New project: 10,000 Strength for Service books in S.C.

Effort commemorates 9/11 anniversary with devotionals for military, first responders

By Jessica Brodie

Fifteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and 75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a group of United Methodists is seeking to honor military and first responders with the hope and comfort of God’s word.

One hundred thousands copies of “Strength for Service” devotional books will be given across the country this year to commemorate the anniversaries, and South Carolina has committed to distributing 10,000 of them.

Now, South Carolina United Methodist churches are being asked to pray about and step up to help this effort.

By May 1, churches are asked to purchase at least one case of books, then distribute them to military or first responders in their community. There are two books available: one geared toward military (Strength for Service to God and Country) and one geared toward first responders, e.g. firefighters, police officers, paramedics, disaster volunteers and healthcare workers (Strength for Service to God and Community). Churches can purchase a case of one book or the other, or even purchase two cases and get one of each.

“That’s about 15 to 18 churches participating per district,” said L.W. Smith, chair of Strength for Service, a nonprofit group affiliated with United Methodist Men and a member of the South Carolina United Methodist Men leadership team.

May 1 is the target because of a special pricing package; the cases are reduced to 35 percent off the regular cost through that date. After May 1, the cost goes back to normal, but if the order form is received by May 1, then the Strength for Service military case (48 books/case) costs $275 and the Strength for Service first responder case (52 books/case) costs $300. The cost includes postage and delivery.

Smith said the effort will not only provide comfort and spiritual inspiration for those who “put their necks out on the line for us every day,” but also will help churches develop a new avenue for outreach.

“It’s a great outreach opportunity for the UMC,” Smith said, noting he hopes the distribution will turn into an annual event for churches.

Some churches bring the devotionals to a local fire or police stations, while others have a big dinner for military and first responders and invite them to attend, then present them with the books at the dinner.

The Rev. Michael Bingham said he thinks this is a project every church should undertake.

“It’s a concrete way for our people, the ‘People called Methodist,’ to get out into the community and have one-on-one contact with people in a way I think benefits everyone,” said Bingham, pastor of Pond Branch UMC, Gilbert, and chaplain for the South Carolina Emergency Response Task Force for Urban Search and Rescue. “Churches get to say thank you and to give, and Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, and these first responders might be prompted to visit a church, plus they get the blessing of being appreciated. To me, there’s absolutely no downside and a lot of upsides and a lot of blessings going on.”

Bingham is particularly excited about the connection the UMC has with the devotional. The original version for the military was published in 1942 and distributed to a million soldiers in World War II and the Korean War before it fell out of print. An Eagle Scout got his grandfather’s book and decided to recreate the book as a project, and the United Methodist Men stepped in to help update and fund it. The timing was fortuitous, as the project was complete right before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Since then, nearly 500,000 books have been distributed.

“The whole concept of the new edition is steeped in Methodism, and we’re touching on our own heritage by distributing these,” Bingham said. “Our DNA is on this thing.”

Billy Robinson, director of the South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Team, said he wholeheartedly supports the effort. He chairs the Outreach Committee at his church, North UMC, North, which purchased and distributed 200 of the books for area first responders, and he said many were thankful for them and said it would help them deal with disasters, emergencies and critical incident stress.

“As a chaplain with North Fire Department and Orangeburg County Special Tactics And Rescue (STAR) Team, I have given out many to families of wrecks, fires, rescues, etc.,” Robinson said. “We with South Carolina UMVIM ERT have also purchased several cases of these books, which we try to give to all ERT members for the same reasons listed above. We also give them out to some households that we go to on ERT responses. They are wonderful Christian-based resources that are very critical to helping people heal and deal with life struggles.”

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