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E-mails from Pell City encourage U.S. troops abroadcomment (0)

January 25, 2007

By Bethany Dye Akridge



On a weekly basis, Rachel Stevens, education secretary at Eden Westside Baptist Church, Pell City, sends the gift of encouragement from the Southeast all the way to the Middle East and other areas around the world. In March 2003, Stevens, with the support of her St. Clair Baptist Association church, began Operation Westside, an e-mail ministry to deployed soldiers and their families.

Stevens said she felt God calling her to begin such a ministry when a fellow church member was deployed overseas. "I know what these people are feeling," said Stevens, whose husband has been in the military for more than 20 years. "It’s tough being a military spouse."

In addition to the e-mails, Operation Westside sends care packages to soldiers to meet specific needs. For instance, through a Pop-Tarts and cereal bar drive, the ministry raised approximately 100 boxes of Pop-Tarts and 75 boxes of cereal bars to feed a group of soldiers who had to leave camp each day before the mess hall opened for breakfast.

Since Operation Westside began, more than 100 soldiers have been touched through its ministry. Stevens said most families who request to be part of the ministry hear about it through word-of-mouth.

"Operation Westside is a great way to reach people at their point of need," said Jacky Connell, pastor of Eden Westside Baptist. "Rachel is being used of the Lord to get soldiers and their families connected, and it allows the church to become familiar with their needs."

Some soldiers, upon returning home from deployment, have driven more than an hour to visit Eden Westside and say, "Thank you."

A soldier with the 131st Aviation Group providing humanitarian aid in Afghanistan flew an American flag on his plane in honor of those involved with Operation Westside. When he returned to the United States, he presented the flag to the church with a certificate.

Eden Westside also continues to honor these soldiers once they return to the States with events such as an annual Independence Day service. One soldier who had participated in Operation Westside drove two hours from his hometown to attend the Independence Day service in 2006 and brought enough family members to fill two pews.

"I’m thankful for ministries like Operation Westside that God birthed in the church, and I’m thankful for a church that supports ministries like this," Connell said.

For more information, visit www.edenwestside.org or e-mail Stevens at tmstevens@centurytel.net.

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