“The Summer Mission Intern Program has opened my eyes, mind, and heart in ways I could have never imagined. It has given me a whole new level of confidence that I never knew could exist in my very being. It has ignited a fire in me to serve God’s people the way He intended.” -Rebecca Datus, 2013 Summer Mission Intern at Grace Place for Children and Families in Naples.
Rebecca is one of 35 interns who served within outreach ministries throughout the Florida Conference this past summer. In addition to Grace Place, other sites included: Riverside Retreat in LaBelle, Branches in Florida City and South Miami, CROS Ministries in Palm Beach County, and St. Johns United Methodist Church in Winter Haven. Rebecca’s description of her overall experience highlights the focus of the 2013 Summer Mission Intern Program: to provide opportunities for young adults to directly engage in ministry with children experiencing poverty within community day camp settings. Yet, as Rebecca clearly shows, the interns experienced spiritual and personal growth through this experience as well.
While the interns engaged the deeper issues of poverty in part through a directed book study, it was their experiences working with the children firsthand that left a lasting impression on their hearts and minds. Greg Zimmerly, an intern who served at Riverside Retreat, said, “I think by seeing and hearing firsthand some of the issues that relate to poverty, it has really become real to me. When a kid lets another kid have the top bunk because he sleeps on the floor at home, it really makes you think of what you can be doing personally to help others.” For Rebecca Datus (quoted above), the intern program connected prior learning with current experience: “I’ve always wondered what it is that God wants me to do with my sociology major, and after learning all those devastating statistics on children and families in poverty in my sociology class and experiencing it first-hand, it makes the struggle more real and makes me want to take a stand for them, all in the name of Jesus Christ.” Another intern at Grace Place, Cheyenne Rogers, shared how her experience caused her to view the faces of poverty in a new way, while attributing this with her own spiritual growth: “I think I have grown spiritually in the way that I am more able to see God in people who are often stereotyped and ridiculed.”
The interns created opportunities for spiritual growth within and outside of the SMI Program. They gathered for daily prayer, and at some sites, a daily devotion. Some interns expressed that their prayer life grew exponentially this summer—praying in new ways and praying more consistently. Interns who served at sites close to home brought fellow interns with them to worship at their home church on Sundays, and several interns at CROS Ministries attended worship with their site supervisor. Many interns claimed that they trusted God more as a result of their experiences this summer. They recognized that God was the source of their strength to endure the long days and the challenges they faced. They also experienced God’s grace at work in their own lives, in the lives of fellow interns, in the supervisory staff, and in the children they served.
The SMI Program provided opportunities for interns to experience and evaluate personal growth as well. The site supervisors along with Shelly Denmark, the SMI Program Coordinator, checked in with each intern on a weekly basis, providing ongoing support for the interns to share and process through their experiences, to encourage them in their goals, and to assist them in problem-solving and transforming conflict. Working with children and their fellow peers helped them to develop more patience, leadership skills, creativity, collaboration, and self-confidence. Elena Dossett, an intern who served at Branches in South Miami, describes how the intern program provided vocational preparation as well: “Since teaching is what I feel called to do in the future, this internship provided numerous opportunities to develop skills directly related to teaching. I learned how to be assertive and firm with kids when giving directions but also loving and kind at the same time. When teaching math skills, I learned how to effectively engage the kids during the lesson because then I know that they understand it and are not bored. I feel that I will be a better educator because I have learned discipline strategies as well as teaching strategies.” The SMI Program provided further opportunities to serve in outreach ministries for intern Eboni Person, who also served at Branches in South Miami—she was hired as a “Grow Program Assistant” in Branches’ After-School Program this year.
The Summer Mission Intern Program continues to grow in quantity and quality each year. As we look to the future of this vital program, our goals are to create a culture of mission interns, to develop leadership opportunities among them, and to guide young adults toward a lifetime of missional engagement. We pray that each intern who comes through this program shares a similar sentiment to Chelsea Bridwell, an intern who served at Riverside Retreat: “This program provided the best summer experience I have ever had. I really hope I will be able to do it again. It was awesome to see kids come to Christ, and even when it was hard, it was great. I would have not traded this experience for the world.”