By Kara Witherow, Editor
In March 2020, one day before 18 Valdosta State University Wesley Foundation students were to board a plane to fly to Jamaica, their Spring Break mission trip was abruptly cancelled.
More than a year later, with a lot of planning and tests and protocols in place, 15 of the 18 original team members gratefully stepped off a plane in Jamaica.
In Seville Heights in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica May 22 to May 28, they built a home, served others, and forged lasting friendships, said Rev. CJ Harp, director of the Wesley Foundation.
And while they had to make some adjustments, the team had a wonderful time and was able to and accomplish their mission.
“We had a great experience in Jamaica,” Rev. Harp said. “We were ready to be there and the Jamaicans were delighted to see us.”
Postponed for a year or more because of the global coronavirus pandemic, mission trips seem to be back in full (or sometimes slightly altered) swing for several South Georgia United Methodist congregations.
Service is a vital part of The Porch’s discipleship efforts. After cancelling last year’s youth mission trip, a group of 34 high school students and eight adults recently returned from a trip to New Orleans.
“We decided it was time for us to get back to serving and doing what we love to do which is sharing the gospel and meeting needs,” said Justin Crenshaw, The Porch’s student and worship pastor.
After serving in Boston in 2018 and 2019, New Orleans was chosen after a lot of research and prayer. Much of Boston is still shut down and many churches aren’t meeting in person, Crenshaw said, but New Orleans’ mandates seemed similar to Georgia’s.
“We feel very compelled, as a youth group, to go and serve somewhere,” said Crenshaw. “Missions work is very important to us. We know what a mission trip can do in the life of a teenager; we’ve seen it. So whatever precautions we need to take we’ll take them to be able to go and have this experience.”
Working with 12Two Missions, The Porch’s mission team served at a New Orleans’ food bank and clothing ministry, evangelized in the streets and the French Quarter, and hosted a couple of block parties for local children.
Necessary precautions were put in place, Crenshaw said: team members wore masks when required and distanced from non-team members. Otherwise, he said, things felt pretty normal and the inconveniences were minor compared to the benefits.
“I think they (mission trips) are critical because when you’re serving, you’re getting outside of yourself. There’s nowhere to hide. You’re confronted w/hard situations – poverty, homelessness, pain, and hard stuff,” Crenshaw said. “One week serving others is worth 1,000 sermons. You’re putting feet to the gospel. You’re teaching kids how to be the hands and feet of Christ, to be evangelists in this world, to be soul winners in this world, to be people who share and live out the gospel in this world. It doesn’t really get any better than that. It’s at the heart of who we are and what we do.”
Things were “very different” for a group of South Georgia United Methodists who recently traveled to Subirana, Honduras.
While this was their fourth trip to the area, COVID made this experience unlike previous trips.
“It was really difficult, especially when making home visits and hosting VBS, because we couldn’t hug the kids or play with them quite like we have in the past,” said Katie Cawthon, a member of the team and Perry United Methodist Church’s mission coordinator.
While traveling and serving, the team wore face masks, sanitized and washed their hands frequently, and practiced social distancing from those not on the team. Negative COVID tests were required before traveling, and most of the team had been vaccinated.
The team hosted a medical clinic with a Honduran doctor and pharmacist. In four and a half days, they saw more than 400 patients. They also did some construction work, hosted a VBS, and delivered blessing bags to families in the community.
Even though last year’s trip was cancelled and this year’s experience was impacted by COVID restrictions, the team was still able to accomplish their purpose. They saw God at work as they shared the love of Jesus, continued to build relationships, and worshiped with friends in Subirana.
“God's presence was felt strongly, and He moved through prayers,” Cawthon said.