By Kathy Gilbert
UMNS

A United Methodist church more than 7,000 miles from the Middle East has shortened the distance for U.S. soldiers there to call home and speak with loved ones in the United States.

St. Timothy on the North Shore United Methodist Church of Mandeville, La., collected $10,700 during a church-wide campaign in March that will purchase 2,140 phone cards - almost triple its original goal.

Meanwhile, the children of the church made hundreds of greeting cards to send to United Methodist military chaplains for distribution to service members, along with the phone cards.

"This church has always been very supportive of our troops," said the Rev. Scott Adams, executive pastor at St. Timothy and an Air Force reserve chaplain.

"For service members, being able to call your family is a huge thing. It can make a world of difference in morale."

The United Methodist Endorsing Agency of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry started the phone card campaign on Veterans Day 2003 to pay for long-distance telephone minutes to help military families stay in touch with each other.

United Methodist Communications teamed with the endorsing agency in 2004 to design special phone cards featuring the United Methodist cross and flame and the message "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. The people of the United Methodist Church."

When soldiers use the cards, they hear a recorded prayer: "The people of the United Methodist Church are praying for your safety and sense of peace. Our hearts, our minds and our doors are always open to you."

Since 2003, more than 10 million minutes worth of phone cards have been sent to United Methodist chaplains to give any soldier in need of a kind word from home.

The 3,900-member St. Timothy congregation originally aimed to collect enough money to purchase 835 cards, said Bill Householder, chair of the church's mission team. A $5 donation buys one card with 120 minutes.

"The missions team decided in November 2006 to promote purchase of phone cards for our service members and started to plan a program to generate enthusiasm for the project that would involve all congregation members," Householder said.

The team's three-pronged plan included setting aside Sunday, March 11, to pay tribute to anyone in the congregation who was serving or had served in the military; promoting the purchase of United Methodist phone cards; and inviting children to make greeting cards.

"A key point was we had the support and encouragement of the church ministerial staff," Householder said. "I was very excited and proud how everything worked out. The missions team worked hard to make it successful."

For more information on the phone card campaign, contact the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, Board of Higher Education and Ministry, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007 or visit www.gbhem.org/chaplains. The agency also can be reached at umea@gbhem.org or by calling 615-340-7411.