By Rev. Dr. Sunny Brown Farley
It was a compelling photo that inspired Rev. Karen Jones of Cedar Street United Methodist Church to do all she could to get laptops into the hands those who serve the UMC in Zambia.
“You could see the people in their finest attire gathered in spaces with dirt floors doing business with pen and paper,” she said of the picture.
For years, Cedar Street’s Mustard Seed ministry has refurbished computers and given them away to those in need – particularly local students who can’t afford the technology they need to get through school.
The ministry gives away about 800 computers a year and offers classes on how to use them.
Word of Mustard Seed reached church leaders in Zambia via an article featured in a UMC publication a few years ago and they recently contacted the ministry.
“I got an email, and at first I wondered if the inquiry was legitimate,” Jones said. “I followed up. I did some investigating, and it turns out the need is very legitimate.”
She not only saw photos online, but she learned from church leaders that the only person in the conference with a computer was the bishop’s secretary.
“Can you imagine doing charge conference reports all on paper?” she asked.
Mustard Seed set a goal of sending 10 computers to Zambia, which is a sister conference to the TAC. News spread about the effort and soon members of nearby Edom UMC and two local chapters of Shriners International decided to join in.
As of mid-January, the group amassed 23 laptops and $800 in funds for shipping. The computers are set up with the latest version of Windows and Office software.
Jones estimated the cost at $75-$100 per computer to refurbish and the group is now trying to find the least-expensive way to get them from East Texas to the African nation.
“We don’t usually ship anything. People either pick up or we deliver. This shipping thing is all new to us,” she said.
They are considering delivering the computers to delegates at General Conference in April in Charlotte, North Carolina. Other options under review include mailing them or sending them with mission teams headed to the region.