|Some days involved a lot of hammering.|
The U.M. ARMY, a youth mission group based in College Station, Texas, is trying to establish a foothold in Florida and hoping to grow their Methodist organization throughout the state.
The United Methodist Action Reach-Out Mission by Youth began in Texas nearly 40 years ago when a few churches came together to create local mission opportunities for their youth groups. The U.M. ARMY now creates week-long mission trips around the eastern half of the country. They serve the elderly and low-income populations by completing home improvement projects, according to Lorraine Macpherson, Growth and Program manager of the organization.
The U.M. ARMY organizes about 50 mission week-long trips each year that involve thousands of teenagers and recipients, Macpherson said. The team finds United Methodist churches willing to house the children and partner with them in the effort in each community. They work with local social services agencies to find those most in need, Macpherson said.
“We are called to serve the community and the need speaks for itself,” she said. “But, we also really believe that what we do is to work with our young people to help them develop into good Christian leaders. We want them to hear God’s call. It is not just about this one week,” she said.
Macpherson, who lives in Melbourne, has been working with Florida Conference UMVIM Coordinator Greg Harford to establish the group in the state. They began their push into Florida in earnest this week in Gainesville with about a dozen middle and high school students from Florida and Texas, Macpherson said. The students and about a dozen chaperones are bunking in the Sunday school rooms at Gainesville’s First United Methodist Church. They plan to complete a dozen projects in the low-income community of Southeast Gainesville by the end of their work week.
“I’ve been working with Lorraine for two years,” Harford said, who was in Gainesville with the group. “I really think it is a top-notch organization. Their curriculum is excellent.”
First Gainesville Associate Pastor Kevin Johnson jumped at the chance to work with U.M. ARMY this year. Johnson had worked with the organization in the past in Texas.
“One of the wonderful outcomes of doing these mission trips—of mowing a lawn or building a handicap ramp--the students can see in their clients’ eyes the difference their work makes in their lives,” he said. “And the students are bringing the Kingdom of God to our neighborhoods. The children get to take the blinders off of their small community and see the city at large, where there are pockets of despair all around us.”
|Sprucing up a house with a fresh coat of paint.|
First Gainesville is a congregation of primarily older congregants in a 150-year-old church campus.
Both Macpherson and Johnson agree that housing dozens of teenagers, sometimes as many as 100, in a host church’s building for a week has its challenges.
“Anytime you bring high schoolers and their leaders into an 150-year-old building there is potential for friction,” Johnson said. “But, I thought it was important to leave our comfort zone in order to provide space for such an important mission. I hope we do it again.”
That is the goal, Macpherson said. She is hoping that more and more Methodist leaders will embrace their model and help them expand their organization.
Harford agrees. She is hoping that this first trip into Florida will inspire other youth directors and churches to call the U. M. ARMY, which provides a turn-key operation and handles every detail of the week. The teens are even trained to leave the churches in better shape than when they came, she said
“We are so grateful to First United Methodist Church in Gainesville for opening their doors,” Macpherson said. “We feel like we’re their partner. There is a lot of need in the city of Gainesville.”
The U.M. ARMY plans to grow their group in Florida, then hand off the operations to Florida churches. They have established four chapters in Texas and the northeast already. They plan to be back next summer and reach more people in need, Macpherson said.
“We want these students to leave with a new understanding that this is a lifelong call to serve,” Macpherson said.
For more information about the U.M. ARMY please visit their website at umarmy.org.
Julie Boyd Cole is a freelance writer based in Gainesville.