They spend their own money to get here and then they spend time reaching out to local residents to see how they can help.
But in the end, it is the givers who are truly the receivers, says Mason VanTassell, the leader of a group of 16 missionaries who are visiting Debert from Summerville, South Carolina.
“It’s a feeling I have that I’ve done something for my Lord,” the retired pastor said, of his reason for travelling so far from home to meet, chat with and pray with the strangers he meets in a given community.
“I get blessed by doing it,” he said, just prior to the start of a hymn sing his group participated in at the Debert Court seniors residence last week.
“We always say we’re going off to bless someone but we end up getting blessed.”
This is the sixth year that VanTassell has come to the province in his effort to “plant new churches” in Nova Scotia as part of a partnership between the South Carolina Baptist Convention and the Canadian Baptist Convention.
Previous visits have taken him and his followers to Pictou, Timberlea, Antigonish and twice to Cheticamp.
The 16 participants of this year’s visit, who range in age from teenagers to retirees, is the largest contingent to date.
“Basically we just do what we call prayer walking. Walk around the communities and pray for the communities and stop and talk to
people,” he said. “And just kind of get to know the community and the people and then try to build some relationships. That’s how you build churches. You build relationships with people first and then go from there.”
The visitors pay their own travel costs (approximately $12,00 each) and through the support of their own community churches they bring items to pass on to those who participate in the programs they offer.
In Debert, one such program for children led to each participant receiving a T-shirt, wrist bands, a Bible, personalized name tags and craft items the kids got to create and keep.
For community host Bill Martin, recent pastor at the Debert Baptist Church, the visit has been an eye opener in a variety of ways.
“It’s interesting, you know, they came here of course largely to teach some kids a Bible lesson but being able to stand back and watch and not have to participate the way we normally do, gives us a chance to see how other people do it,” Martin said.
One of the things he observed from that practice was the type of teamwork evident in the way the southern visitors conduct themselves, Martin said.
“And what I recognized, is that very often when we embark upon things in the community here, from our own churches in the area, we tend to have one or two or three people that are trying to do these things. And recognizing the impact of having 16 people all committed to the same cause and the division of their responsibilities, making it so easy for each one to have a small part to play. And in the end the whole team’s impact is huge.”
Another observation, “was the absolute joy that they demonstrated,” Martin said.
“What we got from that is the overwhelming sense of the pleasure and joy that it is when you have people of a purpose, a goal, and of like mind. And they really showed us that you can serve your community with a smile on your face. Not like you go out and say, ‘well, ‘I’ve got to do this now.’ But, rather, ‘I want to do this and
it’s a pleasure and a joy to do this and really a blessing in return.’
“So there is a stronger sense of that than I normally see. And I hope that that permeates.”