Technology Replaces Phone Cards for Military

November 17, 2010

By Aaron Cross*

The world back in 2003 was quite different from the world today. No Facebook or Twitter. No one had yet heard of Lady Gaga or "The Situation." People used phones exclusively for placing calls.
 
Plenty of things were not as they are now, but one fact has endured: The people of The United Methodist Church have always reached out to those who are in need. Thus, on Veteran's Day 2003, the long-running Phone Cards for Military program began. This year, it will end.
 
According to Laura Flippen Tenzel, the staff member of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry responsible for implementing and overseeing the program, it started rather quickly. Based on the suggestion that phone cards were an inexpensive and easily packaged way to provide much-needed support to soldiers, a fund was established, with 100 percent of the money collected used to purchase the cards.
 
"Deployed military chaplains were invited and encouraged to request cards. We sent them to every chaplain who made the request," Tenzel said. "Many chaplains received multiple packages over the years."
 
Originally, phone cards of all styles were donated, but eventually special cards were designed with the United Methodist cross and flame logo on them. Since the implementation of the United Methodist "logo" cards in late 2004, 142,000 cards have been sent to soldiers, with more than 17 million minutes donated. (That is more than 11,805 hours worth of much-needed phone time.)
 
Judy Carter, the project coordinator, shared one testimonial from a chaplain in the field: "Thank you for the supply of phone cards. They save lives, save marriages, keep children in touch with parents, bring hope to the lonely, and support to the frightened. They connect us with the people we love. We can't thank you and the donors enough. God bless you."
 
Why would such a successful program cease to exist?
 
According to Tenzel, the number of chaplains deployed has decreased, and the use of Internet-based communications such as Skype makes the need not as prevalent.
 
"This program was an amazing success," Tenzel said. "We never dreamed it would go beyond December 2003. There was never a drive to collect funds."
 
Yet people kept giving. Some congregations have donated every year for six years. Tenzel said even with the program ending, any future money donated for that purpose would still go toward purchasing phone cards.
 
This program may be complete, but the effects it created in the lives of those who needed it will last forever.
 
*Cross is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.