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    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

U.S. MAPS: Making an Impact

By Jordan Schrandt
July 01, 2012

“We’re calling it the Impact Project,” says Gary Gunsolus, an Assemblies of God U.S. missionary. The Impact Project is a new initiative by MAPS (Mission America Placement Service), a ministry of U.S. Missions.

Each year, Assemblies of God churches and ministries that have building and structural needs apply for assistance through the program. Then individuals and church groups travel to those sites for short-term mission trips.

“This year we decided to take three unique projects and really focus on them. The Impact Project is a lot like the television series Extreme Makeover,” Gunsolus adds.

One of the Impact Projects is Mount Grace Teen Challenge Center in Winnfield, La. Karen McDonald-Bowman has been the director of the center for a year. Shortly after taking over the directorship, Bowman realized the facilities and grounds were in dire need of repairs, remodels and upgrades.

“We are the only women’s center in Louisiana, and my primary goal for this center is to have women come here and accept salvation. After that I’d like to see them finish the 12-month program and go off to lead successful Christian lives,” notes Bowman.

Keeping the women in the program for 12 months is sometimes contingent upon being able to run an effective program in pleasant facilities on nice property. Since Bowman arrived in Winnfield, the grounds flooded every time it rained because there were no sidewalks. There is no actual counseling center, no chapel, inadequate electrical work, one classroom and a host of other needs.

Bowman created a list of everything that needed to be done to get the facility in perfect working order. Though the center already houses 16 women, it could potentially house up to 22 on its five acres.

“The list began with gravel on the road, gutters on the buildings, grass instead of dirt, blinds for the dorms, and insulation in the attics and underneath the buildings,” says Bowman. “Those things would just allow us to function normally.”

Bowman notes that there are many other projects that could also be done to make the facility pleasant instead of just functional. In light of these major needs and little funding, Bowman traveled last fall to the U.S. MAPS convention to present her needs to potential volunteers.

“We chose Mount Grace right away to become a part of our Impact Project,” says Gunsolus. After choosing the Teen Challenge center for the project, Gunsolus called Kathi Garner, the missions coordinator for First Assembly of God in Rolla, Mo.

Garner recalls that the First Assembly missions team and Pastor William Whitmire prayed over the needs of the Mount Grace Center, then decided to go ahead with it.

“When Kathi called and asked if they could come,” Bowman says, “I was so excited, I almost cried. I said, ‘Yes! This is exactly what we’ve been praying for!’”

Rolla First Assembly has sponsored an annual work-based missions trip for the past 18 years. In March church members traveled to Louisiana for a week of hard work at the Mount Grace Teen Challenge.

While the 27 workers were there, they laid sidewalk, upgraded the electrical systems, hung window treatments, planted landscaping, jacked up buildings to rebuild some of the foundations, and worked on plumbing issues — in addition to other small projects. There was also a group from the missions team that went to work on the Mount Grace Thrift Store. They painted the inside of the store, sorted donations, and got the store in order.

“God really sent the right people with us,” says Garner, “We had a local contractor, a plumber, an experienced landscaper and several others who were experts in their fields.”

Many of the supplies and funds for the projects were brought to Mount Grace by Rolla First Assembly. The congregation had donated money, supplies and food to send with the missions team.

In fact, First Assembly had an overabundance of food donated for the trip. There was enough to feed lunch and dinner to the missions team as well as the residents and staff at the campground every day. When team members left, they gave the remaining food to the center. It was so much that the center’s pantry — previously empty — was filled with food.

“God had His hand in every detail of the trip,” Garner recalls.

Even the support shown by the Winnfield community was amazing. First Baptist Church offered to house the missions team for free. The church also provided the MAPS workers with toiletry bags upon their arrival, a hot breakfast every morning, and clean, folded towels at the end of every day.

Garner raves about First Baptist’s kindness. “It was southern hospitality at its best. They blessed us tremendously and challenged us to work harder in our own community to show Christ’s love.”

Since the project, Rolla First Assembly has begun a few initiatives in its own community — inspired by the love received from First Baptist of Winnfield.

The first Impact Project missions trip was a huge success, and lives were changed during the process. Both Garner and Bowman indicate that many residents and missions team members experienced God and Christianity in a whole new way during the Impact Project.

“So much was accomplished,” says Bowman. Gunsolus is coordinating with several other churches to send missions teams to Mount Grace Teen Challenge Center this summer. There is still a lot of work to be done, and Rolla First Assembly members may be taking another trip to Winnfield.

For future Impact Project groups, some of Bowman’s main goals for the center are to build a new chapel with a nice classroom and a building for its small businesses. Currently the women make candles and raise angelfish. Bowman really wants the center to be self-sufficient.

“I’d like to expand our candle and angelfish business, and also get into other industries to support ourselves,” she adds. The small-business projects teach the women how to work in a professional setting, give them responsibilities, and are a part of their education and preparation for the world beyond the Teen Challenge center.

Bowman notes, “In Ephesians, believers are called to love extravagantly, and that’s what the Impact Project workers did here. It was amazing.”

The other two 2012 Impact Projects are Eagle Summit Ranch in Junction, Texas — a retreat center for wounded warriors — and Mount Calvary Assembly of God in Westover, W.Va., which is a 100-year-old school that’s being converted into a church and outreach center.

JORDAN SCHRANDT lives in Blue Springs, Mo., with her husband and five children.

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