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Phone-card campaign for military ‘lights dark valleys’

 


Phone-card campaign for military ‘lights dark valleys’

Nov. 10, 2004

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

When he hands a phone card to a young soldier, United Methodist Chaplain John Morris says: "People who love Jesus Christ made this possible for you."

Phone cards donated by members of the United Methodist Church light up "some awfully dark valleys," says Morris, a major in the Army National Guard. "It is a tangible way to show support and to remind the troops that someone is praying for them."

Since Veterans Day 2003, the United Methodist Endorsing Agency has sponsored a campaign to send phone cards to people serving in the U.S. military all over the world. More than 3 million minutes have been placed in the hands of young men and women so they can call their loved ones without adding to their financial burden.

Churches both large and small, Sunday school classes, Bible study groups and individuals have joined in this campaign to connect military personnel with their families.

A recent donation from Industry (Texas) United Church contained handmade cards from the children in their Sunday school classes. The whole church got behind the project, says the Rev. Patricia Zaiontz-Newcomer. The children’s cards are drawings of their families on the front with the message "This is my Family," and on the inside, each card says, "Keep in Touch with Yours."

"It is lonely and dangerous, and being able to call home lights up some awfully dark valleys," says Morris, stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C. He spent last spring and summer in Iraq and will soon be going to Afghanistan.

Morris knows of some soldiers who have $1,000 phone bills. "When you are risking your life, you shouldn’t have to come home to face such debts."

United Methodist Chaplain Grover C. Glenn III sees the difference the cards make. "These young soldiers are leaving behind wives they may have just married, or families with small children, and their eyes light up when I tell them to ‘call home compliments of the United Methodist Church,’" says Glenn, a colonel in the Army National Guard.

Glenn, stationed at Camp Shelby, Miss., says a young soldier recently asked if he could send the card to his mama. "I gave him a second card and told him to call mama as often as he could get to a phone. I had to turn away because I had tears in my eyes."

In an e-mail to the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, Glenn says about 4,000 soldiers will be arriving from Georgia on Dec. 10. "I know you can’t send 4,000 cards, but please, just send as many as you can."

In August, the endorsing agency started sending packages of phone cards with a message from the United Methodist Church. The special cards feature the United Methodist Cross and Flame and include a recorded prayer: "The people of the United Methodist Church are praying for your safety and sense of peace. Our hearts, our minds and our doors are always open to you." Since August, the agency has been averaging about $7,000 a month in donations, with funds coming from 43 states.

"We have gotten so many calls, letters and e-mails from people in the military saying how grateful they are for getting these cards," says Laura Flippen, coordinator of the program with the endorsing agency. "It is such an important message to let them know the church cares when they are so far from home."

Flippen says 100 percent of the money donated to the office goes to buying phone cards. The United Methodist phone cards cost $4.95 for 120 minutes. Because of limited personnel, the agency does not have the ability to sell phone cards to congregations or individuals.

The agency oversees military chaplains in all areas of service for the church, and it is through the chaplains that the cards are distributed. More than 90 United Methodist chaplains have been involved in the campaign to distribute the cards.

Susie Kasper, administrative assistant at Handley United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, says her church is taking up an offering Nov. 14 to help with the "phone home" campaign.

"My son spent 12 months in Iraq at the beginning," she says. "As a family, we had never gone more than a week without talking to him or longer than a month without seeing him. I just can’t imagine what it would have been like if we had any problems that had to be worked out long distance."

Kasper says her son is home safe, but she knows other sons and daughters are on duty in Iraq and other foreign countries.

"This is such a great thing for the United Methodist Church as a whole to do," she says. "As a parent of a soldier, thank you!"

"That the real message — how grateful the troops and their families are for this ministry," Flippen says.

The United Methodist Endorsing Agency is part of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Cards and donations may be sent to UMEA, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007. The agency also can be reached at umea@gbhem.org or (615) 340-7411.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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