The woman thought she came to serve, but a thief made her realize she also could be served.

It happened this summer during the All Church Challenge, when churches from five states sent mission teams to Helena, Ark., to help Ben and Leonora Newell’s Together for Hope project.

One of the preschool camp leaders had her cell phone stolen at the community pool. The phone had great value to the woman.

“The woman’s brother had died two weeks before and the only photos of him that she had were on that phone,” said Ben Newell, who coordinates the Helena project with his wife for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

During the unsuccessful search for the phone, many fellow workers from other churches and children from the area developed a deeper relationship with the woman. They ministered to, empathized with and encouraged the woman, who was experiencing physical as well as emotional loss.

Then, she learned something about loss: A byproduct can be gain.

“The woman found that going through the whole process to find the phone and the way people responded to her, she came to a spiritual understanding,” Newell said. “She started telling us that ‘maybe this was the way God was telling me to let go.’

“It taught all of us how God can work things out in ways we don’t expect. Here is a staffer on a mission trip and she ends up possibly getting helped the most. She told us the whole experience made it easier to work through the grief and move on after the loss of her brother.”

That was an intangible aspect of what happened during two weeks in July when 27 mission teams from Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia joined forces to help in various projects in one of the poorest communities in the United States. Newell reports there were 240 mission volunteers from outside the community working with 75 volunteers from the Helena area.

“Together for Hope is a good partnership for us,” said James Valley, mayor of Helena, who lent the support of some city services and personnel. “What we like is the holistic approach they are taking to bettering our community.”

In addition to conducting a swim camp, volunteers began construction on the Gardens of Eden and Eden Market store. The gardens and store are being built in what was an old watermelon patch just off the major highway in town. The gardens are a community garden, where people can plant vegetables as well as flowers.

The store will house about 10 entrepreneur-type businesses, including the Delta Jewels jewelry project by young girls in the community. When the building is finished, youth and adults will be able to set up various types of creative businesses and sell various goods and crafts. It will be a source of income for the people and community and lead to other mission projects.

Workers also helped in mini-camps and brought resources and books on a “Stories on Wheels” bus to neighboring communities in Elaine and Lake View. It wasn’t all work, though. The volunteers and local workers participated in a community-wide game night on Tuesday nights.

“What made this different from a lot of mission trips is that several people from different churches had to work together and learn to work together,” Newell said.

“Several of these churches were used to organizing their own mission projects and working on those with their own people. Here, they had to do different things with different people from different churches in different states.

“I think there was as much of a benefit from these churches and people from different backgrounds working together on the projects as there was for the people being helped. I think by working in mission and helping a community, God used that to teach them some things.”

Even in a petty theft.

David McCollum is a contributing editor to

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