November 03, 2008

The people of The United Methodist Church have donated more than 13 million minutes of conversations with loved ones to U.S. servicemen and servicewomen serving overseas.

The Phone Card Project, 5 years old this November, was started by United Methodist Chaplain Lt. Col. J. Maddox Woodbery and was initially pushed by the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the UMC.

“I was a part of the process where we literally counted and sorted a table full of phone cards that had been provided by people of Illinois,” said Judy W. Carter, volunteer coordinator of the Phone Card Project.

“Our process is simple: We collect the donations, order cards, and send the cards directly to our United Methodist chaplains serving in areas of conflict. The chaplains hand the cards out to their service personnel in whatever fashion they determine is best,” Carter said of the program operated through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s United Methodist Endorsing Agency.

“We remind them that the cards are intended to reach those with the most need. We receive stories and pictures of these cards reaching their intended recipients . . . for which they are so grateful.”

The chaplains who distribute the cards say many serving in conflict zones could not afford to call their family. With Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays coming up, these cards are vital.

“Each gift received and used to contact family members through these phone cards reduces the isolation our soldiers feel,” said Army Chaplain Maj. Nana Bassaw in Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq.

“There are so many young soldiers who cannot afford to stay connected to family like they should because of the cost, but thanks to your generosity they are able to do so for at least a little while. The holidays are just around the corner, and I would like to help the church provide more cards for our armed forces members to keep in touch with their families,” said Air Force Chaplain Maj. Sherrol James, who is serving at Joint Base Balad in Iraq. “A report is out that states Army suicide for 2008 will exceed that of 2007, and that is tragic. I will be sending you $500 to help with the next phone card campaign; to me it is not such a big cost to save a life.”

James said her unit just had seven soldiers die in a helicopter crash.

“Just thinking of the anguish of the members of that battalion and their families and wanting to provide a way for them to connect with family to reassure them of their safety pulls at my heart strings, but I have no more cards to give,” she said. “When a soldier or airman asks for a card, it is difficult for me to say I have no more because I know they ask only because they want to stay connected with family and cannot afford to.”

Everyone who donates a card or money has received a personal thank you, except during a very brief period in the second year when donations were coming in so fast that one volunteer couldn’t keep up, Carter said.

Initially, people donated cards, but then began sending money for the cards. When that happened, the Endorsing Agency developed a card with the United Methodist logo and a message stating that the card is provided by the people of The United Methodist Church, who are also praying for the safety of the troops.

One 120-minute card costs $4.95 and 15 orders for 5,000 cards have been placed since the program began. “We have collected over $450,000,” Carter said.

“I am so grateful for all those men and women who are serving our country. I am so proud of our United Methodist chaplains who are ministering to these people, and I feel very privileged to be able to put these cards in their hands,” Carter said.

To contribute to the phone card program, send checks payable to:
United Methodist Endorsing Agency (UMEA)
General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
PO Box 340007
Nashville, TN 37203-0007.

GBHEM UM Endorsing Agency web site