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Church conference to raise money for mission work
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Cardboard boxes become huts Thursday at First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville’s annual World Mission Conference. The three-day series of events begins today. Volunteers worked on turning half the church’s gym into an African village designed to teach children about life abroad. - photo by NAT GURLEY

First Presbyterian Church World Mission Conference
When: 6 p.m. today through Sunday morning worship services
Where: 800 S. Enota Drive NE, Gainesville
More info: Visit for a full list of events and activities

Gainesville First Presbyterian Church will kick off its 15th annual World Mission Conference today with the aim of raising more than $93,000 to fund its missions to some of the most poverty-stricken parts of the globe.

This year’s conference promises to be bigger and better than ever before, with an expanded schedule, new events and new ways to get involved designed to suit any and all participants.

The conference is built on a solid foundation of past triumph, annually raising between $88,000 and $95,000.

“One of our members just saw a need that the church should be involved in missions globally,” said church member Barbara Griffeth, co-chairwoman of the conference. “The conference has been a great success ever since.”

The conference will begin with a rice-and-beans dinner at 6 p.m. today, a way of showing solidarity with much of the world’s population that subsists on similar food staples, Griffeth said.

The conference will continue through Sunday, with children’s events, group dinners for missionaries, workshops and worship services.

Additionally, the church will construct a replica African village to help give attendees a sense of the trials and tribulations some people face in poor, rural parts of the world. Aswell Banda will speak to a group of children Saturday about his experiences growing up in Africa. He said he wants to teach kids to be grateful for the opportunities they have growing up in America, opportunities he lacked as a child until he encountered missionaries.

“Missionary work in Africa is very important,” he said. “That’s why I’m a Christian today.”

A new addition to the conference this year is a 5-kilometer road race and family fun walk at 3 p.m. Saturday. A “rock-a-thon” rocking chair marathon will be held for older attendees who cannot participate in the road races. For attendees who cannot make an annual pledge, the conference will offer household items and basic medical needs, such as immunizations, for sale at a low cost so participants can support missions in other ways.

Griffeth said she is excited about the many established missionary groups that will attend the conference, including Solid Rock International, the Haiti Educational Foundation and the Medical Benevolence Foundation.

Thomas Daniel, co-pastor of the Kairos Church in Atlanta, will be the keynote speaker at two worship services Sunday morning, and also will host workshops Saturday detailing how people can get involved in missionary work.

Griffeth knows just how powerful missionary work can be, particularly when it serves people’s basic needs. Her husband, Jack, is a physician, and the two have traveled to the Dominican Republic as part of a missionary group for the past five years to perform surgeries and medical checkups. They most recently visited in January, conducting 81 ear, nose, throat and other surgeries for 650 residents of a rural village over four days. Griffeth said the work is “life-changing” for the recipients of the care.

Funds raised during this weekend’s conference will support missions to the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, India, Pakistan and the Middle East.

“The No. 1 thing is that people in those places sometimes have a sense of hopelessness and feel forgotten,” Griffeth said. “These kinds of trips are life-changing in two ways: the physical part and the spiritual part.”