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Passing on the gift

Monday, December 16, 2013

Annie Harmon

Cutline: More animals are added every week. Photo by Annie Harmon

A puzzling assortment of colorful animals has been observed on the First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood grounds recently. And like all puzzles, more of the pieces appear each week.

Each animal a passerby sees is a plywood cutout, but more importantly it’s a new form of livelihood for a family in need. Working with Heifer International, a charity which brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty, FPCK has sponsored more than 100 animals to date.

FPCK, like other local organizations, has worked with Heifer in the past. This year they expanded the scope of the project, giving people the opportunity to sponsor whole animals.

Sara Rising, a deacon at FPCK said, “Every plywood cutout represents an animal bought for a community. Each week we have added to our ‘corral.’ The first week we had five animals and it’s taken off from there.”

FPCK is comfortable working with Heifer International knowing that the gift gives more than simply an animal. Heifer recipients are also taught to prevent overgrazing, collect manure for organic fertilizer, plant trees and manage resources for long-term success.

Rev. Mark Renn of FPCK said, “Heifer provides staff that does the training; teaching them how to rear more animals so that the investment lasts. That way you don’t give someone a flock of chickens and they don’t know how to raise chickens. They do the follow-up and make sure people are trained and prepared to develop sustainable agriculture in small scale economies.”

While Heifer teaches recipients how to use all of the products from the animals - milk, wool, eggs, or honey - what a recipient doesn’t use for themselves can be turned into income to buy medicine, schools or a better home for their family.

“We’re not just handing them a plate of food, we’re giving them food for the rest of their lives,” said Rising.

But since animals reproduce, the gift doesn’t stop there. Heifer’s recipients agree to share one or more of their animals’ offspring and the training they receive with others in need. This is what Heifer International calls Passing on the Gift. This unique development tool multiplies the benefit of the original gift and allows recipients to become donors.

Members of FPCK feel this project benefits the local youth community as well. Mike Doyle of FPCK stated, “You have an opportunity to let people see that our community has youth who are truly engaged in the process of helping people outside of their local area.”

Rising agreed. She shared how the kids have come together, bringing in other young people to participate in the Heifer project. A group called Helping Hands, made up of many FPCK youth, already provides many services to those in need in the community, and now have extended themselves to help those in places they may never get to visit.

“Our high schoolers are the ones cutting and painting these animals and they are so enthusiastic about it. I’m going to buy a batch of rabbits in honor of our youth,” said Rising.

Renn stated that they hope to have this ‘Shepherd’s Corral’ continue in the years to come.

“There was an initial discussion about having it just be an internal church ministry,” Renn said, “but we really wanted it to be front and center and let the whole community know about it.”

Renn added, “Our team has been discussing how exciting it would be if other churches in the area caught the spirit of this next year as a way to tie churches together and get more animals donated. So we’re hoping that this gets a great response from the community so that people look forward to seeing it year after year.”

Animal Donations range from $20 to $500 and the donations are tax deductible. And since FPCK used their own funds from their Missional Grant Program to purchase supplies used, Renn said that none of the money goes back to the church. One hundred percent of their donation will go towards the purchase of an animal. “It’s not just a Christian ministry. This addresses a tangible need that transcends faith and backgrounds, while at the same time addressing a fundamental aspect of the Gospels: loving our neighbors,” Renn said.

Robyn Marshall, one of the Helping Hands and member of FPCK, shared, “I hope the people of the community who drive past the corral are as blown away as I am by the generosity that has been shown through the project.”

For more information, visit www.fpc-kingwood.org/heifer

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