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Area churches find ways to give to their communities

By Megan Whitworth
Dec. 26, 2015 at 2 a.m.

Latter-day Saint missionaries and church members work together to rake leaves  and clean up church member Nell Jones'  yard Wednesday morning. From left to right, Ryan Anderson, Tyson Anderson, Tezarea Derry, Jason Anderson, Kolton Brown, Tanner Cottle and Ruth Bushman.

Ruth Bushman grabbed a pile of leaves as she placed them in an empty garbage bag. She and fellow church members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were finishing raking the yard Wednesday of elderly church member Nell Jones in Longview.

Bushman is a missionary for the church from Salt Lake City, Utah, and is serving an 18-month term in the Texas Dallas Mission.

When she heard Jones needed help cleaning up her yard, she called other missionaries in the area along with church members to help Jones.

"We are just helping out with a neighbor in our ward for our church. It's a big project. She has a big yard," Bushman said.

The service project is among numerous others in the area this holiday season headed by church members.

"Today, we are giving Christlike service. It's something we don't do just as missionaries, but also as members," said missionary Kolton Baldwin of Cottonwood Heights, Utah, who is serving a 24-month mission. "Not only just to be neighborly but to serve as Christ would do; the example he set for us was to be selfless in helping others."

Baldwin and Bushman also have helped this year, along with other missionaries, with the Salvation Army Angel Tree at the Longview Mall.

"It's fun to see the joy other people have when helping out people in giving presents to others who are without," Bushman said. "It's also fun to give service to elderly people, that even though they may not remember your name or anything you've done, but just that joy.

"We've done simple things, like painting elderly women's nails and stuff like that, and they enjoy it so much."

Both missionaries are away from home for the first time this holiday season.

"No matter where you are, the purpose of Christmas will remain constant," Baldwin said. "It's to become more Christlike, to learn to serve him through serving others."

Lifepoint Church Pastor Brian Shobert said church members recently finished a service project called Buy a Tree, Change a Life Effort, in which they sold Christmas trees.

All proceeds went to help children locally at Buckner Children and Family Places and globally at schools in Israel. Church members also donated 30 Christmas trees to Buckner with decorations, lights and a tree stand.

Lifepoint members also were able to choose from six service projects from Good Gifts Guide, which showcases projects available locally and worldwide this holiday season, Shobert said.

Those projects included giving blood, donating to missionaries serving in Ukraine and purchasing lap throws for resents at Summer Meadows Assisted Living Facility.

"We believe service should be God-led instead of orchestrated a few times a year," Shobert said. "Partnerships with others that cover gaps in our community and worldwide needs are our focus."

Hiway 80 Rescue Mission Executive Director Eric Burger said he has seen many churches giving to the community in many ways this holiday season.

"With our family Christmas party, a lot of that was through toy drives churches did, churches came and sorted through gifts, and some came and volunteered at the program. Every night we have different churches that come and do our services," Burger said. "For a number of years, Grace Crossing Methodist Church will come Christmas morning and make a breakfast and do a Christmas service with our folks.

"Macedonia Baptist Church came and decorated our Women & Family Shelter. Each of our cottages we have, they put lights on them and provided a tree for each family. So every homeless family has a tree for Christmas."

Almost 250 churches are involved in the mission each Christmas, Burger said.

"We are the churches' outreach for the needy, hungry and homeless," he said. "It allows us to share the Christmas message with folks in a real way."

Burger said a special moment for him this holiday season was when a child at the mission's family Christmas party was enjoying the thrill of the holiday and hugging volunteers, and for that moment, the hardships the family had endured, "that kid was enjoying that moment."

Baldwin said area Mormon missionaries always are available to help people in the community and can be reached at (903) 851-5188.

"Our service as missionaries isn't limited. … We are happy to serve any member of our community; we always have hands we are willing to donate to them," Baldwin said. "Christ teaches that when we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are only in the service of our God. So no matter who we are serving, our heavenly Father sees it as we are serving him because he loves us each so much."

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