EAST COUNTY — For students at two elementary schools in Zimbabwe, Christmas is already on its way — $50,000 worth of toys and supplies packed into boxes to be delivered by truck, then by ship and, again, by truck.
Members of Bayside Community Church stuffed a truck, locked its swinging doors and leaned a hand against it, reciting an unrehearsed prayer, Aug. 13, as they readied those Christmas gifts for departure.
With no bow to add, a church employee pulled the doors back open, whipped out cans of green and red spray paint and wrote, “To Zimbabwe with love,” onto a piece of cardboard.
Bayside calls this effort “Christmas in July.” The first-time event signals the church’s effort to create a presence in Zimbabwe, where Bayside officials are working to start a church campus.
Nearly 70 church staff and members filled the truck with containers, packed into boxes, with goods for elementary school students at two schools — Tategulu Primary School and Mkhithika Primary School — in Cowdray Park, Zimbabwe, an impoverished suburb of Bulawayo, the second-largest city in the country.
“To see the church be so generous is amazing,” said Gregg Ellery, executive pastor. “It’s easy for us to make sure kids miles away have a spectacular Christmas. This is why we do what we do — love on people.”
Preparations began in July, when church staff members gave the containers to church members with the direction to fill each with $15 worth of gifts — jump ropes, dolls and other items.
From here, the goods will be trucked to Miami and then to Charleston, S.C. From there, the boxes will float by ship to Durban, South Africa, before they are trucked to Bulawayo and, then, to the schools.
The transportation process is so involved that the goods will not arrive until Christmastime.
The Rev. Randy Bezet and others will fly to the schools the second week in December to throw a Christmas party for the students, who will receive the gifts at that time.
The “Christmas in July” event occurred at each of Bayside’s three campuses.
Bayside’s outreach to Zimbabwe began in April when Children’s Cup, a humanitarian and spiritual-aid organization based in Louisiana, invited church officials to Cowdray Park.
Children’s Cup, which works with churches to provide food and water, medical care, education and discipleship to impoverished places in Africa, has been working with Bayside for more than 10 years.
“My wife and I went with Randy (Bezet) and his wife to tour the neighborhood and schools,” Ellery said. “We prayed over potential land (for a potential campus) and prayed over the schools. This was the beginning.”
In October, Bayside began a sponsorship program with Children’s Cup and One Child Matters, an organization that operates faith-based, child-sponsorship programs. One Child Matters helped Bayside pick 500 children for church members to sponsor.
Each month, participating Bayside churchgoers each donate $34 toward each child they sponsor for the program.
In May, Bezet and Don Champion, a church volunteer with ties to Africa, visited Cowdray Park again.
In 1999, Champion, a retired transportation internal consultant with ExxonMobil (then called Mobil) helped roll out a program that set requirements that made it safer to deliver gasoline to Zimbabwe, Malawi, Cameroon and Nicaragua.
With Bezet, Champion used his ties and knowledge to curry favor with the Bulawayo government, a requirement to earn trust in the country.
“You have to understand the people and understand the cultural differences,” Champion said. “You have to know how to apply the DNA of Bayside to a place that needs it but has never experienced it.”
On the day of the box-packing, Ellery’s wife, Valerie, a teacher, was at the schools in Zimbabwe, working with the teachers and “praying for more favor.”
Ellery said that Bayside is “real close” to getting the favor it needs to open a campus near the two elementary schools — hopefully, in eight months to a year.
For now, Bayside is content preparing for Christmas — in August.
“God we ask that you protect this, as it floats across the ocean, as it gets trucked across the ground and as it arrives in Cowdray Park in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, three months from now,” Ellery recited in prayer, blessing the truck that would deliver Christmas gifts to the children there.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].