FBC aims for 500 Christmas packs

Joey Exum, a member of First Baptist Church in Lenoir City, adds a Christmas CHEER Pack to a growing pile in the church’s sanctuary.

First Baptist Church in Lenoir City challenged members to pack 500 Christmas CHEER Packs by July 31 to be sent to kids in need in Guatemala.

The CHEER Packs are a program of Clubhouse Guatemala, a ministry that aims to serve children while spreading the gospel. Clubhouse Guatemala was founded in 2008 by Mike Parker after he adopted two Guatemalan boys with his wife, Carla. CHEER stands for Christians Helping Evangelize Educate Restore.

The adoption process took seven years, and after 37 trips to Guatemala, they decided it would be best to move to Guatemala. Once there, Clubhouse Guatemala began to take shape but didn’t take off until 2010. The program started serving 60 kids and now serves more than 1,000 kids and their families, Mike said.

The Christmas CHEER Packs started about five or six years ago, he said.

“It was basically just a pack filled with small toy items, back-to-school things like crayons, pencils, erasers, rulers, everything a kid would need to be able to go to school,” Mike said. “So we go down at Christmas every year and give these out. In the past, we’ve averaged about 2,000-2,500 Christmas packs that we collect from several churches through the Southeast. This year our goal is 10,000. So to hit that goal we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The contents of packs vary based on the age of child selected by the packer. Gallon-sized Ziploc bags are filled with school supplies, small toys and hygiene products for the kids. A brochure with a letter of encouragement is also included. Packers can choose to include $5 for shipping of the bag or a pair of new shoes for the child to wear for the school year.

The goal was inspired by Guatemala’s coronavirus impact, Mike said.

“Obviously with everything going on with COVID-19, there’s going to be a lot more need,” he said. “Because Guatemala’s been hit really hard. They’re still looking at 1,000-1,200 new cases per day right now. They’ve been averaging that now for close to a month and 30-40 deaths per day. So it’s a pretty bleak look right now in Guatemala.”

FBC, a longtime partner with Clubhouse Guatemala, has ramped up efforts from previous years. FBC became affiliated with Clubhouse Guatemala in 2010 when church members went on their first partnered trip to help the boys and girls in the child development centers, the Rev. Scott Williams, FBC worship pastor, said. The church has since taken at least one annual trip.

FBC before participated with the pack program on a limited scale. The church hosted a kid’s Worship Camp where boys and girls at camp started the effort by making more than 100 packs. They then challenged the rest of the church to make 400 packs, Williams said.

“This is the first time we’ve really done it as a major project. We’ve had different ministry groups, women’s ministry did it once,” Williams said. “Our Awana group did it once. Not a huge group but just a small group of people getting a few packs together and sending it. It wasn’t a huge church-wide project until this year.”