A conversation with Fijoy Johnson regarding this years Missions Week's shift from international to local
Unlike years past, Lee's annual Missions Week saw a shift in focus from an international charity to a local organization.
This year’s focus was on local homegrown organization Smoky Mountain Children’s Home, located in Sevierville, Tenn.
Assistant Director of Community Ministries Fijoy Johnson said the reason for highlighting a local charity is the connection between Lee and Smoky Mountain Children’s Home in light of Lee’s Centennial Celebration.
“In light of this, the children’s home provided a unique opportunity to reflect upon Lee’s legacy as well as further support their mission,” Johnson said.
The Smoky Mountain Children’s Home conveys this year's Missions Week's theme of “Going Home,” striving to be a place where children and families may find a true home and refuge, according to theirwebsite.
The shift to a local organization signals hope for another change as well. Johnson said Lee wants to eliminate the stigma that can surround missions work in one’s own nation as opposed to overseas missions work.
“Oftentimes, it requires a deeper level of dedication to foster a lifestyle of missions within one’s community,” Johnson said. “Furthermore, the needs present within one’s own nation are often times harder to spot.”
The “poor” may not be destitute on the street, close to death, to still lack basic resources and needs. The most vulnerable and exploited may appear to have it all together, according to Johnson.
“Hence, whereas when one travels to another country the needs are often pointed out and quite obvious, Christians in America must make an intentional effort to truly ‘see’ the missional needs around them,” Johnson said.
Johnson said his passion for this change in Missions Week stems from his desire for Lee students to learn the importance of local missions.
“I want to show students that missions is not about going to other countries to serve, but that it is about loving our neighbors—the poor, the orphans, and the widows in our own community too,” Johnson said. “We do not have to travel to another nation to participate in the mission of God; we can start right where we are.”
Lee and the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home share more than just the same state—in the past, they even shared the same land.
During its founding in 1918, Lee was once the Church of God Bible Training School in Sevierville. In 1947, the university moved back to Cleveland and took the name Lee College.
The Smoky Mountain Children’s Home then took up residence on the land in Sevierville. From that point forward, children from the home have attended Lee, and faculty from Lee have taken up administrative roles at Smoky Mountain Children’s Home.
As Missions Week started in honor of one woman’s work overseas, this year is a definite turn from the usual. Johnson said it is not, however, a departure from her legacy.
“It began in 1992 following the death of Lee student Dee Lavender during an international summer-long internship in Panama,” Johnson said. “In her honor, Lee chose to set aside a week each year to raise awareness about a specific organization, to financially fundraise on their behalf and support their cause.”
Throughout the week, shirts are sold bearing a design specific to the year's theme. Donations and proceeds from the sales are gathered by Lee University Campus Ministries and the Church of God World Mission headquarters. From here, according to Johnson, the funding is compiled through the financial services of Lee.
Johnson said he encourages students to get involved in the donation process, as the proceeds will go towards furthering the children's education.
“Once the funding is compiled, it will be delivered to Dr. [Walt] Mauldin, the director of the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home, to be put towards the renovation of the Alpha Educational Learning Center,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to raise $40,000. … We are halfway there. If you would like to donate, you can stop by the Campus Ministry Office and support this project.”
Johnson said Lee’s support for Smoky Mountain Children’s Home will not end at the monetary level but will expand to the physical needs as well.
“Lee will continue to send groups of students to work on building projects, student events and present musical performances for the children and staff,” Johnson said. “This semester, Urban Outreach is sending a group of students to work at the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home for a weekend.”
Lee students are able to get involved even if they are not in a group that is planning to go to Smoky Mountain Children’s Home.
“Lee students may contact [the Student Leadership Council] to participate the last weekend in October,” Johnson said. “Lee will continue to build personal relationships between the faculty and students of both institutions into the foreseeable future through similar partnership events.”
For more information about the project or to make a donation, contact the campus ministry office email@example.com or at (423) 614-8420.
For more information about the Smoky Mountains Children’s Home, visit their website.