Giving spirit sparked by decor

Published 2:00 pm Thursday, November 5, 2009

From the front door in, every nook of a home in the Southlake neighborhood of North Shelby already bursts with the feeling of Christmas.

It might seem a bit early to bring garland and ornaments out, but volunteers for the ministry By Provision hope the décor inspires a giving holiday spirit in those who see it.

Sheron Johnson is the organizer of the Holiday House, an event meant to raise awareness for the organization By Provision, its founders and the work they do in Africa.

Johnson and other volunteers invite anyone looking to get their first jolt of Christmas spirit to come relish in beautiful ideas for holiday home décor. The event is scheduled for Nov. 10 from 11-2 p.m. and from 5–8 p.m.

“Most all of the work is done by volunteers and it comes from all different sources. That’s great because it expands the number of people who know about the organization,” Sheron said. “It’s been a real group effort.”

Sheron and her husband Terry feel very passionate about the work their friends Gary and Elizabeth Wilkins began almost six years ago. They hope others who visit the Holiday House will share in that passion.

Gary Wilkins went on his first mission trip in Africa through his church in the 1990s. A commercial subcontractor by trade, Gary helped dig water reservoirs and immediately felt pulled by mission work.

“That was my first experience of using tangible skills to change the lives of people,” Gary said.

It wouldn’t be his last. He and wife Elizabeth returned to Africa numerous times. Gary often helped build churches, schools and other infrastructure. Elizabeth worked with literacy programs to help educate mothers so they could educate their children.

At the end of 2002, however, Elizabeth and Gary became frustrated with what they felt was a lack of progress. Mothers wouldn’t show up to literacy classes or church, saying they had too many things standing in their way. The Wilkins couldn’t figure out what they were doing wrong.

“I had the numbers to prove I had done the job, but we were both looking around thinking, ‘Maybe we missed the mark,” Elizabeth said.

The couple realized they unfortunately had missed the one thing the people of the villages in Africa truly needed –– water.

Board member Terry Johnson said it’s hard for an American to understand how crippling that need could be.

“I’m a list man. I make a list every morning for what I have to do that day. When I was over there, it dawned on me that my list every day would be to get water for my family so they didn’t die,” Johnson said.

Its not even just about finding the water, Elizabeth said. The people need access to clean water.

“Imagine, I’m a mother and I’m giving my child water so he can live one more day,” Elizabeth said choking up. “But then they might die from disease that was in the water I gave them.”

This is the reality in many of the villages the Wilkins have visited in Africa. More than 6,000 children die each day from lack of water in Africa, according to By Provision.

The Wilkins realized providing this basic need would eventually lead to improving quality of life in places like Angola, Namibia and Botswana, where they currently have ongoing projects.

“With the provision of the water, it changes so much for the community,” Gary said. “The kids can now go to school instead of searching for water. The mothers can now work to make money for food.”

Freeing the families up to learn is a passion of Elizabeth’s. She plans to open up a small boarding school for girls early next year. She said it will start out with just a handful of girls so she can give them the specialized attention they need to learn.

Digging wells and building churches and boarding schools can be expensive.

The Wilkins and By Provision volunteers hope the festivities of the holiday event puts people in a giving mood.

“It’s been fun decorating, but we have prayer and we try to keep in focus why we’re doing this. We are doing this all for the children,” Sheron said.

Tickets to the event are $20 and can be purchased by calling 408-4256.

A shuttle will pick attendees up at the Southlake Center at 4601 Southlake Parkway. A limited number of tickets will be available the day of the event. For more information about By Provision, visit