When 1,100 students in one of the nation's 20 poorest communities return to school this fall with new backpacks brimming with school supplies, some believe the gifts represent a modern-day miracle of multiplied loaves and fishes
Missionary Jenny Hodge, who witnessed the miraculous provision of writing tablets, glue sticks and crayon packs after she spent her employer's entire budget on backpacks for needy students in northeast Louisiana, felt like Philip who told Jesus, “Two hundred denarii of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.”
But like those fed by Jesus with a little boy's five barley loaves and two small fishes, students in Lake Providence, La. will have a surplus of classroom supplies when they return this fall, thanks to the unexpected generosity of parents, local churches and businesses, and from a Colorado church which – in what's believed to be a first of its kind – has “adopted” an entire southern city.
News that Resurrection Fellowship in Loveland, Colo. planned to ship a van-load of school supplies to the farming community opened a floodgate of generosity in Lake Providence, says Hodge, a full-time missionary with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana.
"It's a modern-day miracle," says Hodge who, as a master's degree divinity candidate at Baylor University, knows well the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 and picking up twelve baskets of fragments of bread and fish after the meal.
The miracle is that students will have new backpacks and school supplies for the start of the 2013-14 school year, and again in January because there's more than enough pairs of scissors and folders to go around a second time, says Hodge.
As the Baptist organization's second missionary to Lake Providence in almost four years, Hodge administers a $4,000 school-supplies budget for students in the rural district, many of whom are underprivileged. This year and last, Hodge's budget bought backpacks for every student in Lake Providence, but it wasn't enough to fill them with back-to-school essentials, including 12,000 pencils, 1,800 spiral notebooks and 1,200 packets of loose-leaf notebook paper.
Nor was a local fund-raising effort involving Lake Providence parents, churches and businesses sufficient to meet all the needs; It netted under $5,000, less than half the needed goal to buy backpacks and required supplies. The effort, however, did provide churches an opportunity to work together, uniting a local Methodist congregation, nondenominational Providence Church and its Love Your Community outreach and Hodge's employer, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
In her position since January, Hodge oversees Together For Hope, a community development program in Lake Providence, and she manages school-supplies funds for students in East Carroll Parish Schools. A national poverty initiative of the Baptist fellowship, the program assists underprivileged communities in Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas and South Dakota.
In the nearly four years that Hodge's employers has funded an on-the-ground missionary in Lake Providence, 2012 was the first that Together For Hope purchased backpacks – in addition to school supplies – for every student of East Carroll Parish Schools.
“The packs are a symbol of love and generosity, and a sign that Christians can work across denominational lines,” says Hodge.
She credits Lake Providence churches, businesses and parents for their generosity in past years, and Resurrection Fellowship this year for helping expand the effort from bags of school supplies to newly purchased backpacks brimming needed classroom materials. The combined efforts represent the first time in 11 years that Together For Hope has met more than 30 percent of its goal.
“We're making history by helping meet 100 percent of the need in Lake Providence,” says Pastor Jonathan Wiggins of Resurrection Fellowship.
Upon learning that Lake Providence students will have all their needed school supplies, Mayor Bobby Amacker praised the efforts of those who made it happen, including his own Methodist church and others across his city and the nation, including Resurrection Fellowship in Loveland.
“That's real good,” said Amacker, a farmer who's developed a great relationship with the Colorado church and Wiggins, a former worship leader at Providence Church.
In Colorado, Amy Wiggins organized a team, purchasing school supplies, packing a van and then driving it to Louisiana to distribute the overflowing backpacks.
"We were able to partner with an organization in Lake Providence as well as two other churches from Baton Rouge and Shreveport to stuff and distribute the backpacks," Wiggins said. "We stuffed 1,100 backpacks and distributed about 800."