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Church groups serve community with diversity

What do you get when you cross a church, a community and a sense of purpose? You get Snoqualmie Valley Alliance's "40 Days of Community" and its service-oriented community groups.

The creation of Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in California, 40 Days of Community is a six-week program being adopted by churches throughout the United States. It helps people answer the question, "What on earth are we here for?" "Imagine what could happen," said Warren, "if every small group in your church reached out together, showing love in practical ways to those in your community."

Imagine, indeed. But SVA did more than imagine what could happen - they made it happen. Forming more than 50 new community groups, participants prayed and planned together, spurred on by the desire to serve God by serving the community. According to SVA Lead Pastor Monty Wright, "It has been my experience as a pastor that people come alive when they connect into God's purpose for their lives ... no one is an accident, everyone is made in the image of God, and when they tap into the reason that they were created, life is never the same."

The groups' service projects have been many and varied. Ken Rogers is the owner of Ken's Gas and Grocery in North Bend, and since his family sold Truck Town to a national chain a few years ago, the truckers' prayer chapel on the property has fallen into disrepair. "The manager said if we wanted the chapel, we could have it," said Rogers. "Over the years that my family owned the truck stop, one of my greatest memories was going in the prayer chapel and finding a prayer request someone had left in the journal there, and then read in a later entry that their prayer had been answered."

So his group got to work. They raised $2,500 to move the chapel from the back of the truck stop across the road to a highly visible area at Ken's station, fix it up with fresh paint and new carpeting and keep it stocked with Bibles and other reading material. Group member Jeff Peterson said, "If it touches just one person, it'll be worth it."

Believing in the importance of partnering with existing community services, SVA member Jan Van Liew's group is joining with the Gift of Apparel clothing bank in North Bend to open a larger, more full-service clothing bank. The group is also working with Mount Si Lutheran Church to collect shoes and socks, and is setting up a collection bin at Sno Falls Credit Union. "It's really about serving together, about people of faith coming together for the greater good of those around us, no matter what their circumstances or beliefs," said Van Liew. "We're just grateful to serve." The new clothing bank will be opening this September in time to go back to school.

Sometimes it's the little things that count. Sherry Gilden's community group decided to put on a luncheon for the women and children at House of Hope. The meal was a success and the group also brought clothes, small gifts and a much-needed dishwasher for the center, but the day didn't end there. "The ice had melted in the bucket we'd brought the drinks in," Gilden remembered, "and the kids jumped in this little 2-by-3-foot tub and were playing in the water. How could we see that and not feel compelled to get them a pool?" The group bought two pools and brought them back to the center. "The kids and moms were so excited that you would have thought they won the Lotto. The lunch was nice, but you eat a sandwich and it's gone. A pool on an 80-degree day, that's something the kids will use and remember."

Group members discovered that they each have something to offer. From moms to mechanics, everyone has something to give. The Wednesday night men's group will be conducting automotive safety inspections on July 15 and July 29 from noon to 4 p.m. "We'll also offer instruction on tire changing, oil changes and other minor maintenance issues that people may want to learn about," said Fritz Ribary. "We're going to have the barbecue going, so it'll be educational and fun, too."

Although most of SVA's service projects are here in the Valley, John and Mary Leonard's group looked further. "We're in the planning stages of a campaign to raise $16,000 for a deep-water well for Kasitu, Uganda," explained John and Mary. "When we began discussing the idea, we realized each person in our group had a piece of the vision and a specific talent to lend to the project." SVA currently sponsors hundreds of children in Kasitu in partnership with World Vision.

Serving others is infectious, and the relationships formed in the process are priceless. "I think what we find most exciting is that our group is made up of such a diverse mix of personalities and backgrounds," said one group leader. "In the beginning, our common links were Jesus and SVA and in a few short weeks, we've created many more. Through prayer and conversation the group quickly became a safe place and now we find ourselves going deeper each week. It's awesome. We love this group and look forward to every gathering."

On June 25, SVA commemorated the end of the 40 Days campaign with a celebration. But although it's called "40 Days of Community," SVA's commitment to service extends beyond the initial six weeks of the program. It is just the beginning.

Wright said, "What I loved about 40 Days of Community is that not only did the people at Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church grow closer together relationally through multiple community groups, but those groups banded together to make a difference in the world and in our local community because of the faith that connects us."

For more information about SVA and its service projects, visit www.svaonline.org, contact them via e-mail at info@svaonline.com or call (425) 831-4590.


Stacey Jillson is a member of Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church.

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