When it comes to church calendars, there are two primary seasons: Easter and Christmas.
If you ask any pastor, next on the list might very well be the back-to-school season.
"That's the time when people are ready to get back into a routine," says Rev. Colleen Bookter, pastor of Belle Chasse United Methodist Church. "People are hungry, especially at this time, for a word of guidance, and for the normalcy that worship and the church brings."
All across the Louisiana connection, a simple missional opportunity is also associated with back-to-school; packing and providing backpacks for kids who need school supplies and that includes Belle Chasse United Methodist Church.
The church, with a worshiping community of roughly 35 people, engaged the community as a whole as they packed over 100 backpacks. Each backpack contained pencils, pencil sharpeners, a pencil box, erasers, rulers, scissors, notebooks, wide-ruled paper, folders, glue, crayons, colored pencils and more.
But it's not what's inside these backpacks that makes this story unique. It's where they are headed - on their way to Rio Bravo, Mexico and the United Methodist Church of Mexico. Under the leadership of Willie Berman, these supplies will make their way to children in need.
For Belle Chasse member and LAVIM Mexico Representative Dale Smith, the children of Rio Bravo are as much a part of the church as anyone in their current community and when asked why Mexico, the answer was simple – they asked.
"Mexico has got a lot of people that are less fortunate than what we have here," says Smith. "There are resources and places that the people here in the United States can get help if they need it. But it's so just so much different in Mexico as the need is greater."
Smith knows the need is more significant because he has been leading volunteer teams to Mexico for the past 18 years.
"The first time I went, it was just a curiosity more than anything else," Smith said. "This is my calling from God. And that's what I do. The relationships we make through missional work is probably one of the most important things we could do in the name of Jesus."
Rev. Bookter says the backpack drive is more than just a missional outreach. She sees the campaign as opening a door to the church.
"The community has this great opportunity to get to know us better. It's a way of doing evangelism – two-fold," she says. "It's a ministry and mission to the people they've partnered with and serve alongside in Rio Bravo. But it's also a ministry to and with the Belle Chasse community. We're getting to know those people, getting to share the reasons that we want to be engaged in mission. To me, it's one of the beautiful things about partnering beyond the church."
One example of how community engaged with this mission is the involvement of the Rotary Club of Belle Chasse as they helped furnish many of the backpacks.
For Smith, the beauty is in seeing the face of God, something he asks all volunteers to look for when engaging in ministry.
"It's not hard to see the face of God when you're looking for it," says Smith. "I know there is a lot of news coming out of Mexico these days, but I honestly don't pay much attention to any of that. The need trumps all of that, and I just feel called by God to help."
Rev. Bookter says education is one of the best things any of us can be equipped for. When we give children tools to learn, we are giving them a future. However, she goes one step further in connecting that tool-giving to mission.
"We're not just saying that these kids are valuable because we believe in them and we believe they have a future," she says. "We are also saying we want them to know that our church and God values them."