A UMNS Commentary
By Collin Thompson*
As long as I can recall, I have attended church. I had actually attended that same, small Southern Baptist church my entire life. My mother grew up in that church, my grandfather, great-grandfather – generations upon generations of my family had attended this church. A few years ago, though, I began to feel like there was more to the Christian experience than showing up on Sunday mornings, singing a few hymns, listening to a preacher and then leaving – only to return a week later and run through the same mundane routine. So, I decided to “try out” different churches in my area; that’s when I found Decatur United Methodist. The first morning I attended, the choir sang the old hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” I knew this church was different – but not to what extent.
A small congregation in a small Southeast Tennessee town, Decatur United Methodist is place that people can call home. Shortly after joining, I was asked to travel with a small group to Haiti for a one-week orphanage project. The congregation took immediate action and raised a generous amount of money to pay for my trip. So I knew that when I mentioned a trip to Africa, they would be eager and willing to do whatever they could to help. The members of the church again raised and donated funds to help offset the cost of the trip, showered me with blessings and much needed prayers. A percentage of the money that was raised by the church would end up buying massive amounts of oil, flour, rice and beans to feed students at The Testimony School in Arusha, Tanzania, and assist a widow and her two daughters to secure housing. The impact this small congregation made in Africa this summer in only six weeks is not only impressive – it was divinely an act of God. But this church does more than support international missions! They fully engage in the community around them and have made an impact right in their own backyard! This can be proven, most notably, with “SoulFest.” An annual event each fall, SoulFest provides coats and warm clothing, food and other services to the entire community. A desire to help their fellowman is ever present in this church.
Paul was right; love is the greatest gift. I have been a member of Decatur United Methodist a little over two years now, and I feel like I have found my spiritual home. The members know that we have been commissioned, as Christians, to take, not only the message, but also the love of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters around the globe. This winter, with the help of Decatur UMC, I will return to Africa to deliver school supplies and Christmas gifts to the students that have absolutely captured my heart – and the heart of our congregation. Our minister, Hugh Bryan, has a saying: “When we get that ‘love thy neighbor’ thing right, everything else will fall into place.” If only the world would adopt that as its motto.
* Thompson is a junior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.