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Church uses video prize to keep on giving

Church uses video prize to keep on giving

Pastor Russell Clark and Drake Christmas work on mission project
Pastor Russell Clark. left, and Drake Christmas from First UMC, Reddick, work to build ramps for people with disabilities as part of the church's first mission project. Photo by Tom Christmas.

REDDICK -- Long after the last nail was hammered in, the memories and lessons of a mission at First UMC, Reddick, still resonate with Tom Christmas.

“It’s the closest to God I have ever felt," said the 39-year-old lifelong member of the congregation after participating in what is believed to be the first mission in the church's 125-year history. 

Pairing youngsters from UMC churches in Reddick and Arlington, Texas, the mission would open a new life for a young woman in a wheelchair, give children a safe place to play and help a therapeutic horse ranch serve the disabled. For First UMC, the spiritual renewal of those six hot and hectic summer days lingers on today, said Pastor Russell Clark.

“One of my favorite things is to see the transformative effect of a mission," said Clark, who began leading the church of about 100 members in 2010. "It changes people and gets them closer to God.”

First UMC won last year's prize of a video package in a Florida Conference photo contest in the small church category and has since used the equipment to continue its mission work, as well as post sermons and events online.

The youth group staged and recorded a dance-a-thon to raise money for two church members in need and sent it to television's "The Ellen DeGenerous Show," hoping to persuade the host known for her philanthropy and penchant for dancing to chip in some funding or donated merchandise. Christmas said the church is waiting to hear from the show's staff. To view the video, click here.

One of the two beneficiaries would be Kayla Trapp of Reddick, who was born with spina bifida and is preparing to move into a new home next month. As part of their summer mission work, First UMC's youth group built ramps so that the young woman could wheel in and out with ease. 

L-R, Shannon Boyd, Sophie Fennelly, Chase Kellar and David Maxwell, working with screwdriver
Left to right, Shannon Boyd, Sophie Fennelly and David Maxwell watch as Chase Kellar tries his hand at the electric screwdriver during a mission project for First UMC, Reddick. Photo by Tom Christmas.

"Without those ramps, I would not have been able to get into my new house," Trapp said. "Now I will be able to have my own place."

Trapp suffered a setback in December, when a car drove through the modular home she shared with her parents.

She escaped with a broken hip and wrist, but her $20,000 personalized wheelchair and hospital-style bed were destroyed. So First UMC has extended its mission work to help her again.

The other person in need is Christmas' mother, who goes by the nickname "Mama Jo." She recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. The youth dance-a-thon raised more than $2,000, and parishioners pitched in another $10,000.

Credited with First UMC's newfound fervor for missions is Clark, 30, who came to Reddick, a small community between Gainesville and Ocala, after serving as a youth minister and associate pastor in Arlington, Texas.

Clark grew up with Aaron Wood, a youth director at St. Stephen UMC in Arlington, sharing mission trips with thousands of other young people as part of the UMC Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission. The group brings together more than 2,500 young people every year to repair and rebuild homes in Texas and surrounding states, and Wood agreed to extend his mission field to Florida.

“It was something Aaron and I are both passionate about because we see not only how it transforms the people you serve but also those who are serving,” Clark said.

Planning for the mission took almost a year. Adult volunteers contributed tools, expertise, food and money.

Christmas said it cost about $20,000 to do the projects on the mission team's list, all paid for through donations.

For six days, 20 teens from Texas and 20 from First UMC shared a home base at the Reddick church, enjoying meals and worship together and working side by side on projects in the scorching Florida heat. North Marion Middle School allowed students to shower at the school.  

Mission team composed of teens from St. Stephen UMC, Arlington, Texas, and
Fellowship is a perk of teaming up for mission work for teens from two churches, St. Stephen UMC in Arlington, Texas, and Florida's First UMC, Reddick. Photo by Tom Christmas.

“Just watching the kids get close to each other – by day six they were pushing themselves to get the work done; they didn’t need adult encouragement – was really emotional and uplifting,” Christmas said.

Besides ramps for Trapp, the team built wheelchair ramps for Trapp’s grandparents, Bob and Lois Gilliam, and her great-grandmother, Eva Haff. They also:

• installed a new sealed tin roof for Linda Billiot and her daughter, Monica Tudorache;
• completed extensive yard work for Carolyn King and her brother, Danny Rou, who has cerebral palsy; and
• built a 16-by-12-foot shed for the Stirrups & Strides Therapeutic Center for those with physical, mental, and emotional challenges.

Julia Sims, a church volunteer whose husband, Tommy, died a few months before the mission, called the week one of the best of her life.

“I loved the feeling of being able to help others,” Sims said. “It helped me realize there was a greater need out there because I had been a little wrapped up in my own grieving process, but the mission showed me other people needed help.”

Clark hopes last summer's mission will be part of a wider legacy of renewed faith and hope at First UMC.

“I want people to feel empowered," he said, "and I think that will continue because the people know they can do whatever they want as a church no matter their age or abilities."

-- Kevin Brady is a freelance writer based in the Tampa area.