May 18, 2013 7:42:29 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
If Angie Basson ever wondered what a couple of thousand purses look like, chances are she won't have to wait long to find out. The spare bedroom of her east Lowndes County home is already overflowing with about 1,000 handbags of every color and configuration -- and the stockpile keeps growing.
These purses are destined for Mexico, to neighborhood churches in cities like Matamoros and Reynosa. There, they will help deliver the gospel and brighten someone's day. These purses are going to a tea party.
The Women On Mission group at Basson's church, Murrah's Chapel Baptist, has partnered with Susan Kirk and her Thru His Mercy nonprofit ministry in San Juan, Texas. Kirk travels into Mexico several times each month to conduct Bible studies and tea parties. With refreshments, singing, laughter and "prizes," the concept has proven an effective way to draw women in the border town communities together for fellowship and spiritual development.
"Last fall we committed to collect new and good, gently-used purses for the tea parties, and we kicked off the drive in February," explained Basson, who spearheads the church's effort along with Rhonda Richardson. Both women were among a small contingent from Murrah's Chapel that made a 2011 mission trip into Mexico with Kirk.
The collaboration between the Columbus congregation and the ministry to Mexico put down its first root in 2010, when Kirk renewed old ties with the Bassons, who had been friends with her parents when both families lived in Oklahoma. As the Bassons learned more of Kirk's efforts, it was only natural to invite her to visit Mississippi and to speak to the Women On Mission.
When Murrah's Chapel took on the purse challenge, they were aiming for several hundred bags. But the ministry is growing so quickly, the target has been upped.
"God is just on fire down there, and now we're looking at needing several thousand purses a year," said Basson.
By phone from Texas, the vivacious Kirk explained, "This year has mushroomed on me! I was doing one tea party a month and maybe 50 to 100 women would come, so that was 600-1,200 purses a year. Well, I've done two to three a month lately, and they're having well over 150 ladies."
Women attending tea parties receive a Bible. They also receive prizes for participation. One of those is a purse with modest surprises inside -- lotions, make-up, combs, hair accessories, soaps, costume jewelry, small (non-battery) children's toys and similar donated items.
"It makes the study of God's word fun and exciting for all involved," said Kirk. Some of the women receiving bags arrive carrying plastic sacks instead of a purse. Some have never had a pocketbook before.
"They leave with the word of God, and they are listening -- and they're bringing their daughters sisters and neighbors," shared Kirk, who conducts the lively events with an interpreter. The focus is often in areas that can benefit family and marriage, such as forgiveness and working together, said Basson.
Men and children aren't left out. Because tea parties have caused so much excitement for spiritual growth among the women, more husbands have gotten involved; Kirk has even had tea parties for them. "So we can use items for men and children, too," Bason noted.
To kick-start the Golden Triangle purse campaign, Basson and Richardson began speaking to other churches and groups. The plea was published in the Baptist newsletter. The inventory received a huge boost, however, after they appealed to Kappa Delta Sorority at Mississippi State University and were showered with bags.
Basson will host a purse-packing party in June, with other members of the group forming a festive assembly line to put happies inside each purse.
Having helped with a tea party in Matamoros and come face to face with the women who come, the cause has become very personal for those who made the mission trip to Mexico. As the church doors opened that day, Basson was at first a little apprehensive; she doesn't speak Spanish and was far from familiar surroundings.
But as the ladies began filing in, it was "just peaceful, sort of like a family reunion or a group of friends who hadn't seen each other in years," she said. She recalled a woman, holding a thin baby, who heard the music from the street and came in out of curiosity.
"She was very dirty; the baby was dirty, but the women just welcomed her," Basson recounted. "You know, you hear a lot about bad things that happen there, but what you don't hear is that God is on the move."
Guerreras de Cristo
A core of women in the churches Kirk visits has taken on the name Guerreras de Cristo -- women warriors of Christ.
"These ladies from different churches and denominations have stood up, gone through spiritual development and allowed God to make a change in their life, and they are stepping out," Kirk explained. Dressed in their adopted colors of pink and black, the ladies have begun walking the parks and streets and organizing tea parties deeper into Mexico, to places Thru His Ministry can't readily go.
"It's exciting. It's overwhelming. But God tells us to teach the teacher and disciple the disciples, and that's what we're trying to do," said the ministry founder who works with identified ladies in each church to develop spiritual leadership teams.
In August, Kirk will make the 16-hour drive to Columbus, with an empty van and trailer to fill with purses. Other churches along her route help facilitate getting Spanish-language literature and other necessary materials. Her part in the ministry is no larger than those who help her, she asserted.
"We're all working together. Everybody's part in this is as big as the other," she stressed.
When the loaded van departs, the women of Murrah's Chapel will take only a short breather before gearing up again.
"This is a great time to clean out your closet," laughed Basson, who takes the ever-spreading mountain of handbags in her house in stride.
"How many do we need? Whatever God sends," she smiled.
Editor's note: To donate purses or items to go in them, contact Basson at 662-574-6740 or [email protected], or Rhonda Richardson at 662-574-8655.
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Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.