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Missionaries reach out to kids in need

Mike and Libby Flowers noticed the profane graffiti splashed across the basketball court in Tokio, N.D., shortly after they arrived with a ministry team this summer.

Missionaries Libby, left, and Mike Flowers

Mike and Libby Flowers noticed the profane graffiti splashed across the basketball court in Tokio, N.D., shortly after they arrived with a ministry team this summer. But they had other work to tackle on the Spirit Lake Nation reservation first.

They and out-of-state volunteers were there to paint houses, do minor construction projects and, most importantly, reach out to children with snacks and Scripture.

Three weeks later, Libby Flowers stood in the middle of the court, tears of awe streaming down her face.

There was new graffiti - "Jesus Loves U" - spray-painted in black and blue.

"That's how we saw God's love working out on the reservation through those children," Mike Flowers said.

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Since February, the West Fargo couple have been full-time missionaries with Children of the Harvest, a ministry of the United Methodist Church's Dakotas Conference.

The program is focused on benefiting children in poverty and at risk in North and South Dakota. It includes mission projects on the Spirit Lake reservation, a food pantry and clothing closet, a traveling Sunday school trailer and a computer club for kids.

"In our short tenure, what we've seen is children that are going to school in clean clothes, children that are going to school because they have coats, children that are hearing the message that Jesus loves them and children who are going to church who weren't going to church before," Mike Flowers said.

This time of year, their efforts are focused on delivering shoeboxes of gifts to needy children in the two states.

About 3,000 to 4,000 gift-filled boxes have been collected each year. This year, 4,462 shoeboxes were donated.

For some children, it's the only gift they will receive, Mike Flowers said.

"I don't know that people really understand the poverty we have here in North Dakota," he said.

At the ministry's office in south Fargo, the couple sort through donated gift boxes, removing anything inappropriate and adding a bit extra when needed.

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Libby Flowers takes a videotape out of one box. The children wouldn't all have access to a VCR, she said. She adds gloves and hats to boxes that don't include the winter wear.

For four years before becoming missionaries, the couple volunteered with the ministry's "Shoebox Christmas."

"At the end of 'Shoebox' we'd feel kind of empty," Mike Flowers said.

When they heard that the former missionaries, Bob and Ada Lower of Minot, N.D., were retiring, each knew it was something they had to do.

They've been enthusiastic about their work, and the love and care of the children, said the Rev. Linda Baldock, a pastor at Methodist churches in Milnor, Wyndmere and Sheldon, N.D.

"They both gave up far better-paying jobs in order to take this ministry, and they've never been happier," Baldock said.

Their salaries are paid for by the church conference. The ministry's programs are funded through donations.

This summer, 27 mission teams totaling 270 volunteers paid to spend time helping out on the reservation near Devils Lake, N.D.

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"We don't fully grasp the changes and the affect we're having by showing that love," Mike Flowers said. "But our hope is when these children get to a point in their lives when they have to make a decision, they remember the folks that were out there with them, and make the right decision.

"We're showing them the love of Jesus Christ," he said.

"And hopefully one day, if they need somebody or need something, the can turn to the church," Libby Flowers said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525 Missionaries reach out to kids in need Sherri Richards 20071225

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