MELBOURNE – Suntree UMC’s summer mission event the week of July 20-24 racked up 4,000 volunteer hours, during which a total of 150 students, 29 adult volunteers, three paid staffers from the church and seven from other churches helped 28 different organizations in Brevard County.
It was a hugely successful effort, driven by youth in sixth through 12th grades and fueled by volunteers, year-round monetary donations and the support of church staff and membership, according to Joel Lusz, Suntree’s youth pastor.
Called Camp BMW, the Brevard Mission Week, the idea behind the event was for participants to go out into their community and do all kinds of work in order to reach out to their neighbors.
“It was a youth mission, but the whole church was involved,” Lusz said.
Suntree UMC, which draws about 900 to1,000 attendees every Sunday, has had a history of planning big summer outreach events to bring young people to the church. In the past, that sometimes meant renting college dorm rooms, buses for transportation and other expenses that could cost thousands of dollars.
Up to 250 kids typically participated, Lusz said, but as many as 100 of them never came back to the church. Thus, a shift in focus was in order.
“We became less about fun and games and put more focus on service and mission,” he said. That was seven years ago, and the shift has been a gradual turn leading to this year’s impressive hours of service.
In July, the youth (including graduating high school seniors and some college age volunteers) spent five nights at the church, Monday through Friday. Virtually every space in the church was in use, from the children’s Sunday school rooms to the dining room and even offices. The cost for youth was $245 for the week, and included a trip to the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando. But the focus was on service to others, Lusz said.
Each morning, the young people assembled at 9, received maps to the site where they would serve, packed a lunch and spent most of the day at the remote location, returning at 4 p.m. In addition to youth from Suntree and their friends, three other churches joined in with youth and volunteers.
“The church knew there would be kids everywhere, living and sleeping and eating and messing up bathrooms and we even rented some shower stalls to put in the parking lot,” Lusz said.
“We relied on the staff at the church to be patient with us, and parents and volunteers provided supervision and transportation; and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
The event culminated on a Saturday, when the BMW campers, in partnership with an Orlando outreach called “Feeding Children Everywhere” set up an assembly line in the sanctuary and packed 27,000 meals in 1½ hours.
Lusz described the scene where 12 to 15 tables were set up and kids scooped beans and rice and other things a family might make a meal of and assembled them into packages of one meal, three meals or six meals, then packed them at 96 per box.
Money to buy the food – about $6,000 to $7,000 – came from the congregation and was donated all year round for just this purpose.
“So the church was invested not only physically but monetarily as well,” Lusz said.
The list of 28 agencies assisted included The Red Cross, Brevard Rescue Mission, Space Coast Center for Mothers with Children, Nerve 2 Serve, Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill Industries, Brevard County Aging Matters, Daily Bread, Harmony Farms, Second Harvest Food Bank and Brevard Sharing Center.
Most of the organizations had already worked with the church in some capacity and responded enthusiastically to an invitation to have 15 or so kids come to their locations to work, Lusz said.
“They loved us doing it.”
– Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.