Assembling health kits helps congregations see Christ in refugees

May 05, 2016
A member of Richfield UMC packs health kits after the Maundy Thursday worship service.

By: Christa Meland

For years, members of the Women’s Fellowship at Morris Federated Church have engaged in hands-on service projects to bring hope to people in need. Last fall, at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, they decided to make health kits to be distributed to displaced people around the world.

“We just always want to help out and take care of wherever there’s a need,” said Women’s Fellowship Chair Llea Anderson. “If we can provide something, we want to do that.”

After the women assembled 50 kits themselves, Rev. Lauren Snell, invited the whole church to get involved. So she put a basket in the narthex, and people were invited to donate either money or supplies for the kits.

“God calls us to be disciples and reach out to others in crisis and need,” said Rev. Lauren Snell. “There is a huge need.”

Goal: 10,000 kits

This year’s Love Offering for Missions has a hands-on component that challenges Minnesota United Methodists to collectively assemble and donate at least 10,000 health kits, and bring them to annual conference. Churches across the conference have been working toward this goal—and there’s still time to arrange opportunities for assembly. (View health kit material and assembly instructions here and view health kit drop-off sites here.)

Morris Federated anticipates being able to bring 120 kits to annual conference—significant for a congregation that worships between 60 and 70 people each week. The church is also a health kit drop-off site for other churches in the North Star District.

Health kits provide basic necessities to people who have been forced to leave their homes because of human conflict or natural disaster. Each kit includes a hand towel, a washcloth, a comb, a metal nail file or nail clippers, a bath soap, a toothbrush, adhesive bandages, and toothpaste (added in the country where the health kits will be distributed). The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) distributes the kits all over the world where they are needed most, and 10 percent of the financial component of this year’s Love Offering will go to UMCOR to help with the distribution. 

The Women's Fellowship at Morris Federated Church assembles health kits.

Richfield UMC: Seeing Christ in refugees

The refugee crisis also inspired Richfield United Methodist Church in Minneapolis to pack health kits after its Maundy Thursday worship service during Holy Week. The Social Justice Mission and Outreach Team coordinated the assembly, and people at the church provided donations of items and cash, which was used to purchase remaining items in bulk at Costco and other stores.

Marcia Henningson, director of spiritual formation at Richfield UMC, said the church looks for outreach opportunities that people of all ages and abilities can participate in—and the kits met both of those requirements. As 40 people of all ages assembled the items at stations within the church, they talked about what it might be like to be a refugee.

“Part of our mission statement is to see Christ in everyone,” said Henningson. “Just hearing about the Syrian refugees inspired us to find a way not only to pray for these people, but to do something hands-on. We are called as Christians to see Jesus in them.”

White Bear Lake UMC: Providing bread for the hungers of life

White Bear Lake United Methodist Church is using the health kit assembly as an opportunity for fellowship and partnership with nearby congregations. The church invited other Minnesota United Methodists in its area to come to its building from 10 to noon on May 21, bring their health kit supplies, and join others in packing as many kits as possible.

“If we pack 200, terrific; if we pack 1,000, terrific” said Lori McBride, who organized the packing party and noted that all congregations are welcome. White Bear Lake UMC is also a drop-off location for kits from other churches.
Items that go in a health kit
“White Bear Lake UMC’s vision is to provide bread for the hungers of life,” said McBride. “The health kits are a form of bread. They’re being delivered to people who are hungering for physical things they need to take care of themselves and will hopefully help them know that others care about them and they’re not forgotten.”

McBride has been on mission trips to Uganda, Jamaica, Honduras, and Ecuador—and she’s seen firsthand how valuable the health kits are to those who have been displaced. She also recalls helping a family from Sudan resettle in the Twin Cities some years back, so sharing God’s love with refugees is near and dear to her heart.

“My hope is that engaging in creating health kits will generate more awareness and draw attention to the humanity of refugees,” she said.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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