On a mission: Passion for volunteering is taking Vickie Ford to Sochi Olympics
Vickie Ford, center, during the
2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia; she's
pictured with two friends from Australia,
Antoinette O'Connor (far left) and
Kate O'Connor (far right).
ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. – You might say Vickie Ford is on a mission. In fact, her life seems to be filled with missions, starting at Sycamore Shoals Hospital (SSH) and stretching across the globe – including all the way to the Sochi Olympics in Russia.
Ford, a retired teacher who lives in the Stoney Creek community with her husband, Harry, has volunteered thousands of hours at Sycamore Shoals Hospital as part of the SSH Auxiliary. She is about to become chairman of the state volunteer organization, so those duties take her all over Tennessee.
And she’s also a world traveler, doing missionary work through her church and other organizations. That has translated into trips to the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, and in London. She’s been to China and Venezuela three times each and has done missions to Rio de Janeiro and Prince Edward Island in Canada. She’s also been to New Orleans and to New Mexico to work with Navajo Indians.
“I’ve always loved to do this,” she said. “I’ve always felt the call to volunteer and to do missions. After I retired, I could’ve stayed home or gone out and found a paying job, but I didn’t want that. The Lord blessed me with being able to teach for 30 years, and I just wanted to volunteer.”
Next up is Sochi. The Winter Games start on Feb. 6, and Ford will leave Feb. 11 to spend 10 days there as part of a SOAR International Ministries trip. SOAR stands for Service and Outreach Alaska to Russia and the Alaska-based organization is run by Dick and Kathy Page, friends of the Fords, who trained at Moody Aviation in Elizabethton before creating SOAR in Alaska. SOAR was invited by the local evangelical churches in Sochi to assist in a major outreach and evangelism effort primarily targeting the local Russian community during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The news media has reported about all the security risks. Sochi is on high alert for a potential terrorist attack, and the threat of suicide bombings is very real – particularly the “black widow” female bombers who seek revenge for the death of loved ones at the hands of Russian security forces.
Security has become the main storyline for the Winter Olympics, something the Fords can’t ignore.
“I’ve just about quit watching the news,” Harry said. “It makes me worry too much. But she loves missions; that’s her passion. I remember when she retired, she couldn’t wait to go to China.”
Vickie said the 2012 Olympic Games in London had heightened security, but it was nothing like what’s expected in Sochi.
“This is a new level,” she said. “But Pastor Charles Stanley had a message about Noah, that he had the courage to build the Ark despite people saying, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing, you’re stupid.’ Noah had courage and we can do that in our own lives with what we’re facing. God gives us the courage to do what we need to do.”
Ford said she had initially wanted to do longer-term missionary work, staying for months instead of days, but mission organizations didn’t allow that with married couples; you either went together or didn’t go, and Harry couldn’t leave work for that long. So Vickie started doing shorter trips and eventually came to realize that was her calling.
“My Sunday School teacher recently said, ‘Everybody has a lot in life. Have you found your lot?’ I didn’t know it until this year, but this is my lot in life, these short-term mission trips. And now I’m very comfortable with it. God’s timing is not always our timing, but He will show us.”
In Sochi, the SOAR volunteers will send three teams, each doing 10-day stays. Those teams will be broken into two groups, one situated in the nearby mountains where the alpine events will be held and another – her group – in Sochi closer to the Olympic Village.
“We’ve been told we’re going to work with the churches there,” she said. “They’ve set up Fun Zones and we’ll be in a gigantic tent that looks like an igloo, doing puppetry, crafts, sports, ballooning. I’ll be involved with face painting. That’s located close to the churches, and inside the churches they’ll have big screen TVs and coffee, and when the opportunities arise, we’ll talk to them about the Lord and witness to them.
“But at this type of event, people like me basically sow a lot of seeds. We don’t talk a lot one-on-one but hopefully we’ll bring people into the churches and sort of build a bridge over to the church, which might have an impact long after we’re gone. With a lot of these mission trips, that’s what you do.”
They’ll likely stay in a hostel type of setting. Ford does not speak Russian but the group is expected to have translators. She’s fortunate to have a local friend, Melinda Heck from Roan Creek Baptist Church in Mountain City, on the same team. They’ll try to spread good will by being helpful, showing affection and smiling a lot. “A hug and a smile goes a long way,” Vickie said.
Volunteers on these mission trips often pay their own expenses, and international trips can cost several thousand dollars. The Fords always assume Vickie will pay her own way and they don’t focus on asking anyone for money. But churches, individuals and organizations do raise money for these endeavors to help defray the costs, and donations are welcome.
Her missionary work has been through her local church, First Baptist Church of Elizabethton, as well as the local and state Baptist association, the Women’s Missionary Union and other groups. She has done medical mission trips, visited orphanages and nursing homes, done social ministry and led Vacation Bible School-type sessions.
A lot of her mission work is possible because of her husband, Harry, a longtime employee at Sycamore Shoals Hospital. He is manager of Environmental Services but has served multiple roles at the hospital, and last year received the Servant’s Heart Award, the highest honor given by Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) to its team members.
“I have a good husband who is just so supportive,” Vickie said. “He’ll say, ‘I know I can’t go but I want you to go.’ Serving others brings me pleasure. It’s what Harry and I enjoy doing; we both like to serve. I guess that’s our lot in life.”
Since her retirement about 12 years ago, Vickie has also been a mainstay at Sycamore Shoals Hospital, volunteering for the Sycamore Shoals Hospital Auxiliary and holding leadership positions, but now is chairman-elect of the Council on Volunteers in Tennessee. She is also a volunteer representative for the Southeastern Healthcare Volunteer Leaders, covering the Southeastern states.
Around the hospital, Vickie is known as “The Cookie Lady” because she bakes cookies every week and goes around the hospital visiting with patients and handing out cookies. She can also be found helping man the gift shop.
“I see it at home,” Harry said, “but most people don’t realize how much time she spends on volunteer work for the hospital and for Mountain States, especially now that she’s doing it statewide.”
At 62 years old, Vickie likes to stay busy. She said she got her passion for mission work from her mother and wants to continue on this path as long as she can.
“A body in motion stays in motion,” Vickie said. “I know there’ll be a time when I can’t do this anymore, and that’s why when the opportunity arises, you do what you can."