Youth Serve the Homeless Via Multiple Church Partnership
Youth from FUMC Pittsburg stay at the Williams Memorial UMC facilities so they can be nearby to help strengthen the outreach capacity of FUMC Texarkana.
Have enthusiastic youth group, will travel could be the motto of FUMC Pittsburg. According to Rev. Mike Akin, pastor of FUMC Texarkana, this group of young people has been an essential part of his congregation’s effectiveness in serving the homeless.
“Our congregation does not presently have a youth program,” notes Mike, “so we were in need of strong backs and energetic young people – which was something Youth Director Aaron Dudley was eager to provide. Since students from FUMC Pittsburg travel over an hour to help us, our sister church Williams Memorial UMC happily provides the hospitality, allowing the youth group to stay in their youth center when they are here helping us for the weekend.”
Reorganizing and Repurposing
In recent months, members of the visiting youth group have transformed the church from the inside and outside in ways that allow FUMC Texarkana to be a better partner in the Homeless Coalition within the community. “The Pittsburg youth group has been a tremendous asset in helping us have the space and clothing and housewares pantry to help our homeless community,” adds Mike. “The students have kind of adopted us,” adds Mike, “and have so much fun they keep coming back!”
Longtime member Mary O’Farrell appreciates the help, and is blessed by the girls in the youth group who organized rooms full of clothing for those in need. According to Mary, FUMC Texarkana has been ministering to the homeless for years, and has created such a welcoming environment that seven homeless individuals have joined the church. “Not that long ago, our downtown church was on the brink of closing its doors, when we realized that our church was in the path of the homeless in the community who travel right by us going between the shelters and the Red Cross,” shares Mary. “We began offering them clothes, and food and an open door and they started coming to church. By ensuring that all are welcome, we have grown tremendously – to an average of 40-75 in worship.”
FUMC Texarkana demonstrates in other ways that the church is intentional about building relationships week in and week out. “We provide lunch for everyone that comes to church, every Sunday,” adds Mike. “Since the worship bulletin is used as a meal ticket, everyone from all walks of life dines together every week. This has inspired many homeless people to be a part of our service and tell us that it is one day a week that they feel a part of a family.”
The church is also a designated shelter as a viable partner in the community. “We share our clothes with the soup kitchen downtown, and often take carloads of clothing to the violence prevention center and local pregnancy ministries,” Mary explains. “We are so happy to be able to share our room of appliances and home furnishings with those that need help getting back on their feet after a fire or after falling on hard times.”
“Over time, our downtown church has fallen into disrepair in places,” Mike explains, “and the students have been able to help us repurpose some rooms and reorganize our clothing pantry for a Big Day of Giveaway. The guys helped disassemble a stage and build clothing racks, and the girls grouped the clothes by seasons for easier access.”
Some of the guys cleared out rooms to provide more usable space and another team of guys also completely re-landscaped the exterior of the church. “With their help we were able to expand our Fellowship Hall to have more room for our weekly fellowship luncheon.”
According to Pastor Mike, having a more organized clothing pantry was a bonus when one of the homeless shelters in town hosted a pamper day for 18 of the women staying there. “The ladies came to our church as part of their special day,” he says, “to choose an outfit and have their pictures made to use in their job search.”
Youth Director Aaron Dudley just returned from taking a team of 10 students for the 7th mission weekend in Texarkana. This time, the students will help with a deep cleaning in preparation for a big wedding. According to Aaron, the students know it is an honor to be invited to go with the group, especially the seventh graders who are invited to get a preview of what the older teens do in youth group.
“We appreciate being able to use the facilities at Williams Memorial for our share times and overnight stay,” he says. “It’s that connectional thing at its best.”