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Baptist church plants seeds of goodwill

The members of one Fargo church received a lesson in faith when they decided to assemble food boxes for hungry families in Iraq. At first Temple Baptist Church members decided to send 25 boxes to the war-torn country -- no small feat for the 100-...

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The members of one Fargo church received a lesson in faith when they decided to assemble food boxes for hungry families in Iraq.

At first Temple Baptist Church members decided to send 25 boxes to the war-torn country -- no small feat for the 100-member congregation. The food in each box costs about $60.

But with the assistance of donations and volunteers, the church packed more than 6 tons of food in 181 boxes.

The food was shipped out of Fargo this week and likely will arrive in Iraq over the summer months.

"In church, faith seems warm and fuzzy, but in reality it's risky and feels stupid," says the Rev. Durward Garrett, senior pastor at Temple. "That's how we felt sometimes. But when it's done, you really see the Lord at work."

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On a national level, Southern Baptist churches hope to collect and ship as many as 95,000 food boxes. Each box contains enough food to feed an Iraqi family of five for a month: rice, flour, navy beans, sugar, lentils, tea, salt and powdered milk.

Temple Baptist always has had a strong interest in international events. The church is one of 1,000 Southern Baptist churches that list international ministry as a priority.

Despite its small membership, the congregation has a strong international flavor with members from several different ethnic backgrounds, its pastors say.

When the church chose to get involved in the Iraq Food Project, member James Sabot haphazardly made a few calls to see if any businesses would be interested in donating food.

"I really didn't want to get involved, but God had other plans," says Sabot, who is development director for the South Valley Baptist Association.

The first place he called, North Dakota Mill, donated 500 five-pound bags of flour on the spot.

Other donations of food and cash from 14 other businesses and Southern Baptist churches followed. But after more than a week of phone calls and hard work, Temple was $1,600 short of completing all the boxes. The pastors had nightmares of calling donors back with the news they didn't need all the products.

But church members scraped together the remaining cash. Gary Schmidt, general manager at SuperValu, said the church could use space in the company's annex to set up an assembly line, meaning volunteers could fill the boxes in an hour or two vs. five or six hours.

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On a recent Saturday about 30 volunteers showed up to assemble the boxes.

"I felt like it was a worthy cause," Schmidt says, adding the company also has supported the families of military personnel serving in Iraq.

The food will be distributed to people of all faiths by Southern Baptist missionaries in rural Iraq. The purpose of the humanitarian aid is not to convert Muslims, but to serve people who need help, organizers say.

No biblical literature is included in the boxes. A label on the outside of each box quotes John 1:17 in Arabic: "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." The tag also identifies the box as a gift from the Southern Baptist churches in America.

That may be a key to future goodwill between Iraq and the United States, Garrett says.

"Fifty years from now, a future leader of Iraq might remember that a box of food came from a Southern Baptist church in the United States," he says. "You never know how God will work."

This summer, the Rev. Lon Cockerill, mission pastor at Temple, will travel to Iraq to help distribute food. Other members, including Sabot and his wife, may join him.

Cockerill hopes others with special skills in community development will also travel with the group.

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That would bring a personal touch to the collection of food.

"It's important to us as Christians to put feet and action to the love God has given us," Cockerill says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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