South Georgia UMs share Christmas with Navajo Nation


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Several South Georgia United Methodists spread some early Christmas cheer last month when they took more than 2,000 shoeboxes packed full of gifts to the Navajo Nation.

Two trailers, loaded full of filled Christmas presents, left South Georgia Dec. 11. After crossing the country, the group arrived in northeastern Arizona ready to serve and play Santa.

While only seven people actually made the trip, thousands of South Georgia United Methodists contributed to the Christmas cheer. Dozens of congregations packed shoeboxes full of small gifts, books, stuffed animals, school supplies, and toiletries. In addition to the shoeboxes, the group also took coats, blankets, and clothing to give away. For some children, the shoebox was their one and only Christmas gift.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be able to help,” said Rev. Charles “Buddy” Whatley, who, along with his wife, Mary Ella, traveled more than 2,500 miles around Georgia and South Carolina this past November, collecting the shoeboxes. “For a lot of the children, that’s their whole Christmas, and they will keep the box as a treasure box. We’ve fallen in love with them.”

For the past 13 years, Rev. and Mrs. Whatley have traveled to the Navajo Nation, building relationships; making friends; and serving the men, women, and children who live on the reservation. They usually make the nearly 4,000-mile round-trip trek in the spring, so this trip was led by Gene Trulock, of Bainbridge, who runs Lifeline Ministries.

Rev. Christy Bandy, pastor of Cairo First United Methodist Church, has served on several overseas mission trips, but this was her first to the Navajo Nation. Cairo First UMC has, for several years, filled shoeboxes and supported Lifeline Ministries and the Whatley’s ministry to the Navajo.

The group worshipped at Sawmill United Methodist Church Saturday evening after sharing a meal with the congregation and Rev. Bandy preached at Blue Gap United Methodist Church Sunday morning. She read from Luke 2 and shared that God’s unconditional love is available to everyone.

“I shared with them that God showed his love through the birth of Jesus and the cross, from the cradle to the cross.”

While the poverty is extreme, the joy they saw on the children’s faces was priceless, Rev. Bandy said.

“The experience was indescribable,” she said. “Being able to take Jesus in a different way to them and show God’s love in various ways was indescribable.”