The teen years plus summertime usually doesn’t equal hard labor. But for the youth groups of nine local churches, the chance to serve is a luxury worth paying for.
Teens from First United Methodist Church (FUMC) Claremore, Life Church Owasso, FUMC Owasso, FUMC Ft. Gibson, Victory Christian Tulsa, Church on the Move, St. Marks UMC Tulsa, St. Paul UMC Memorial Muskogee, FUMC Wewoka and Goodrich UMC Norman participated in a week long mission trip here in Rogers County.
The teens were hosted at FUMC Claremore where they ate, slept and worshiped before going out in groups to 13 local project sites to work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Projects ranged from painting houses to massive property clean-up. A small construction crew made of students and adults who knew their way around power tools replaced and repaired front porches and constructed accessibility ramps.
The church put applications out into the community weeks in advance and picked projects where students could help widows, disabled veterans and the elderly complete household projects that they physically couldn’t accomplish alone. The church also paid for all the supplies to complete the projects out of the $200 each teenager paid to take part in this mission trip.
“Our express purpose is to love and serve our neighbors,” said Youth Force Director BJ Danner. “You don’t need to go on a mission trip to the other side of the world to share the love of Jesus.”
“The bonus is being able to take care of people who aren’t able to take care of themselves and to teach youth the joy and love of serving others,” he said.
The Youth Force is a largely informal mission trip program hosted by a different UMC each year.
“Whatever church decides to host does all the planning, all the logistics and figures out where the needs are in the community and how best to help,” Danner said. “We start with an idea of 13 people we are going to help and a couple of jobs at each one,” Danner said. “But as we’re there, we find out there are other ways to help.”
This year one of the groups visited a woman to paint her porch, weed her flower bed and haul of brush. But as the group got to talking with the woman they learned that her brother had passed away and she hadn’t gotten around to cleaning out his room and bathroom.
“She said that she was ready to let it go and asked if we could help clear it out,” Danner said. “To you and me it might have been a lot of junk, but it was a lot of things that she was clinging on to that she was finally ready to let go of, so that was a really cool story of the kids loving on her and helping her find closure.”
At the home of Susan and David Osborn in Chelsea, youth helped demolish and build an entirely new porch with an accessibility ramp, haul off six truck and trailer loads of brush and debris, and dig a trench to a leaking water line so the church could pay someone to come out and inspect it.
Susan has advanced osteoarthritis and David recently underwent shoulder surgery on both shoulders, so neither were physically capable of doing any of that work on their own.
Dirk and LeaAnn Flint also received several home repairs and has their house repainted. “We’re so grateful that those kids are here doing this work,” they said, as Dirk’s disabilities prevent him from doing extended physical labor.
Lynn Partney, one of the squad leaders, beamed with pride as she watched her squad volunteering their own time and money to help people in need. “This is a great group of kids. They are so hardworking, never complaining and they are totally cooperating with everything,” she said. “You don’t see many teenagers working outside in the middle of summer, especially not when they aren’t getting paid.”
“Our church has always been others oriented,” Danner said. “We are all beloved children of God and we want to take care of our brothers and sisters.”
“Jesus took care of so many people that society overlooked and devalued, and so our church has always been intentional about saying everyone is welcome,” Danner said. He added that putting others first and caring for them as Jesus would, “is something you have to be intentional about teaching these days.”
The Youth Force mission trip ended early Friday morning, but there are still many projects left unfinished.
“It breaks my heart that we can’t do everything that everybody needs, but we will continue to send out some work teams with our youth and United Methodist Men after this week for the projects we weren’t able to get to in order to continue too help those in our community,” Danner said.