"Gifts balloon through children's mission efforts"

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SCOTTDALE, Pa. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Nine-year-old Braden Fox, along with friends Regis and Lucas Kaufman, filled countless water balloons this summer, but they didn't throw them. Instead, they took these, along with homemade fruit cups, to “Lunch in the Park”—a monthly festival in Scottdale, Pa.—to raise money for Quito Mennonite Church in Ecuador.

The sale of water balloons contributed to Mennonite Mission Network’s mission bank project in which Scottdale Mennonite Church participated this past year. Collectively, less than 12 children at Scottdale raised more than $900.

“I think it was the first time where the boys were deliberately doing a project together to give the money away,” said Kim Fox, Braden’s mother. “They realized at their age, as young as they are, [that they] could do something important for someone else.”

Winifred Paul, 84, first heard of Mission Network's mission bank project through information mailed to her home. Mission banks provide educational material and giving projects for a specific international location. As children learn, they are invited to partner with Mission Network’s work in that location by collecting money in blue, globe-shaped banks. Mission banks reminded Paul of her own childhood fundraisers.

“We had lots of opportunity to hear missionaries and we knew it was important to start giving to them,” said Paul. “When I was a child, they gave each of us quarters and we had to see what to do with our quarter to make money. That gave me the idea.”

Gloria Miller, a Spanish teacher, introduced the country of Ecuador to the children of Scottdale Mennonite Church last winter and continued to share information with them on a regular basis. In May, a generous couple in the congregation gave each child $10 to put toward a project to raise money during the summer months. Along with fruit cups and water balloons, children also made and sold birdhouses and pinwheels.

“The congregation was curious and asked periodically what the children were doing. Our church gives a lot of money to missions and were very supportive,” said Miller.

Still, the project was mostly “kid-driven.”

“They didn’t feel forced by parents or by us,” said Miller. “I was amazed how much they actually made and I don’t think there was a lot of money just given to them.”

In November, the children brought their money to church and briefly shared their experience. The money was collected on a large Ecuadorian blanket in the front of the church and will go to Quito Mennonite Church, a 6-year-old congregation of 40 adults, youth and children, led by pastor couple and Mission Network workers César Moya and Patricia Ureña. The church promotes peace projects in the El Inca neighborhood by providing monthly workshops for children who often turn to drugs, alcohol and gangs.

Quito Mennonite also ministers to Colombian refugees by offering temporary housing, jobs, medical attention and psychological help. The money raised by the children of Scottdale Mennonite Church, an Allegheny Mennonite Conference congregation, will not only aid in these ministries, but also in the purchase of Sunday school material and rent payments as well as contribute to the fund for a new church building.

The children of Scottdale may never see the tangible results of their efforts in Ecuador, but, even so, they received gifts of their own.

“The kids learned skills,” said Paul. “This was a project where children learned to make things.”

More specifically, Braden, Regis, Lucas and the other children learned how to interact with and serve adults. They also learned how to make change and the importance of cooperating as a team. The boys even had an opportunity to practice the states and capitals.

“There was an old man who said he would buy a fruit cup if we could name the capital of New Mexico,” said Braden Fox.

Perhaps the greatest skill of all is that the children of Scottdale Mennonite Church learned to follow the second-greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39) and love their neighbor as themselves through the act of giving. For Kim Fox, this is especially significant within a self-oriented culture

“We have to make a conscious effort to teach our children that we have a responsibility to each other as—not just a town—but a world community,” Fox said.

The mission bank project for Quito Mennonite Church came about before the reality of the economic crisis in the United States. Still, Fox is positive the poor economy would not have affected the project.

“Our congregation has a number of people that are aware of things that are happening around the world and they seek to help the congregation keep this in focus,” said Fox. "There is a real determination to help our children be aware of the rest of the world and the struggles people face that our kids do not.”

Braden Fox is anxious to participate in this project again this year and Miller, now the Scottdale Mennonite Church mission chair, is already thinking about the logistics. The important piece, church members said, is not how the money is raised or which mission bank location is involved, but that the children understand the meaning behind their actions.

Contributed by Mennonite Mission Network staff

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