As the community continues to learn how to live amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a local effort of churches and volunteers have shown that the message of love and the Holy Spirit can survive any silent enemy.
Operation Encouragement, spearheaded by the Yazoo Ministerial Association, is a local campaign that has offered words of encouragement, food items and hope to many workers who remained on the frontline during the recent pandemic.
“The idea actually first sparked in the Long-Term Recovery Committee meeting when we began to talk about what was about to happen with COVID,” said I.N. Hart, volunteer. “We knew people were going to lose their jobs, and many were about to face something we had never seen before. What could we do for the people displaced with this upcoming pandemic?”
That question was taken by local citizen Bob Bailey, who delivered the message to Pastor Ken Lynch of Parkview Church of God. Once the idea was approached, it was soon discovered that some local churches were already preparing to lend a helping hand. It wasn’t long before Pastor George Woodliff, of Trinity Episcopal Church, presented the cause to the Yazoo Ministerial Association.
It wasn’t long before Allison Hughes with First United Methodist Church donated some food items to the Baptist Medical Center Yazoo. And Lynch said he touched base with Becky Duggan, head of nursing at the local hospital.
“She gave us guidance on what we could do as a group of churches to help them,” Lynch said. “We initially began with our focus on the hospital employees. Then a task force was established that began to reach out to others. Operation Encouragement was born.”
In the beginning, four churches provided food for 80 employees for an entire week each at Baptist. After that, the group began to include other essential businesses and employees.
“For this community to survive, there were people who still had to work during COVID,” Hart said. “They had to make sacrifices to work. Before long, the people who were receiving our donations began giving themselves.”
From healthcare workers to first responders to local media, deliveries were made weekly with food and notes of encouragement. And, of course, prayers followed.
“Other civic groups and individuals joined in,” Lynch said. “It was a catalyst, which was our prayer, to unleash God’s given generosity.”
“At one point, the group leaders even lost control of it,” Hart said, with a laugh. “People started responding with the Spirit. They were doing on their own what they were to do.”
Operation Encouragement began its first deliveries during the first week of April, and it continued until last Friday.
“The Holy Spirit was moving among the people and churches,” Lynch added. “I believe that with all my heart.”
Hart said during one delivery, a double rainbow even appeared in the sky. All involved said it was certainly God giving a sign.
“It is more beautiful to give than it is to receive,” Lynch said. “That was the beautiful thing we discovered. We deeply appreciate all the generosity that people unleashed to help fill people with gratitude and joy.”
Woodliff said the local ministerial association normally meets once a month. But with Operation Encouragement, those meetings increased to weekly.
“There was so much unity that came forward with this effort,” Woodliff said. “That doesn’t just happen. The Ministerial Association was created 17 years ago with the idea of being united in the Body of Christ. This effort directly showed that unity, and so many people were blessed. Churches who didn’t even have leadership at the time were coming forward.”
“You could tell God’s hand was on this,” Lynch added. “The encouragement value goes well beyond food and snacks. And He deserves all the credit.”