By Rev. Dr. Sunny Farley

United Methodist middle-schoolers from Katy spent a few days this summer getting to know the struggles and circumstances of some of their neighbors through a mission project called Bridge.

Bridge is no ordinary mission, according to organizers.

Lisa Gill, Director of Student Ministry at Holy Covenant UMC, said Bridge is “an immersive learning and service experience.”

“Back in 2021, we started dreaming of this concept for youth directors and United Methodist churches in the Katy area,” Gill said. “We wanted to target the junior high level and do something that was not just work – especially busy work – but something that would enable the students to learn about the community, the systemic issues in the community and how the needs of the people are being met in the community.”

The goal is to “not only serving those in need, but also understand why they’re in need,” she said.

In 2022, the students went to Wharton to see and help address the lingering damage resulting from Hurricane Harvey. In 2023, the students went to Galveston to learn about the realities of the unsheltered population and about biodiversity and conservation.

This year the roughly 40 students and adult leaders from FUMC Katy, Holy Covenant UMC, and St. Peter’s UMC, traveled to Houston to learn about refugees. “We partnered with FAM Houston which is involved with the refugee community in Houston,” Gill said.

FAM Houston is a ministry that has roots in the United Methodist Church. Its mission is “to work for justice by building empowered community among refugees, immigrants and local Houstonians.”

That mission is carried out through the ministry’s practices of hospitality, mutuality, story-telling and inclusivity. Bridge participants worked in the FAM Houston farm and had the opportunity to meet and learn from a refugee who lives and serves other refugees in Houston.

The team of students volunteered at a food pantry and resale shop operated by the West Houston Assistance Ministries – a non-profit that helps those in need of food, shelter, clothing, and financial literacy classes. The group also learned about urban farming through Plant it Forward – an organization with a mission to empower refugees to develop sustainable urban farming businesses that produce fresh, healthy food for the Houston community. 

The students took part in a simulation created by Chad McElveen, pastor of student ministries at St. Peter’s Kingsland Campus. McElveen designed the activity to demonstrate to the students what it is like to experience the language, cultural and other difficulties faced by those who are refugees in a foreign land.

“The students were displaced and they had to problem-solve how to get food, shelter and an education without knowing the language,” Gill said.

They also felt the frustrations of regulations. For example, if a form was filled out in the wrong-colored ink, the students were asked to fill them out again.

Participants in the four-day experience spent the night at FUMC Houston-Westchase.

In addition to Gill and McElveen, leaders for the recent mission included Emily Parsons, associate minister of student ministry at St. Peter’s West Campus and Rev. Becca Newcomb, pastor of family ministry at FUMC Katy.

Gill said the leaders of Bridge hope to continue to build on the relationships they have formed over the last three years which have been “bridged” by this mission experience. She also said Bridge may continue the same or similar programs in three-year cycles so the students will have the chance to strengthen the connections.

“It has been wonderful to find these partnerships within our conference and to grow them,” Gill said. For more information on Bridge, contact Lisa Gill at 281-579-1200, or Chad McElveen at 281-944-4932.