An “incredible year” of international mission by a Garstang Church, which has seen members as young as five through to their 70s travel to help Syrian refugees and people in Uganda, Cambodia, war-torn Ukraine and Senegal, has come to an end.
In fact, a quarter of the members of Garstang Free Methodist Church have taken part in six trips abroad and pastor John Sainsbury now wishes to say a big thank you to the community.
“We’re so grateful to everyone in Garstang who has helped and donated and supported and encouraged so very many of us over the past year. What a generous and loving community we are and how wonderful it is to see how our hearts here in Lancashire can touch the very ends of the earth for good. Thank you so much,” he said.
Pete and Sarah Blundell, who co-ordinated the year, said: “Many of the team members stepped out of their comfort zone and put their faith into action. The teams have met Syrian refugees in Greece, survivors of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia, been on TV in Uganda and shared stories with Ukrainian soldiers who’ve been preserving their freedom and so much more.”
But the Blundells said an over-riding feature was “the many wonderful people” they met and said: “Their desire to serve others and share how Jesus was transforming their lives was humbling and has challenged us as a church in how we serve others and share the good news of Jesus’ love.”
Garstang youth director Andrew Tissingh who led the penultimate trip said: “Forty degrees celsius, no running water and a power supply that would sporadically decide to not allow the use of a fan at night. Rotting fish, rusted out cars and rubbish on every corner. Poverty and a lack of hope and joy in the eyes of children who may never get a chance to go to school. This is Dakar, Senegal; a beautiful place, with a desperate need for hope.”
A team spent two weeks serving alongside long-term volunteers where, said Andrew, “The heat hits like a sauna, the mosquitos ravage you like they have been starved for years and the noise and smell assault your senses...Having the opportunity to experience such a different way of life is invaluable and what an experience it was.
“We spent the first week running a summer kids’ club for children from the neighbourhood, a small fishing community in the suburbs of the capital. The children here are often neglected and hungry for attention. Playing with them was rewarding, and seeing the joy the simplest act of love can bring puts things from our own lives into perspective.
The second week was spent in a small village outside Dakar helping in a clinic and accomplishing other practical tasks inclduing planting 180 trees and laying a path and patio.
“The team who run this charity were overjoyed and encouraged we had come to support them and they were re-energised to continue their work,” he said, adding: “There was a real sense this trip was of benefit to the people we went to serve and also to the team members who have had an incredible, eye-opening experience.”
The final trip was to Kiev in the Ukraine with the help of Leyland based International Aid Trust to see the work of the church, where they are not only building churches but orphanages, residential care homes for the elderly and a new centre for the homeless.
Team Leader Mark Ramsden said: “We took part in a youth camp and a children’s camp both running over several days. Activities included story telling with the aid of an interpreter, singing (in English) and doing lots of sport and craft with the youngsters, including making them balloon models..
“Our job was to be a part of what was going on and, as much as we could, contribute to the great work the church is doing over there. Overcoming the language barrier was easy with the aid of an interpreter, a smiling face, and a guitar. I must mention all the hard work the people put into the camps especially the young leaders who worked tirelessly to make them enjoyable yet challenging to help the young people to think through what is really important in life, especially poignant given the conflict in the east of the country.”
Summing up the whole year, John said: “Each group has had first-hand experience of life in very different, challenging settings and had opportunities to share God’s love and help those far less fortunate than themselves.
“It’s been an incredible year and lives have been changed - both the people the teams have met overseas and in their own homes in Garstang. “The rest of the church family have supported and prayed and loved hearing the stories on return.”