desire to serve kids around the world in every way we can."

With more money than needed for coats, Dabbs is considering how to use the extra funds. His initial plan is to explore and attempt to meet additional needs of the orphanages, or to save any additional funds as a start toward buying coats next year. Team members will make that decision, he said.

"It's amazing the number of checks people sent," Dabbs said. "There's no telling how many different people have bought a coat. My hope is that it turns out to be such a good project that we can do it next year."

He added, "This is really a story about the United Methodist connection. United Methodists put out the call and folks said, 'Let's go.'"

McCord agreed. "It says to us that, through the connectional efforts of the United Methodist Church, we can be in mission in Russia, even if we cannot personally go there ourselves. Together we can serve Christ better than if we try to act alone."

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*Woodrick is editor of the Mississippi United Methodist Advocate, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Mississippi Annual Conference.

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