HEART Fund Grant Supports Smoky Mountain Fire Victims

As the Smoky Mountain resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge continue to recover from devastating wildfires, a $5,000 HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund grant from the national Woman’s Missionary Union and the WMU Foundation will assist artisans and other workers struggling due to the decline in tourism.

The wildfires that swept through the Smoky Mountain region in late November and early December 2016 came at the beginning of the busy Christmas tourist season. As a result, many who make their living in arts and crafts, service, retail, and other tourism-related enterprises lost their homes and jobs.

The needs of these workers are still great, said Vickie Anderson, executive director of Tennessee WMU.

“The decline in tourism is causing reduced hours, layoffs, and loss of jobs. Also, a lower income housing shortage in Gatlinburg has gotten worse since the wildfires, which means that many workers are having to relocate to Pigeon Forge and beyond,” Anderson said.

Many of the workers did not have cars because they could walk to work from their homes in Gatlinburg. Others lost their cars in the fires. The lack of reliable transportation coupled with the housing shortage has resulted in increased homelessness in the area.

“The homeless population is growing because monthly costs in housing and transportation are increasing drastically for so many,” Anderson said.

Those most affected are people who work in hotels, restaurants, entertainment attractions, and shops. Gatlinburg businesses employ many temporary and international guest workers who are ineligible for other forms of assistance.

The HEART Fund grant will be distributed through Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries (SMRM) to help workers with transportation, housing, and transitional needs as they rebuild their lives after the fires. As “boots on the ground” in Gatlinburg, SMRM personnel are ministering through the relationships they have developed through many years of faithful service, Anderson said.

A $5,000 HEART Fund grant awarded in December 2016 allowed SMRM volunteers to give out gift cards to help fire victims with immediate needs. However, relief funds have slowed dramatically since the beginning of the year, said SMRM director Bill Black.

“Our income has almost stopped in terms of money for helping those affected by the fires, but the needs have not stopped,” Black said. “We remain deep in this holy and painfully beautiful fire ministry.”

The HEART Fund was created in response to September 11, 2001. Grants allow Christians to provide relief and rebuilding assistance as they minister to disaster victims in the United States and around the world.

The WMU Foundation is accepting donations to the HEART Fund for disaster relief online or by mail to WMU Foundation HEART Fund, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, AL 35242.

give34 challenge

A vision for the future. A celebration of the past. 

Who is someone who has influenced your life? Your mom, grandmother, aunt, a missions leader, a lady from your church? 

We want to celebrate these women this month. Between April 10th-May 14th (Mother's Day), join us on Facebook or Instagram and take the Give34 Challenge!

To take the challenge, you will need to:

  1. Create a 34 second video or write 34 words (and share a photo) on Facebook or Instagram telling us what you love about your mom (or a woman who has influenced or discipled you)
  2. Tag #give34challenge & @WMUFoundation by May 14th for a chance to win a New Hope Gift Set 
  3. Challenge 3-4 others to participate
  4. Give $34 to the Vision Fund in honor of your person and they will receive a special acknowledgement of your gift

The Vision Fund (Give34) supports the life-changing ministries of WMU. A gift of $34 sponsors one hour of ministry. The Vision Fund supports WMU ministries including Christian Women’s Job Corps®/Christian Men’s Job Corps®, Missionsfest and FamilyfestWorldCrafts, and Project HELP.

A Priceless Heritage

At the tiny country church in southern Illinois where Sandy Wisdom-Martin grew up, the first few steps toward Jesus weren’t for the faint of heart.

“My church did not have a bathroom, let alone a baptistery,” she said. “My church had this idea that when you accepted Christ, you were baptized the next Sunday, no matter what.”

And when Wisdom-Martin accepted Christ at age 9, the next Sunday just happened to be an ice storm. They went to the lake anyway.

“Men laid down cardboard so the pastor and I would not sink in three feet of mud,” she said. “My father passed out the hymnals. We sang ‘On Jordan’s Banks I Stand’ and ‘Shall We Gather at the River.’”

And coming up out of water in the middle of that ice storm onto that cardboard was her first public witness as a Christ follower.

Now Wisdom-Martin, the new executive director of national Woman’s Missionary Union, says she likes to think of her role as doing for others what has been done for her — laying the groundwork for them to know the hope and love of Christ.

“The first Southern Baptists I knew were Christian parents who work hard and served well,” she said, noting that she’d grown up in poverty not even understanding the sacrifices her parents made.

Her father worked two jobs, getting two hours of sleep each night. Her mother worked the midnight shift so she could be at home during the daytime and on evenings.

But the couple faithfully attended their church with their children, and from them, Wisdom-Martin said she learned lessons too numerous to mention.

“And the members of our tiny country church poured their lives into mine, giving me every advantage possible as a young Christ follower,” she said.

One of those, she said, was a new pastor’s wife who introduced her church to Acteens, and as a result Wisdom-Martin discovered what God was doing in the world.

“State missions camps and events as well as Acteens Activator teams sealed my heart for missions,” she said. “Then came the opportunity to rub shoulders with heroes of the faith who served with the state convention. When a hero calls you by name and takes an interest in you, it changes the course of your life.”

When a hero calls you by name and takes an interest in you, it changes the course of your life..jpg

In college, the associational WMU council invited her to join their team, and they encouraged her to teach conferences.

“I was awful; they loved me anyway,” she said.

And that’s “only the beginning” of a long line of people who invested in her, she said.

As a result, when Wisdom-Martin moved to Birmingham, Alabama, from Texas to take the WMU executive director position, she brought with her a “priceless heritage” passed down by “faithful Christ followers,” she said.

“WMU has never been my job — it has been how I have lived out God’s calling on my life because I believe in the restoration of brokenness through hope in Christ,” said Wisdom-Martin, who formerly served as executive director of WMU of Texas. Before that she served as women’s missions and ministries director for the Illinois Baptist State Association and as Cooperative Program Missionary with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

“I am excited about the future because I am excited about the God we serve,” she said. “We are defined by the One who calls us by name. He has redeemed us, and we belong to Him. He treasures us and trusts us with the work of His Kingdom.”

Wisdom-Martin hopes that through WMU many will come to understand the gifts God has given them and respond to His call on their life.

“We are here to help nurture that call,” she said. “It's not about what we do; it's about who we are in Christ. We were created in the image of God for His purpose and glory. Our assignment is to take the message of hope in Christ to the nations.”

You can support the next generation of missions leaders by making a gift to the Second Century Fund.

This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Missions Mosaic and was written by Grace Thornton.