Event Addressing Local Hunger Has Nationwide Implications for Addressing Global Needs, According to empty tomb, inc.

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A local event focused on helping people with food brings churches together and shows the potential for nationwide impact on reducing the global child-death rate as well.

The Champaign, IL-based empty tomb, inc., is sponsoring its ninth work-a-thon. The organization's leaders think the event is not only a model that could be used in other areas. In addition, the event demonstrates the potential for churches to impact global as well as local needs.

As of early February, 26 churches from across the theological spectrum in the Champaign County area are planning to participate in the special event, scheduled for March 3, 2018. While churches might have many differences, the tag line for the event suggests one area they can agree on: "Oneness in the Body of Christ through Service in Jesus' Name."

Local Event. The local event combines fundraising for the annual operations of empty tomb, inc., with a direct service project.

Throughout the year, empty tomb, inc. encourages historically Christian church people in the area to help local people in need. The local services of empty tomb are offered free in Jesus' name, and include sharing of food, clothes, and furniture; cash assistance for paying bills and medical needs is also available.

This year, the Mega Work-A-Thon builds on the Food Work activity.

Participating churches are asked to fill boxes with a select group of 11 pantry stocker items. The items can be purchased for about $21. Members of the congregations are encouraged to fill a box or bring single items. empty tomb provides a large-print Gospel of John to include in each box.

In addition, cash donations are collected for empty tomb's annual operating budget.

On the morning of the event, this year March 3, 2018, participants from each church come together at one location for a brief time of information and worship. The participants then decorate their boxes with supplies they have brought. Each church has been given names of people, generally referred by area agencies. The morning is spent delivering the decorated boxes.

The goal this year is to deliver 500 boxes of pantry stocker items, and to raise $60,811 for empty tomb operations.

This idea, according to empty tomb staff, provides an activity that brings together Christians from many different backgrounds to work on a common purpose they all agree is important to their faith: Showing God's love through Jesus in a practical way to people in need.

A full-page color ad, featuring photos of 20 pastors of the 26 churches participating, is scheduled to run on two Sundays, February 11 and February 18, 2018, in the local newspaper, The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette (see the 2018 Mega Work-A-Thon page ).

The idea of a common service project among area churches can be easily adapted by churches in the over 3,000 counties in the U.S. In the past, churches have gathered for an empty tomb Mega Work-A-Thon to build storage shelves for children, giving many the first piece of furniture they owned. Other projects have included food deliveries, furniture deliveries, home repair, and, with a focus on literacy, teams of children and adults reading the Gospel of John together.

empty tomb staff offer the idea that churches across the U.S. could set aside the first Saturday in March each year, for example, as a day to gather in their areas for similar common service projects, in a nationwide display of oneness through service in Jesus' name.

National Implications. Sylvia Ronsvalle, Executive Vice President, also sees broader implications for the idea of the Mega Work-A-Thon.

She has observed decades of church members reaching out in service to people in need on a local level. She said this activity has convinced her that, with the right national denominational leadership, churches across the U.S. have the potential for increased impact on global need as well.

She and her husband, Dr. John Ronsvalle, are authors of the empty tomb series, The State of Church Giving. The most recent edition, out in October 2017, is The State of Church Giving through 2015: Understanding the Times.

The numbers in the books document downward trends in both membership and giving as a percent of income to churches. Further, the portion of donations to the church that is spent outside the congregation, on the larger mission of the church, has been declining over decades.

In The State of Church Giving through 2015, which is the 27th edition in the series, the Ronsvalles conclude that the church is withering for lack of something great to do.

According to Sylvia Ronsvalle, the local works of empty tomb happening all year, as well as the special-event Mega Work-A-Thon, show that church people are willing to tackle tasks to assist their neighbors in need.

The numbers that the Ronsvalles' report also show that there is potential for church members to increase giving. If church members have not increased their giving, it may be they have not been given a good enough reason to do so.

The Ronsvalles point to the need to close what they term "the Promise Gap": the difference between the goals for reducing the under-age-five mortality rate (U5MR) set by global leaders for various countries, and the actual U5MR. This gap meant an estimated 1.3 million children under five died in 2017 because the goal was not reached. As of 2015, there were 40 countries behind the curve in reducing the child deaths.

A May 31, 2017, press release outlined both the need and the potential for the church in the U.S. to serve as the "cleanup crew" in closing this Promise Gap. "Like in baseball," Sylvia Ronsvalle said, "when the goal is to get runners on base and have a cleanup hitter bring them home, the church has a role to play in closing the Promise Gap. Many agencies, both government and private, have helped reduce the U5MR since 1990. Now the church, with its delivery systems in place on the front lines and its network of support throughout the U.S., could decide to help bring the goal home."

More information about the empty tomb 2018 Mega Work-A-Thon is available at the empty tomb Web site.

The State of Church Giving through 2015: Understanding the Times is available through Wipf and Stock publishers (wipfandstock.com), or on Amazon.com.

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