Ecumenical Ministry Provides Rich Volunteering Experiences

Date Posted: 1/10/2013

One of the first participants had extreme difficulty expressing herself when she initially enrolled in the new River of Life ministry to local women, sponsored in part by Woodville UMC. Like so many in our culture, she struggled with self-esteem and saw River of Life’s 12-week program of workshops as a powerful resource to help her deal with challenges in a positive way.
UMC program volunteer Elizabeth Adkisson observed visible life changes in all of the participants in just a matter of months. “It was rewarding to see the first class of four women have a makeover on the inside and outside, and especially to see this quiet one build the confidence to speak before a crowd at her graduation and to tell about her experience at our church,” says Elizabeth.
Community Focused
Woodville UMC Pastor Bryan Harkness was inspired to apply his background in addressing social concerns by joining forces with other local ministers to invite the River of Life ministry to expand to Woodville. Explains Elizabeth, “This program, that seeks to equip, educate and empower women to impact their lives and their community by rebuilding themselves from the inside out, is a Christian program operating without any specific denominational ties, which participants find very inclusive.“
Notes Pastor Harkness, “Our first ladies graduated from the program last November, and even more inspirational is the fact that we have seven applicants for our next semester that starts this month.” He is thrilled that this program “is a great example of ecumenical and community ministry involving leaders from four churches, the school district and the local food pantry."
Inspiring Vitality at Woodville UMC
“Almost two years ago our congregation committed to a vision of leaving an imprint for Christ in our community, and helping run the River of Life is part of that vision!” states Pastor Harkness.
The women must commit to the 12-week program and treat it like a job, coming daily for Bible study and workshops in computer skills, work place etiquette, personal finance, relational dynamics, parenting and other broad areas that help improve their outlook and preparation for life. While the entire curriculum centers around an internal makeover, on week three, they participate in a makeover involving professional hair styling and donated clothing as well as makeup pointers.
Additionally, the Woodville River of Life hosted a panel of five business and government leaders to present the nature of getting and keeping a job within their organizations. Adds Elizabeth, “Results have been exciting so far: The panelists were made aware of the work done through River of Life. At graduation, after each participant spoke about her experience in the program, one of the graduates received a job offer on the spot.” Program coordinators are also encouraged that a probation officer recommended this program to two of the first participants and noticed a dramatic change in each woman by the end of the 12 weeks. An additional success: Local judges have agreed to view the program as an alternative corrective strategy for women they feel will commit to the opportunity.”
Elizabeth and Pastor Harkness are seeing how this ministry is helping their own church congregation become more vital. “At least 10 of our members are participating as teachers, office staff and mentors, while dozens of others donate clothing and other items, help with meals or make financial contributions.”
Woodville UMC is helping tweak the program to fit their community. “Initially, when Black women came to apply as participants,” adds Elizabeth, “they were amazed to find white women involved who wanted to support them in a nonjudgmental way. The interpersonal breakthroughs happening throughout the River of Life program have inspired a new Bible study involving ladies of all colors that will begin meeting in the next few weeks at a local African American church.” Although many external changes are obvious, Elizabeth thrives on knowing that “you never know what seeds you might be sowing into a life that will be more obvious down the road. But we do know that when people learn their position with God, positive change and growth naturally follow.”
The River of Life program is a unique program expanding to other towns in Texas, including Cleveland this month. For more information see