All Aboard the Kindness Express! IMS: Russia

In early October, Janet Erwin (Missions Mosaic editor) and I traveled to Appling, Georgia, to experience this year’s International Mission Study (IMS) at Patty Blanton’s farm. For nearly 20 years, Patty has sought fun, creative, interactive, and meaningful ways to provide an unforgettable IMS experience for the Girls in Action and Royal Ambassadors of Kiokee Baptist Church and Damascus Baptist Church. It was an invitation we did not want to miss!

As we turned down the gravel drive leading to her farm, the brightly painted onion domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral peered through the clearing in the trees. Just around the curve, the whole facade of the barn had been transformed into the iconic symbol of Russia, welcoming everyone to a whole new world. I knew then that we were in for a treat! Patty’s husband later exclaimed, “I can see Russia in my backyard!”  

Though a lifelong member of Kiokee Baptist Church, Patty’s love for the IMS began when she was a little girl—when her mother took her to Damascus Baptist Church for GA. Patty’s mother taught RA at Kiokee, and her mother’s best friend, Miss Adelia, taught GA at Damascus! Miss Adelia was a formidable woman in young Patty’s life. “She took us to nursing homes, out into the woods to take food to people who lived in old cabins, and to GA camp. She taught us the International Mission Study, Home Mission Study, and told us about Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong . . . what I did not notice at the time was that Miss Adelia was a missionary in our little community and modeled service to us little GA girls. I learned I could be a missionary at Kiokee, too,” recalled Patty.

Later, as an adult, Patty began leading GA at Kiokee when her daughter was about 7. She immediately knew that she wanted to include the IMS as part of her program, because it had been such a memorable part of her own GA experiences. Even though she no longer teaches GA, she still presents the IMS every year to the children at Kiokee. And as Patty stated, “If I am going to do something for God, then I am going to do it to the best of my ability.”

Patty always includes the children at Damascus Baptist Church, where her friend Susan (Miss Adelia’s daughter) teaches. According to Susan, “I know our children that come on Wednesday nights are mostly from unchurched families. They so look forward to coming to the International Mission Study. As soon as we start back, they start asking about when we are going to Miss Patty’s! I know it has given them a wider view of the world and helped them understand about missionaries and what they do. We may never know the impact these studies will make until we get to heaven, but we do what we do because we love the Lord, and we know the results are up to Him. If we don’t pass this love and excitement to the next generation, who will do this for the generations to come?” This year, Patty also invited the children from Solid Rock Baptist Church to join in on the experience.

On the night of the event, a trolley (aka “The Kindness Express”) picked up the children from the church and transported them to their missions destination. During the short trip, a tour guide dressed in traditional Russian clothing presented the children with a brief overview of Russia and some of the Quick Facts found in the Children’s Teaching Guide. Once at the farm, the children disembarked the trolley to enter the colorful entrance of the “Russian cathedral” (the barn).

The night was filled with authentic Russian experiences to bring Russia to life for the children. Girls enjoyed painting a beautiful Russian Matryoshka doll, while the boys painted traditional nutcracker ornaments. A real ballerina dressed in costume performed a dance from the Russian ballet The Nutcracker. Children had the opportunity to learn how to speak a few phrases in Russian. A photo booth also provided the chance for boys and girls to dress up in traditional Russian clothing and learn how to write their names using the Cyrillic alphabet. Most importantly, kids learned about the great need for Jesus in Russia and the many ways missionaries are sharing God’s love with the Russian people. To end the evening, everyone enjoyed delicious Russian treats, like pirozhiki, blini, mini apple sharloka, and Russian spiced tea, while The Nutcracker ballet played on a big screen.

Without a doubt, Patty spent many hours preparing for this year’s event, but everything was bathed in prayer. She purposefully asked God for wisdom, because the children would be exposed to another country and the missionaries serving there. Patty asked, “What could be more important?”

The key to a successful event is lots of good help. “If you tell people what you are working on, then they will be glad to help. I enjoy the whole process, planning and decorating. Fortunately for me, on the night of the event there are a lot of helpers from the church. This is critical.”

Patty admits that she loves to decorate and that maybe she should be decorating stages in New York. But it doesn’t have to cost a lot to go the extra mile! Don’t be afraid to ask people to help you with what you are doing. “One of the things that I have found is that if you tell people what you are doing before you ask the favor and say it is a church event, then they are mostly very glad to help and usually try to keep the cost down,” said Patty. “There are so many ways to do your study with the resources that you have available and with the great information also provided with the study. Just do it as if Jesus is coming to your study . . . it doesn’t matter if you have 5 children or 100 children, one of them will be impacted and all the work and time that you spend will be so worth it even for only one child. And above all, pray, pray, pray! ‘God is our helper and strength.’”

Steve Hartman, Patty’s pastor at Kiokee Baptist Church, agreed. “Over the years our GA and RA ministries have been blessed to participate in the phenomenal International Mission Studies. We see children coming out of their time in these groups with a much clearer understanding of the necessity of the Great Commission. He has used Patty Blanton in a unique manner to craft and present the IMS in a way for our children to grasp the customs, values, and religious backgrounds of those living in different location. The larger impact is the connection seen by our children to the importance of the gospel and what it can do in places far removed from Appling, Georgia. There is even a long term consequence we have experienced as many of the children who have participated in our IMS have gone on as teenagers to help lead high school and college missions trips. They learn as a child through the IMS presentations that the cause of missions can be both exciting and extremely personal. Certainly our great God is worth our all.”

It’s not too late to hop on board the Kindness Express and start planning your IMS Russia event for the children at your church. It’s an interactive experience to connect the whole family to missions.

So, “let’s go where ballets are written and you have to wear mittens. People need friends; hearts need to mend. Sip a cup of tea. Come on this trip with me!” (from the IMS 2017 Children's Teaching Guide). 

Melissa Whetstone serves as the GA editor at national WMU. As the mom to 3 busy boys, she loves spending time with "her girls” each week as she leads GA at her church.

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