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Open hearts, open hands

Upstate three-point charge unites in multi-pronged ministry

By Jessica Connor

MIDDLE TYGER—With chronic pancreatitis and chronic liver damage, every day is a struggle for Debbie Garcia.

She is in constant pain and nausea, and the medications she needs to control her disease cost more than she makes—one of the pills is $300 a month. She is in and out of the hospital at least four times a year, and she works at the only place she can: a low-paying job that leaves her exhausted by day s end.

Enter the Open Hearts, Open Hands Ministry of the Duncan-Startex-Loree Charge of the United Methodist Church.

The multi-pronged ministry of the Upstate three-point charge is doing all they can to care for Garcia, a member of Startex UMC. They are helping her purchase medicine, bringing her food, transporting her to doctors and to work, even helping her get approved for disability.

And Garcia is just one of the many people they are helping.

They’re angels,  Garcia said, her voice ragged with unshed tears. If they hadn’t stepped into my life the way they did, I don t know where I’d be now. 

While still far from health, Garcia is experiencing the sort of hope she thought she d never regain. She is not so tired, and she has put on a few pounds of healthy weight. She knows that one day, she’ll be able to pass on the blessings she has received.

They call me constantly, checking to see if I need anything,  Garcia said of Open Hearts, Open Hands. They’ve got so much love. 

Love, indeed, is the catalyst behind the ministry.

Open Hearts, Open Hands started in January 2010 to meet the real-life needs of people in the Duncan-Lyman-Wellford community. With project names like Jesus Taxi, Feed My Sheep, Prayer Warriors and Handy Helpers, the ministry does all it can to reach out to people and help them in the name of Christ. It helps church members or people in the community directly known by a member.

Help is critically needed in that region. Known as the Middle Tyger area of the Upstate, just west of Spartanburg, the community used to be a thriving textile center. Today, the mills have gone, and the recession has hurt the economy even harder. A lot of people, like Garcia, are in need. Many rely on the local food bank to survive.

The Rev. Robin Griffeth, pastor of the charge, knew her churches had to do something to help their area. The charge is small but active. The largest church, Duncan UMC, has about 40 members, Loree UMC has 30 and Startex UMC has 14 at most. Yet they didn t know each other well.

Vision struck: a broad social outreach ministry could unite the charge in Christ while helping people.

And they are effecting change, one person at a time.

Even though we are such a small group, we ve made a difference in people s lives,  said volunteer Gail Davis.

Peggy Miller agrees: Church is more than some place to come on Sunday morning. To be the church means getting outside the walls and establishing real relationships with our neighbors. 

Before the ministry, when the charge gathered for an event, people would sit in groups segregated by church. Now they all sit together. You can t even tell which table belongs to which church.

I’ve seen three churches coming together to work for one purpose: serving God,  Griffeth said. Now, thanks to Open Hearts, Open Hands, There s cooperation, people are becoming more aware of the needs of others; they are less afraid to reach out, take risks, get involved, go do visitations. We are pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. 

Jesus Taxi

Coordinated by Jo Jewett, the Jesus Taxi ministry ferries people wherever they need to go, within reason: to and from work, to the grocery store or pharmacy, to doctor visits.

The 10 volunteer drivers have a specific schedule, and all have personal insurance with the understanding that it will cover any claims.

We all have cars, we all drive, but when someone doesn t, it s a big deal,  said Open Hearts, Open Hands Chairperson Dianne Redden about the need for the project. It s incumbent on all of us as Christians to make someone s life easier. Because God opened our hearts, we have to open our hands. If you claim you’re a Christian, you put yourself out there and reach out to people. 

The name comes from an experience Griffeth had in Israel. At the Mount of Olives, she kept hearing a man in native garb on a donkey yelling out to the tourists, Jesus taxi! Jesus taxi! Anyone want a ride?  The name stuck with her.

The drivers like to think they are doing what Jesus would have done if he had a car: give a neighbor a lift.

Griffeth said Jesus Taxis help take church out of the pews and into the world: ˆ We ve all received love from God, and that creates in us a desire to reflect that love back to other people. The blessing comes in being a servant. 

Feed My Sheep

Feed My Sheep volunteers bring homemade frozen casseroles, cakes and other items to people who are sick or otherwise in need.

Every two months, volunteers gather at Duncan UMC to cook and store casseroles and other goodies in the church s large freezer. Then, anyone who hears about a need can go to the freezer, sign out the casserole and bring it to someone’s home, thus creating a little cross-ministry in the form of a visitation.

Two favorites: the chicken casserole and the crackly ginger cookies, which are especially good for people going through chemotherapy for cancer; the ginger calms their nausea.

Coordinators Linda Dale and Jackie Moore attend two different churches, but they have become fast friends.

I get very excited about this,  Dale said, laughing with Moore. When they say, “We re going to cook, I go off the deep end. I get as happy as a hog in slop.” 

A canned food ministry has evolved out of the Jesus Taxi and Feed My Sheep efforts. Willis, who is also a driver, serves as an intermediary, collecting canned goods from each of the churches and bringing them to the food bank at Middle Tyger Community Center while driving some of the Jesus Taxi passengers. Since summer, they have donated 125 bags of food.

It s just another way we can touch the larger community,  Griffeth said. We don t have the resources to be a food bank, but we can help this way. 

Prayer Warriors

Coordinated by Gail Davis, the Prayer Warriors lift up to the Lord people who are in need. People who need prayer call Davis, who then calls a leader from each church, who notify their prayer team. Confidential prayer is done individually from there.

Claudia Shults, now a Prayer Warrior herself, was once the recipient of the ministry. She had spiked a dangerous 106.7-degree fever from a septic gallbladder, went into a coma and quit breathing. The three-church prayer team lifted her in prayer.

Shults believes their prayers saved her, and today, she does the same for others.

It felt good, comforting, to know I was being prayed for,  Shults said.

I have no doubt
prayer brought her back from the abyss,  Griffeth said.

Handy Helpers

Handy Helpers sends volunteers to people’s homes to do yard work and minor repairs.

It gives you a good feeling,  said coordinator Scott Dale, who manages to help others even while battling health issues of his own.

Griffeth said the biggest challenge is not having enough able-bodied people to volunteer. Last year, they mowed so many lawns that they couldn t satisfy all the requests.

Open Hearts, Open Hands is self-sustaining, raising operating costs from joint fundraisers like an April yard sale, a harvest fundraiser and a Christmas in July event—another way for the charge to interact while having fun.

All are invited to their yard and bake sale fundraiser, set for April 2 beginning at 8 a.m. at Duncan UMC, 139 W. Main Street, Duncan.

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