GAINESVILLE – An army of young people will invade Florida next summer when the United Methodist Action Reach-out Mission by Youth (U.M. ARMY) visits the Gainesville area for a week of mission work.
Founded in Houston in 1979, the organization provides opportunities for youth, young adults and adult leaders to experience Christian growth through mission service, worship and fellowship. The participants work with local churches to provide home repairs and maintenance needs to those who cannot help themselves.
|Young people like this one in Pennsylvania help others, learn new skills and enjoy Christian fellowship through U.M. ARMY, a program coming to Florida in 2016. Photos from U.M. ARMY.|
U.M. ARMY has steadily grown and is ready to expand into the Southeast region, particularly Florida and Virginia.
“Florida was our No. 1 choice,” said Lorraine MacPherson, program manager for U.M. Army. “We felt there were a lot of possibilities for U.M. ARMY there. Our goal is to get people interested and passionate about this program.”
Youth and adults who participate in the U.M. ARMY program experience Christian growth through service to others. They combine their strengths and resources to meet home repair and maintenance needs for low income, elderly and disabled homeowners who are physically or financially unable to make the needed repairs for themselves. Local social service agencies and church organizations refer clients for the program, and jobs are selected and completed based on greatest need.
“We have a dual mission: serving communities in need with home repairs and seizing the opportunity to help young people build relationships,” explained MacPherson. “The mission week also includes worship, fellowship and a community outreach dinner. Our goal is to help young people grow in faith.”
Each year, the national U.M. ARMY program team develops a theologically sound agenda to be used by all chapters nationwide. The mission programs were originally designed for high school students, but recent programs also have included middle school and college-age groups. Registration fees go toward food, building materials, insurance and special fellowship activities for the participants.
Greg Harford, Volunteers in Mission (VIM) coordinator for the Florida Conference, had not heard of the U.M. ARMY program until MacPherson contacted her about a year ago. After doing some research, Harford believed the program would be a good fit because the Florida Conference is mission-minded.
“Anything out there that sparks the hearts of young people to go on a mission, I’m 100 percent for,” Harford said. “The more they [young people] are exposed to mission work, the more they are transformed. And that is a beautiful thing.”
Florida has a need for such a program, Harford said. She suggested to MacPherson various locations in Florida where the ministry would get strong support from local churches.
“We are working together to find other areas in the future,” Harford said. “We’re making sure we pick the right churches that can provide housing for the volunteers. It doesn’t have to be a large church, but it has to be a willing church.”
|A U.M. ARMY team of youth and adults takes time out to display the wood frame they built on a mission in Connecticut.|
Local churches host the visiting U.M. ARMY volunteers, and participants eat, sleep, enjoy fellowship and worship inside the sponsoring church. During the day, volunteers are divided into work teams of four to six youth with adult support. U.M. ARMY requires that church groups bring two adults for every five youth. The teams then work together on small construction projects such as porches, stairs and handicap access ramps. Teams also do a variety of home maintenance, including yard work, painting and minor repairs. Preparation, safety and teamwork are priorities for all camp participants.
During the week of June 19-25, 2016, the U.M. ARMY – including a leadership team from Texas – will be in Gainesville for a pilot program in the Florida Conference. MacPherson hopes that over the next five years, U.M. Army chapters will be established throughout the state so that youth groups can do this sort of mission work for themselves.
“Our goal is to get young people from [the] Florida Conference so they can see the program firsthand,” MacPherson said. “I hope they will understand that reaching out to people in need should be part of their lifestyle and listening to God’s call is part of their Christian walk. My hope and dream is that they will understand serving others is a lifestyle.”
MacPherson said that young people often return to U.M. ARMY missions year after year because they see how the program impacts the world around them.
“They build relationships with neighbors in need, make new friends and see positive adult role models,” she said. “Participants realize the power of God’s love as they mature into strong Christian leaders.”
Harford agreed. “They learn for the future. They learn all kinds of life lessons on these trips.”
Registration is now open for the week of June 19-25, 2016, in north central Florida, with First UMC Gainesville hosting. Groups that register by Dec. 1, 2015, will receive the early bird registration rate of $275 per person ($290 after Dec. 1). A $75 per person nonrefundable deposit is due at the time of registration. The balance is due by April 1, 2016. Space is limited, and registration is first-come, first-served. For information, visit www.umarmy.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Mary Ann DeSantis is a freelance writer based in Lady Lake.