South Georgia UMs serve at home and abroad


By Kara Witherow, Editor

One of the core beliefs of The United Methodist Church is that each person is called to participate in the ministry of Jesus Christ. John Wesley described this work in simple, practical terms: “Do all the good you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can.”

South Georgia United Methodists have taken Wesley’s words to heart and have put their faith into action this summer by participating in short-term mission trips. Whether traveling to Peru or staying close to home in South Georgia, hundreds of United Methodists served Christ by living their calling more fully and faithfully.

At home

There’s need in every neighborhood. And opportunities to serve are around every corner.

That was the lesson Jack Caldwell wanted the youth of Richmond Hill United Methodist Church to understand when they gathered at the church on Saturday morning, June 2.  Instead of planning an out-of-town or overseas summer mission trip, Caldwell decided that the youth would instead focus on serving those in their own backyard.

“So often kids are super excited to go somewhere and do something when a lot of times there’s a huge need where we are,” said Caldwell, director of youth ministries at Richmond Hill UMC. “We wanted to help them realize that helping others should start here at home and then proceed out.”

So he set up a day for the youth to do several minor home repair projects in the Richmond Hill community. He had originally planned for all of the kids to divide among three separate projects, but nearly 30 kids showed up that Saturday morning – almost double what he anticipated.

Instead of adding more kids to the three planned yard and home repair projects – weed eating and lawn mowing at one home; repairing and replacing a fence and fence post at another; and fixing cabinets, a door, and a lock at a third home – Caldwell quickly decided that a fourth group would make and distribute sandwiches to people in nearby downtown Savannah.

Caldwell said that the 25 middle and high school students and 8 adults who participated in the work day felt just as fulfilled as if they had gone and served in a far-away country because they were still able to help someone in need.

“It was a really great experience because they got to see the need that’s here in Richmond Hill and in Savannah,” he said. “We want to try to reach those around us – we are always in a mission field. We are always called to share the love of Christ, whether we go overseas or whether we go to our neighbor’s house and help. We don’t have to go somewhere else to honor and serve God; we can do it here. It’s an ongoing and everyday thing.”

Far away in Alaska

What started out as a six-month prayer exercise for Pine Forest United Methodist Church’s youth leadership team turned into a nearly 4,400-mile journey to Chugiak, Alaska.

In Jan. 2011, Pine Forest UMC youth director Jared Middleton challenged the church’s youth leadership team with a prayer exercise: pray for six months about their 2012 summer mission trip. They wouldn’t discuss options or possibilities yet, but were told to pray and listen to God.

After about five months of dedicated, focused prayer, the group met and discussed where they thought God was calling them to serve. They initially settled on Costa Rica and began making calls and contacts there, but a student stepped forward and asked about Alaska. The idea had occasionally been brought up in previous meetings but had never been pursued, but after a lot of discussion that night, the students decided that the Lord was indeed leading them them to Alaska.

Middleton made a few calls and discovered that a friend from college was serving as the program director and camp manager for Birchwood Camp, which is a part of the Alaska Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

 “He and I were college buddies – he was in my wedding,” Middleton said. “It was just like the Holy Spirit was in it.”

So for 13 days, from June 22-July 4, and after making the long trek from Dublin to the small town of Chugiak, Alaska, about 20 miles northeast of Anchorage, 25 members of Pine Forest UMC worked nine-hour days building a deck, a wheelchair ramp and splitting firewood for the camp.

Whether it’s in Alaska or just around the block, this type of service mentality is nothing new to church members, Middleton says.

“Mission work and serving is a really big part of what we do at Pine Forest, not just in the youth ministry, but in the church in general.”

The church sends a mission team to Jamaica every year, members are involved with Dublin’s Habitat for Humanity, and others volunteer at a local free health clinic.

“Our people are just driven to serve, and it's a testimony to their relationship with Christ,” Middleton said.

And abroad

From July 13-21, twelve members of Wesley at Frederica United Methodist Church traveled the more than 3,000 miles from St. Simons Island to Kimo, Peru by plane, double-decker bus and hand-operated cable car.

While in Peru, the team, made up of seven high school students and five adults, partnered with Scripture Union Peru, a Christian organization that, among other missions, works to rescue and raise Peru’s orphaned and abandoned street boys. Two years ago, a team from Wesley UMC helped finish building an orphanage in Kimo and built relationships with the people there. Upon returning home the group immediately began planning to return.

During this year’s trip the group’s work focused on making significant improvements to the orphanage’s transportation system, which includes the dangerous, decades-old cable car.

The new electric cable car, which cost $10,000 and was donated by money raised by the Wesley UMC youth group, is bigger and safer than the old one. It will be installed sometime this month.

“I cannot emphasize how important this new huarto (cable car) will be for everyone involved with the boys’ home at Kimo,” said David Herndon, Wesley UMC’s director of youth ministries. “In fact, the day after we left one of the boys fell off of the old car. By the grace of God he did not die, but he did suffer significant injuries to his shoulder and head.  No one had fallen out of the car in almost 30 years, but the new huarto will make it impossible to do so.”

One of the team’s most important tasks of the week was to repair Kimo’s main supply trail.  The roadway was in disrepair but still had to be used daily for the delivery of food, supplies, and to transport the boys back and forth to school. 

It wasn’t all work and no play, though. An important aspect of the church’s partnership with Scripture Union is to build Christ-centered relationships with the boys, or Girasoles, at the orphanage. Every afternoon the team hiked to the home to spend time with the boys after they got home from school. They played soccer, made friendship bracelets, sang, took pictures, and shared and received God’s love.

“After visiting Kimo we are aware of how much more needs to be done there,” Herndon said. “The boys’ home is one of the most amazing ministries any of us have ever seen. God is using Kimo to give these boys a new life and a new future.  I've traveled the United States as well as other countries, but I have never seen poverty and need like I did that week.  More so, I've never seen children be outcast and treated like I saw.  The work this boys’ home is doing is invaluable to our world and to the children of Peru.”

Sports and love are universal languages.

When eight senior high students and four adults from Americus First United Methodist Church traveled to Puerto Rico June 17-22, they didn’t take a translator. The group traveled to a small town outside of Arecibo in the northern Midwest coast of Puerto Rico, about 50 miles from the country’s capital of San Juan, to conduct a sports camp and Adventure Camp, a VBS-type of program.

Each morning at 9 a.m. the team would head to a local community park to host their sports camp. The first day about 25 local children attended, but by the third day attendance had grown to 45. And even though none of the Americus First UMC youth spoke Spanish, some of the Puerto Rican children spoke English quite well, or at least a few words, and language wasn’t as big a barrier as they had initially anticipated.

“We were able to tell and show the kids that God loves them and God cares about them,” said Mark Ashby, Americus First UMC’s youth minister. “We were there to show love to them, to everybody, and to build relationships with people.”

During breaks in between playing basketball, soccer and football, the youth had “buddy time” with the local kids. It was during those times that connections were made and relationships were built.

Connecting with the kids was made easier through sports, play and songs. In the afternoon the youth conducted Adventure Camp, a Vacation Bible School-type of program for younger children.

“The youth came up with the games, the songs, and the plans, and they implemented them, too,” Ashby said. “It was unbelievable. I really saw God through the students; I saw them being used and saw their leadership being solidified going into this year.”

There were many highlights from the trip, Ashby said, but a couple of very special, eternal ones came when two brothers from Americus FUMC gave their lives to Christ.

“They went on the trip not believing in God and came back believers,” he said.

South Georgia United Methodists serving at home and around the world, showing God’s love, grace, and mercy to a world that might not know Him. And some come back with a better understanding and deeper love for Him than when they left.

John Wesley would approve.