By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
On Saturday, November 6, all of Athens-Limestone has an opportunity to come together and strengthen our community by serving each other. This will occur through a repeat event sponsored by Athens-Limestone Ministerial Alliance (ALMA) in connection with local churches, organizations, businesses, and an international charitable organization called Convoy of Hope. Convoy of Hope was here in 2018, and wonderfully impacted our community — both the “guests of honor” as well as the volunteers. Here are the encouraging results of that outreach: almost 3,000 people served, 900 volunteers involved from 24 churches, 5,000 bags of groceries distributed, 3500 meals served, 153 haircuts given, 220 family portraits taken, 85 veterans served, and 2100 pairs of shoes given out.
Pastor Jason Parnell told me, “The reason Convoy of Hope’s semi-trucks are not able to make the over 500-mile trip from Springfield, MO, to Athens for the 2021 event is due to the organization’s COVID restrictions. Convoy of Hope, however, applauds ALMA for going ahead with the event and is excited to see the generosity of the Athens community taking center stage as local churches, non-profit ministries, businesses, and citizens pull their resources together in order to bring hope to the citizens of Athens and Limestone County.” Pastor Jason also mentioned that the groceries are coming through an organization by the way of One Generation Away out of Huntsville.
By way of history, Convoy of Hope has been serving people in the states as well as abroad since 1994. It was started by a family by the name of Donaldson in order to show gratitude for the way people ministered to them after their father, Harold, was killed by a drunk driver in 1969. Now it is part of the missions focus of the Assemblies of God denomination, and as I sat in the planning meeting held at the First United Methodist Church Youth Building on Jefferson Street, my heart rejoiced over the fact that people of faith from all over our area are coming together in order to work together to build the Kingdom. ALMA’s slogan is “Unity, Community, and Fellowship,” and it was apparent from listening to those involved that they mean what they say. Several of those present were part of the first event, and they are more than eager to do it again. Once again, New Life’s pastor, Jason Parnell was at the helm, and the complicated logistics for an event like this were coming together impressively.
Since Convoy of Hope was formed over 25 years ago, over 100 million people have been helped world-wide. They respond to natural disasters outside our borders as well as within. Thankfully, in Athens currently we are not in the middle of recovering from any disasters, but that does not mean that there are not people all around us needing help. Freddy Leonard, a life-long resident of Athens and member of Lindsay Lane Baptist Church, told me that he had realized in a whole new way how important Convoy’s work is, and is thrilled to be a part once again. I asked both Freddy and Pastor Jason what their favorite part of the 2018 event had been. Freddy quickly replied, “Being inside the prayer tent. Jesus met people.” For Jason, it was what he called the “organic prayer” that was going on all over. People were praying together, and for each other, and no one had to tell them to do it.
The 2021 event is going to be held at Swan Creek Park, 101 Swan Creek Dr. in Athens, beginning at 10 a.m. and going to 2 p.m. Convoy always refers to those who attend the event as “Guests of Honor,” and there will be a number of goods and services available and ready to be distributed. These include groceries, a hot lunch, and free shoes for kids. Other moving memories that the guys shared from the 2018 event was seeing the look on the face of a child who was receiving a new pair of shoes for the first time in his life. The other was a child who had been given a donated pair of eyeglasses who said, “Mama, I can see the leaves on the trees!” There will be COVID and flu shots, blood pressure screenings, dental screenings, and COVID/HIV/Hepatitis C tests. Winter coats will be available, as well as hearing tests and vision screening. There will be representatives who will focus on the needs of veterans, people who can give haircuts, a photographer to take family portraits, and folks who will be ready to pray with and for anyone who asks for it. There will also be employment information for those seeking jobs.
ALMA is still looking for people of all ages to come out and help. If you are interested in volunteering, you can register through your church or call the New Life Assembly of God church office at 256-232-6119. You can also go to messenger on the Hope for Athens Facebook page.
Come and join hundreds of helpers and Guests of Honor on November 6, and discover the “blessing of blessing and being blessed.” Or, as Pastor Jason says is the desire of his ALMA colleagues, “We want to inspire change in our city that centers on hope and builds relationships.” See you there!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner