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April 17, 2013

Mailbox Missionaries

As the Mailbox Club shares Christ with the world, the world comes to Valdosta

VALDOSTA — An international gathering of missionaries in Orlando, Fla., recently brought two ministers to South Georgia to visit with the Mailbox Club.

Evelyn Alvarengae of Nicaragua and “David” of Bangladesh were part of missionaries worldwide invited by evangelist Franklin Graham to spend a week in Orlando as part of his Operation Christmas Child conference.

These two missionaries are also involved in distributing the Mailbox Club’s Christian materials to youngsters in their respective countries. With the Mailbox Club’s international headquarters located in Valdosta, a relatively short trip from Orlando, both Alvarengae and “David” wanted to visit the South Georgia site.

“David” uses an assumed name for this interview for concerns of his, his family and his ministry’s safety in Bangladesh. As a Christian missionary in a country that is an estimated 95 percent Muslim, he faces dangers not from the government but from his neighbors and other citizens who do not believe David should be spreading the Christian faith.

He shares the stories of two other native Christians who openly preached of Jesus. One showed a film about Christ and was killed. The other left Islam for Christianity; he began preaching of Christianity and was also killed.

As for David, born in Bangladesh, his Christian journey began first at home. His mother is a Christian. As a child, he came to know Jesus through an American missionary working in Bangladesh.

“She was a Southern Baptist missionary and she spent 32 years in our village,” David says. “Our village was very poor. I grew up with no sandals, no school, living in a mud house. ... That lady led me to Christ. She had a Sunday school and I attended her Sunday school class.”

As David reached adulthood, he started a ministry for children. Time and again, he noticed his ministry bringing children to Christ during events but the ministry had no follow-up. It had nothing to keep these newly Christian children interested in the faith.

That’s when David discovered the Mailbox Club. Originally, the Valdosta-based Mailbox Club was a regional, American ministry, sending Bible-based materials to children who would complete the assignments, mail them back to the headquarters then receive the next assignment in the mail. By about 2000, Franklin Graham’s ministries took note of the Mailbox Club and partnered with the organization. Since, the Mailbox Club has been translated into dozens of languages and has reached millions of children worldwide.

With the Mailbox Club, David found the materials that gave his ministry the necessary follow-up. In the early 2000s, he saved money and ordered copies from the Mailbox Club. He then translated the information himself for the children of Bangladesh. Marvin White, the Mailbox Club’s Asian liaison, recalls David ordering one lesson then a lapse of a few months while David saved his money to order the next lesson. Now, the lessons are translated and arrive regularly to David’s ministry.

In 2012, 4,355 children received the lessons in Bangladesh, with the same number receiving their certificates of completing the program. In the past decade, David has used the club’s lessons with an estimated 40,000 children.

“The children are getting so much help from the Mailbox Club,” David says. “Their parents are so humbled when they see the change in their children. They are humbled by the Christian love.”

Many of the parents also come to the Christian faith, David says.

To protect the children, David and his ministry do not distribute the materials for the children to take home. Children work the lessons during meetings then return them to David and his fellow missionaries at each meeting’s end.

Some of the young adults who help David with the ministry were once some of the first children with whom he shared those early Mailbox Club lessons.

In Nicaragua, Evelyn Alvarengae has also experienced meeting adult ministers whom she inspired during their childhood.

Through translator Omar Rincon, a Mailbox Club liaison, Alvarengae shares the story of meeting a young pastor during her travels in Central America. He approached her and said he had attended her ministry as a child. Inspired by Alvarengae’s work and the Mailbox Club lessons, the child grew to become a man of the cloth.

She did not recognize the young man. “It is sad. So many people come to me,” she says, “and I don’t remember their faces.”

Alvarengae can be excused for this lapse. Not only have these children grown to adulthood, she has seen thousands of faces and traveled thousands of miles in her native Nicaragua, other Central American countries, and even the island nation of Cuba. Between 2000-2013, Alvarengae has ensured the Mailbox Club reached 325,667 children in Nicaragua, with 116,486 receiving their club certificates for completing the program.

While in Valdosta last week, she also reunited with South Georgians who have traveled to Nicaragua in the past to help her mission. She visited Crossroads Baptist Church, CrossPointe, and Northside Baptist Church.

Alvarengae is a missionary, but she is also an adventurer. She must be to spread the word. She has traveled by plane, boat, horseback and on foot to reach remote villages and their children.

“As a child, I dreamed when I grew up, I would travel many places,” she says through Rincon’s translation. “I would visit many countries. ... In some ways, my work is the fulfillment of my wishes as a child.”   

More information, or to help the Mailbox Club, visit www.mailboxclub.org

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