SummerSlam Service: Five Churches, Three Days, Unlimited Blessings
Preteens from five churches took a break from their summer vacation to serve others through a variety of mission activities in East Texas.
On hot summer days in June, most teens and youth are sleeping in, diving in the swimming pool or heading out on an exciting summer vacation. ‘Fourth, fifth and sixth graders from five East Texas churches, however, recently gave several individuals and organizations the gift of their time.
What started in 2015 as a cooperative mission venture for 17 students, four adults and a youth helper from Grace Crossing UMC, Winterfield UMC, and FUMC Longview expanded this year. When Pittsburg UMC and Kilgore Crossroads UMC joined the mix, the 48 students and helpers were able to do much more for the community.
Abby, age 11, from Winterfield UMC shares, “My favorite part was helping build a wheelchair ramp for a 90-year-old man. It was hot and humid, but it was worth it to see how happy this man was!”
Rev. Nathan Firmin, children’s pastor at Longview FUMC, worked with teen missions in the Central Texas Conference and was excited to form this collective effort to focus on needs in Longview. FUMC Longview served as the home base living center for the mission. In anticipation of the students’ arrival, he coordinated a series of work sites, including the assembly of a 32-foot wheelchair ramp supervised by the Texas Ramp Project office in Kilgore, TX. Additionally, he arranged worksite transport, purchased food and set up the shared cooking duties, and provided Bible lesson materials for worship.
“The mission experience is patterned after Big House Junior High Mission where students and chaperones live in a local UM church and complete mission work in the community,” Nathan shares. “The ministry goal is to give elementary students real mission experience and a chance to experience the UM connection prior to entering youth ministry.”
“Preteens by nature are very self-focused,” he adds, “so doing for others is a major challenge. Direct mission work is a concrete way for them to focus on the needs of others in ways they have yet to imagine. When given a clear opportunity to serve others, children prove themselves very capable workers that respond profoundly to the joy of giving.”
“I enjoyed making friends and seeing how I could touch people's life by building ramps and helping out at places like Newgate Mission,” says Jordan, age 10 from FUMC Longview. “I would definitely recommend that other students go on SummerSlam missions because it's lots of fun and you make friends while doing things for other people.” Carson, age 11, from Grace Crossing UMC agrees. “I really liked getting to help people in our community and meeting new people and making new friends.”
Students helped packed over 650 family food baskets at the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler, and sorted and organized items at the Newgate Mission Thrift Store. Additionally, youth braved the summer heat to enhance the exterior of Lagrone Chapel UMC, doing flowerbed and tree trimming work at this historic site -- the oldest UM church in the Longview/Marshall area.
‘I was happy to see kids like me doing stuff only older people get to do,” adds Sir, age 11 from Pittsburg UMC. We helped a lot of people and it wasn’t that hard to do.”
Adrienne Anderson, Children’s Director at Grace Crossing UMC, one of the three original planning leaders of the preteen mission, led worship and served as Living Center director. “Worship each evening was very meaningful,” she shares. “We reminded the students that God has gifted each of us differently, but that our gifts serve one purpose - to show the love of Jesus in our community.” Adrienne also helped keep the entire mission on schedule, served as homesickness expert, helped with planning and leading evening recreation activities like Movie Night, and making runs to the store for numerous unanticipated purchases. Adds Nathan, “She also expanded the Kitchen Team with extra cooks and a cleanup crew, brought the mission photographer around to each work site daily with ice pops which was a huge deal, helped set up afternoon recreation time, and was the main mission contact person during the day.”
Adds Adrienne, “SummerSlam is so great for our preteen kids. At this stage they are ready and able to put their faith into action. I love that they have these local outlets to serve through, and that they get to see the tangible difference they’re making in God’s name. Our hope for SummerSlam is that it leads to more mission work like this down the road through Big House, UMARMY, and other opportunities.”
Nathan and Adrienne are also thankful for Regina McWhorter, the third original planning leader, who serves as Children’s Director at Winterfield UMC in Longview. In addition to planning, they appreciate Regina for leading a work team that served at Newgate Mission Thrift Store, building the 32-foot wheelchair ramp, and recruiting a nurse for the mission, which was a huge help not normally available.
Nathan believes that the long-term impact in students is a confidence in their abilities to change lives while forging strong, lasting connections with other Christians. “Those connections help them confidently move forward into youth in the company of friends with the assurance they have already succeeded in a major ministry like their older peers,” he observes. “One of the girls was afraid and uncertain of going to NxNW camp at Lakeview as the lone camper from her church, for example, until she discovered that almost a dozen of her new mission friends would be there with her.”
Adds Nathan, “The most touching thing I saw was how all the kids rallied around a child whose parents learned the first day of the mission that they were moving for her dad’s new job before the end of summer. It was also gratifying to see the reaction of the people who ran the volunteer centers and the adults assisted by the kids when they saw that children were serving them.”
Aaron Dudley, Youth Director at FUMC Pittsburg and North District Youth Coordinator, joined the mission this year with a large number of youth from his church. Aaron, and his volunteer leader Aaron Chisholm, each led a work team at the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler and Lagrone Chapel. Adds Nathan, “’The Aarons’ brought mission experience and extreme leader adaptability to SummerSlam which made for a fun and effective mission.”
The leadership team of Adrienne Anderson, Grace Crossing UMC, Aaron Dudley, Pittsburg UMC, Aaron Chisholm, Pittsburg UMC, Regina McWhorter, Winterfield, and Nathan Firmin, FUMC Longview-are already planning the 2017 mission and hope to have other churches join them next year.