Letter from our Director
Depending on how many decades are in your rearview mirror, the name “Toto” will conjure up memories of Dorothy’s little dog or else the popular rock group from the late 1970s and 1980s. I’m in that age range where I remember both.
The pop band had many well-known songs, but perhaps their most famous is Africa. Written by lead singer David Paich in 1982, Africa is a ballad about a young social worker in love with a continent and its people. Paich tells how he was impacted by television commercials that showed children and families living in poverty:
At the beginning of the '80s I watched a late night documentary on TV about all the terrible death and suffering of the people in Africa. It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn't leave my head. I tried to imagine how I'd feel about it if I was there and what I'd do.
The catchy tune and introspective lyrics helped Africa rise quickly and it reached #1 status on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart on February 5, 1983, here in the U.S. Even today, it’s a mainstay on the radio — including the one in my car — and on a clear night with the sunroof open, you might hear some middle-aged guy singing the chorus while cruising down a remote Texas highway.
It’s one thing to hear accounts from halfway around the world about people who are facing hunger, poverty or other desperate need. We may be moved, or even appalled, but we often clear our minds and just move on. It’s another story when those very people are here in our own country, maybe across town, or sitting right in front of us.
George and Odessa Pitts live on County Road 5210 in Ethel, Mississippi, about 20 minutes east of Kosciusko. They served small, rural churches in the area for more than 60 years and currently are just a mile or so from Harmony Baptist Church where George preaches every Sunday morning. At age 90.
Until yesterday, I only knew them from the application they had sent last summer, but here I was, sitting in their living room and hearing about their journey. George and Odessa talked about their family, their joys and heartaches, the medical needs George has faced recently, and the encouragement Mission:Dignity has been to them along the way.
When I asked if there was something special the monthly Mission:Dignity grant had allowed them to do this past year, George didn’t even hesitate with a reply.
A simple statement like that will move you. And maybe appall you. But it sticks with you and just won’t leave your mind — especially when you are sitting right there in the same room, less than six feet away.
But I didn’t have to imagine how I’d feel or what I’d do. In that moment, I was glad that Mission:Dignity has been able to come alongside George and Odessa, providing a monthly grant that has helped with food and also some unexpected medical expenses.
George and Odessa wanted me to be sure to pass along their thanks “to those who help us when we have needs.” That’s you and others in our Southern Baptist family who make this all possible through the gifts you share so generously.
As I drove back down to Jackson last night, a familiar song came on the radio. It told of a young man’s love for a continent and the yearning he has for its well-being. But my mind was on two other groups of people: Godly servants like George and Odessa Pitts who sacrificed much for the sake of the gospel in years past, and friends like you who share a common heart-song of care and compassion for them.
Thank you for being part of our Mission:Dignity family. I appreciate you!
Grace and peace,
Director of Development
P.S. For this visit, Barry Corbett, pastor of FBC Kosciusko and one of our GuideStone trustees, was with me as was Steve Jordan, director of missions for the Attala Baptist Association. Steve was instrumental in referring George and Odessa to Mission:Dignity and helping them apply for their grant last summer. If you know of a retired pastor or his widow who may be in need, let us know and we will be glad to get in touch with them. Assistance applications also are available online at MissionDignity.org.