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by Pearl River
Beginning in the early 2010s, First Presbyterian Church Lake Charles ushered in a lengthy period of transition. They welcomed a new pastor in 2011. They sold their historic church building on Second Ave. and began sharing worship space with First Christian Church (now Grace Point Christian Fellowship) in 2015. For years, they envisioned building a new church building. But where and when and how? “First Pres” was a small congregation with a collective big heart and ambitious plans they knew only God could orchestrate. Above all, though their membership and financial numbers were low, they desired to make a positive difference in the community.
Since its inception in 1888, First Presbyterian Church (FPC) has a long history of serving others through their support of various local and international missions, cooperation in a community food bank, and other projects. In 2011, they initiated a successful “Reading Buddies” program for second-graders that continues today at Oak Park and Fairview Elementary. But First Pres members wanted to do more.
The mission of the church was organically elevated in 2016 when Judith Mkutumula from Ekwendeni, Malawi, Africa came to Lake Charles to visit her daughter Sandra, a member of FPC. By the time Judith returned to Malawi, an alliance was forged between FPC and Ekwendeni Church.
Meanwhile, member Angie Dilmore had toyed with an idea, but was unsure how to make it happen. Inspiration came in 2017 while visiting her son, Eric, who was working in Plano and attending a Texas-sized Baptist church. In their humongous lobby, Dilmore found a full-scale gift shop with colorful, eclectic merchandise. Dilmore knew she’d found her answer. “I wanted to bring the concept, albeit on a smaller scale, back to my home church and our community as a way to raise funds for mission and outreach projects, notably our Malawi Partnership,” she says.
Though FPC knew there’d be upfront expenses with purchasing merchandise, they gave Dilmore the green light to pursue her dream. To curate her inventory, she chose the international organization Ten Thousand Villages for several reasons. “Ten Thousand Villages is a fairtrade organization that sources unique items from artisans in third world countries around the world,” Dilmore says. “It’s a reputable company with brick-and-mortar stores in larger cities across the country. And it was something I was familiar with – their very first store opened in my hometown, Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1997. I always enjoyed shopping there.”
The “Mission Mart,” as FPC calls their pop-up shop, opened for business in May 2018. It was set up in a corner of a small space at First Christian Church. Since then, Dilmore has taken the shop on the road to events such as the Arts and Humanities Council of SWLA’s Holiday Art Market, Art Walk, and Gallery Promenade; the City of Lake Charles’ Meet Me at the Market; SWLA Women’s Commission Conference; SWLA Garden Expo; Music at Morganfield, and more.
The pop-up particularly benefits Malawian children through FPC’s sister church in Ekwendeni. “Like many third world countries, even public education in Malawi comes with school fees that many families cannot afford. We’re changing the lives of these children by providing financial support for their education.”
First Presbyterian Church Lake Charles is now located at 4590 Corbina Rd, Lake Charles. Find them on Facebook or their website, firstpres-lc.org. To help support their mission projects, find the pop-up shop at an upcoming event, or go to tenthousandvillages.com, choose from the hundreds of items to purchase, give your item list to Angie Dilmore and she will place your order (with a discount) and deliver it to you. Contact her at email@example.com.