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College student finds life-changing experience in UMVIM mission to Venezuela

College student finds life-changing experience in UMVIM mission to Venezuela

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

College student finds life-changing experience in UMVIM mission to Venezuela

Sept. 27, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0552}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

Sarah Campbell went to Venezuela to help residents of some of the country's poorest neighborhoods and made friends along the way, including these boys from a family with whom Campbell said she became good friends. Photo courtesy of Sarah Campbell, Photo #06-439. Web photo only.

Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. Sarah Campbell, a United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) Single Volunteer and a Stetson University college student, spent the summer in Venezuela laying down a portion of her life and making chamos: the Venezuelan slang word for friend.

UMVIM exists to promote, encourage and enable Christians to exemplify Christian love in action. The group’s aim is to “achieve the Great Commission by providing short-term mission opportunities for everyday Christians to reach a new generation with God’s love.”

Campbell’s journey began in Carorita, Venezuela, which is high in the mountains where it can get very foggy and cloudy, but has an incredible view when the weather clears, according to Campbell. She described it as “really just a road through the mountains that is dotted with houses and fields.”
Four volunteers, including Campbell, lived in the mission house with the Rev. Francisco Mendoza at the St. Francis of Assisi Center. Campbell says they soon became like a happy family — working together, cooking, cleaning and eating.

The St. Francis of Assisi Center in is a United Methodist community center that does many things to help the people of the small village. In the journal she wrote while on the trip Campbell described it this way: “Francisco takes patients at his clinic throughout the day. Every Thursday night we have a youth meeting at the mission house. Francisco also wants to start a primary health-care program within the community so that the community members help themselves. We’re also going to start some English classes. Francisco wants to be laying the groundwork for a specifically Methodist worship time.”

In her second week there, the group went to a very poor neighborhood called San Pedro, a few miles away from Carorita, which is home to about 120 families living in shacks made of cardboard and sheets of scrap metal. Their water contains many parasites, and only a few of the families have holes dug for septic waste. Mendoza and the UMVIM volunteers invited some of the women who are leaders in San Pedro to free classes on community health care with the hope they would take what they learned back to their community and educate people there. They learned about basic health practices and how to share sanitation and health knowledge with other families in their community.

“They showed us an empty abandoned building behind the neighborhood and told us that they want to make it into a school for the children,” Campbell wrote in her journal. “We can help them with that and also use a part for a small clinic. It’s the people’s idea, but (we) are just assisting them with money and encouragement and empowerment.”

Sarah Campbell and one of the boys from the town of San Pedro paint inside an abandoned building that will become a school and small clinic. Photo courtesy of Sarah Campbell, Photo #06-440. Web photo only.
By Sarah’s third week in Venezuela, the project of transforming the abandoned building into a preschool and small clinic was underway. One day was spent painting the inside of the building with help from men from the community. Campbell believes this kind of cooperation helped cultivate strong relationships within the community.

That same week Mendoza and the UMVIM team went to El Horno, another poor neighborhood, where the group held a second community health-care course with women from San Pedro, El Horno and Carorita. English classes for youth were also launched in Carorita in the hopes of building better relationships with the area’s youth. Campbell said the English classes went very well and she was “impressed at how eager some of them are to learn.” The team taught two evening classes a week. Smaller groups for tutoring were also available.

Campbell said she made friends with a local woman named Gladis who “was not wealthy, even though she had running water and electricity.” Gladis liked to visit even poorer communities than her own, taking people food and clothes. Campbell said she was astounded by Glacis’ generosity. “Gladis and her family go pretty far out of their way to help them when they can. I can really see how the Kingdom of God is coming here on earth by how vibrant and alive is the faith of these people.”

Campbell continued to work with Mendoza for the rest of the summer. Soon, it was her last week. “For my last week in Carorita we were visited by another couple of pastors (Fernando and Diana) that work in the church in slums in Maracaibo — Venezuela’s second largest city.”

Campbell went to Maracaibo and San Carlos Island with the pastors to help them with their ministry there and learn more about the Venezuelan people. She spent several days on San Carlos Island where the Methodist church has another mission site. She had wanted to see what it was like on the island and how it differed from the mountainous region of Carorita. She found the poverty even more extreme. “The compassion that we feel for people is sometimes overwhelming for us,” she said.

Campbell believes her trip was a life-changing experience. “I know how I view the world has been and is continuing to be shaped by this whole experience,” she said. “This learning experience isn’t ending here. Already I know that I don’t view my life and culture in the same way. I know my mind, conscience and heart will be battling with these lessons for some time to come. And I welcome where God is leading my heart.”

Campbell left for Venezuela June 9 and returned home Aug. 7.


This article relates to Missions Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla. His columns appear in the Naples Sun Times newspaper and Faith & Tennis magazine.