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Phone cards provide lifeline for soldiers overseas

Phone cards provide lifeline for soldiers overseas

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Phone cards provide lifeline for soldiers overseas

By Vicki L. Brown / Nov. 15, 2008 {0941}

During the past five years the people of The United Methodist Church have donated more than 13 million minutes of conversations with loved ones to U.S. servicemen and -women serving overseas.

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s a gift that’s still very much needed for members of the military far from home.

Army Reserve Chaplain Curtis Wells (right) and soldiers in Kuwait show phone cards their unit received. Photo courtesy of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Photo #08-1063. Web photo only. For longer description see photo gallery.

The Phone Card Project was started in November five years ago by United Methodist Chaplain Lt. Col. J. Maddox Woodbery and initially pushed by the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church.

“I was a part of the process where we literally counted and sorted a table full of phone cards that had been provided by people of Illinois,” said Judy W. Carter, volunteer coordinator of the Phone Card Project, which is now operated through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s United Methodist Endorsing Agency.

“Our process is simple,” she said. “We collect the donations, order cards and send the cards directly to our United Methodist chaplains serving in areas of conflict. The chaplains hand the cards out to their service personnel in whatever fashion they determine is best.”

“We remind them that the cards are intended to reach those with the most need,” Carter added. “We receive stories and pictures of these cards reaching their intended recipients … for which they are so grateful.”

The chaplains who distribute the cards say many serving in conflict zones could not afford to call their families. And with the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, these cards are vital.

“Each gift received and used to contact family members through these phone cards reduces the isolation our soldiers feel,” said Army Chaplain Maj. Nana Bassaw in Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq.

For some soldiers the cards are a lifesaving link to family members.

Since Veterans Day 2003, the United Methodist Endorsing Agency has sponsored a campaign to send phone cards to people serving in the U.S. military all over the world. The program has provided more than 13 million minutes of calling. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose. Photo #08-1064.

“A report is out that states Army suicide for 2008 will exceed that of 2007, and that is tragic,” said Air Force Chaplain Maj. Sherrol James, who is serving at Joint Base Balad in Iraq.

For that reason, and because the holidays are “just around the corner,” James said she would like to help the church provide more cards “for our armed forces members to keep in touch with their families.”

“There are so many young soldiers who cannot afford to stay connected to family like they should because of the cost, but thanks to your generosity (church members) they are able to do so for at least a little while,” she said.

It’s an especially hard time for the family members of seven soldiers in James’ unit who recently died in a helicopter crash.

“Just thinking of the anguish of the members of that battalion and their families and wanting to provide a way for them to connect with family to reassure them of their safety pulls at my heart strings, but I have no more cards to give,” she said. “When a soldier or airman asks for a card, it is difficult for me to say I have no more because I know they ask only because they want to stay connected with family and cannot afford to.”

Everyone who donates a card or money has received a personal thank you, except during a very brief period in the second year when donations were received so quickly one volunteer couldn’t keep up, Carter said.

Initially, people donated cards, but then began sending money for the cards. When that happened, the Endorsing Agency developed a card imprinted with the United Methodist logo and a message stating the card is provided by the people of The United Methodist Church, who are also praying for the safety of the troops.

One 120-minute card costs $4.95, and 15 orders for 5,000 cards have been placed since the program began. “We have collected over $450,000,” Carter said.

“I am so grateful for all those men and women who are serving our country,” Carter said. “I am so proud of our United Methodist chaplains who are ministering to these people, and I feel very privileged to be able to put these cards in their hands.”

Individuals who would like to contribute to the phone card program may send checks made payable to United Methodist Endorsing Agency (UMEA), General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Brown is associate editor and writer for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.