Go & Tell : A Q&A on the Southwest Virginia Partnership
In April, Bonsack commissioned Larry & Lynda Brumfield and Larry & Phyllis Perdue to serve for a week in Nickelsville, Virginia at the Southwest Virginia Partnership, a missions outreach that is sponsored by the Baptist General Association of Virginia along with three area Baptist Associations (Clinch Valley, Powell River, & Wise). The Brumfields and Perdues joined over 50 individuals from churches across the Roanoke Valley as they coordinated BookNet, an in-school book donation program for 12 schools in three counties, volunteered at Gate City’s food bank, visited nursing homes, and renovated the Partnership’s dining space to help accomodate future volunteers. Larry & Lynda Brumfield as well as Phyllis Perdue sat down for a conversation to reflect on the trip.
I’d like to start with just an overview of your time in Nickelsville.
Larry: Nickelsville almost isn’t in Virginia! It’s about as far Southwest in the state as you can go.
Phyllis: In fact, for some of the projects we have gone into Kentucky to serve.
Larry: The two things we focus on are working in the schools and construction projects.
Phyllis: We work with two missionaries from the Baptist General Association of Virginia [Jan and Tony Johnson], and their ministry impacts Wise County, Lee County and Scott County - you can learn more by visiting swvpartnership.org online to learn about the partnership.
Larry: Scott, Lee, and Wise Counties are three of the poorest counties in Virginia. It’s so economically depressed that some of the teachers indicate all of their students are on the free lunch program.
Culturally, does it feel different from Roanoke when you’re there?
Larry: You know you’re in a different culture for sure- it’s very rural. Two years ago, one of our construction projects was completely renovating a bathroom, because the family was using an outdoor privy. And they were able to totally renovate the bathroom in three days.
Phyllis: This year our team helped improve the volunteer facilites.The Southwest Virginia partnership operates out of what they call the Manor, it once was a nursing home. Their food serving facility was very limited, and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to be served at once. So this year our team was able to help enclose a porch to enlarge that facility.
BookNet, our book ministry, is an RVBA (Roanoke Valley Baptist Association) and an Associational WMU (Women’s Missionary Union) project- we have teachers here who select books by grade level to be donated, and then once we’re on site in Nickelsville, we’re able to get the books ready for distribution- each child gets three books.
BookNet creates mobile libraries that can be dispatched to these remote schools. How did that partnership begin?
Phyllis: This started many years ago, when Bob Hetherington and his wife went to do a backyard Bible study. A local librarian saw them out in the park and asked them about the possibility of partnering to go into schools. Then BookNet spread to Jonesville in Wise County and grew from there.
So essentially, this entire outreach grew from a small group of people who saw a need and reached out to ask if they could help?
Phyllis: And the school system was receptive. The teachers are glad to see us because it gives them a way to get books into the homes.
Larry: It’s not unusual to encounter students who have never had a book of their own.
Lynda: The teachers say that the schools are the place of safety for the kids- because their families may or may not be, and their friends may or may not be. But those teachers know what’s happening with every kid.
Larry: Some of the older students have been there long enough to recognize us when we come visit.
Phyllis: And we’ve been going for many years, but I love sharing the ministry with the other churches - people from 15 churches from around the Valley come each year and it’s like family. We went to 12 schools this year with 3 teams and we gave out approximately 6,300 books, in addition to ditty bags.
What are Ditty Bags?
Larry: Ditty Bags are made by WMU ladies around the Roanoke Valley, and they’re essentially printed cloth drawstring bags that get packed with a toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, soap, deodorant, and combs. Some of these kids have never had their own toothbrush, so each child in the school gets a bag.
Lynda: Teachers often build their health and hygiene units around when these bags are delivered.
Larry: We also got to volunteer at the food bank, and almost every person we interacted with was happy to have us pray with them. A lady who got food from the food bank brought back two large bags of clothes to donate since the food bank had helped her. Another lady brought dozens of fresh eggs and we were able to share what she gave.
Phyllis: They were giving back as they could. I didn’t expect them to give something in return, but people are generous if given the opportunity.
Larry: For me it was meaningful to interact with people at the food pantry. Jesus said, when you see somebody hungry, feed them, if you see someone who needs clothes, give them clothes. People that are needy, you have to have respect for them because they have to swallow their pride to ask for help- and we need to show Christ’s love to people who are hurting.
Lynda: When we got to pray with people, they just latched onto that immediately. They’ll ask us to pray about [many different people], and these are hard topics to pray about and hard things to live with. [It’s as if] They just say, “Here’s my heart, take it.”
Phyllis: Also, Bonsack’s WMU and our Crafting for Missions group contributed hand-made rugs and household supplies that we could leave with the partnership to give out to families in need all year long.
Which allows the impact to continue longer than a week...
Larry: Yes, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming, because the need is so great- but we work where we can.
Phyllis: And they know we come back.
Larry: People should know you don’t have to go to a foreign country to serve in missions. And you don’t have to be highly skilled. There’s a saying- God doesn’t want our ability. He wants our willingness.
For more information on missions, whether that means local, state or international opportunities:
1. Visit our missions webpage: bonsackbaptist.org/missions
2. Reach out to Jerry Helm, our missions committee chair at email@example.com