For as long as Bethesda Assembly of God BGMC Coordinator Denise Sodowsky can remember, Mary Crews, who’s 87, has been an advocate for and involved in Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge (BGMC).
When she was a very young girl, Sodowsky, 59, remembers Crews in front of the church telling her and other children and parents about BGMC. Even at a young age, she was impressed by the woman who told the stories of missionaries overseas and how BGMC helped teach children about Jesus.
John West III, interim pastor for the Blackwell, Oklahoma, congregation has known Crews for 20 years.
“She’s a wonderful woman and everything she does, she does as if she’s doing it for the Lord,” West says. “She has nothing but love for everybody, but her heart has been for the missionaries overseas and the kids over there that they are reaching [for Christ].”
“During the time that Mary Crews served in her positions as BGMC coordinator and assistant, 11 United States Presidents have come and gone. That is a long time,” states David Boyd, BGMC national director. “Who knows how many families around the world and here in the United States are living for God because of the passion Mary has had to instill a heart of compassion for the lost in the lives of the children of her church! Each of these kids has impacted those around them at home and those around the world through their prayers and their giving.”
According to records, Crews began leading BGMC in her church in 1965 and continued until 2006, when she handed over leadership to Sodowsky. “She told me that the Lord had spoken, ‘Well done,” to her, so she knew it was time to pass the baton on,” Sodowsky says.
However, although Sodowsky has been the BGMC coordinator for Bethesda since 2006, Crews has remained a highly valuable BGMC team member.
“We recycle used toys and use them as prizes for the kids in BGMC,” Sodowsky says. “Mary spends a lot of time helping us go through those toys, cleaning them and making them look like new . . . and every BGMC Sunday she has a table of ‘new’ prizes for the kids to choose from — it’s a highlight for all the kids.”
Crews also instituted a plan to keep her BGMC expenses from impacting the church budget.
“When she got to feeling that the BGMC expenses could be a burden on the church,” West recalls, “she started collecting aluminum cans and used that money to finance any BGMC expenditures.” The can recycling effort is still actively providing for BGMC costs today.
Even though the church is not large and anywhere from four to 14 kids take part in BGMC, the church typically raises $100 to $200 a month for BGMC. Sodowsky explains that many of their children come from single-parent homes, so once a month, on BGMC Sunday, kids take their Buddy Barrels (BGMC banks) through the congregation, requesting loose change for BGMC.
“Our church family knows this is what we do,” Sodowsky says, “and they come ready to give.”
Sodowsky says that early-on, before digital options, Crews used flannelgraph figures (paper punch-out figures that stick to a board covered in flannel material) to tell stories about Jesus and faraway places.
“She saved all those flannelgraph figures and then recently gave them to me to hold for a missionary — our former pastor — currently serving overseas to use in his ministry,” Sodowsky says.
West and Sodowsky agree that Crews is a gift to their church and loved by all.
“She’s a quiet, precious minister because she ministers to everyone who talks to her — God just flows out of her,” Sodowsky says. “I pattern my life after her over and over again. I want that to be in my life, where Scripture just falls out of my mouth . . . whenever she talks, you’ve got to perk up your ears, because you will gain something.”
And, as one might expect, kids respect and love Crews, seeking out her hugs and approval.
“Kids love her,” West agrees. “I have a 9-year-old grandson who thinks the world of her. He just has to come in and give her hug — though, in this season, we’ve had to step back from that a bit.”
Although Mary has never traveled the world in ministry, her life and service have impacted the world for Christ.
“Only heaven will tabulate the souls in heaven and bound for heaven all due to the influence of this woman of God,” Boyd states. “We at the national office and our missionary heroes around the world are greatly indebted to veterans like Mary who have given of themselves to make a difference in the next generation. May this generation continue to see their lives not as what they can gain, but as what they can give.”