Somerville UMC MYF Students Connect with Peers in Africa
Thanks to the compassion of a computer guru’s heart and the power of technology, youth in a rural United Methodist church are learning to make a real difference in the lives of other children, 12,000 miles away in Africa.
At a Methodist Youth Fellowship ‘lock in,’ Somerville UMC students in 3rd-10th grades enjoyed an unusual late night activity – video chatting with children their age in an orphanage in Kenya, Africa. “Our youth were surprised to see the orphanage had dirt floors and bed sheets for doors,” shares church friend and advocate Tom Dunn. Tom singlehandedly started the “Fruit of God Kenyan Mission” and has been helping the people of Soweto, Africa for years. “The MYF kids in Somerville had a hard time imagining a hole in the ground could serve as a bathroom, that one meal a day meant the African children were “well off” and that most of their peers couldn’t afford to go to school,” adds Tom.
Tom’s heart for helping the people of Africa dates back to his time in the Navy, which paved the way for mission trips he would later take with his daughter. “I fell in love with the people of Africa and spent countless hours there trying to better understand their culture and needs and eventually, even assisted in planting a church,” he says. “Once I saw people living in one of the largest slums in the world,” he adds, “I could not un-see it.”
Tom realized the MYF youth in his church home would be blessed to meet children their age across the globe, and see their joy in spite of great sacrifices they make to survive. “In the first Skype conversation, our youth asked their new African friends about their daily lives, favorite sporting activities and the like,” explains Tom. They also took turns singing great hymns like Jesus Loves Me and reciting their favorite Bible verses to each other. The Texas youth quickly realized their new friends live in a very different world and it inspired them to think of ways to raise funds to help their young peers across the globe.
This compassionate response from the youth melted the heart of Somerville UMC Pastor Vickie Simons. (“Initially, when our kids learned that their African counterparts couldn’t go to school because they didn’t have the $42 necessary for uniforms and books, our kids simply gave from their hearts,” Vickie shares. “One offered part of her birthday money. Another gave out of his savings jar in his bedroom. That first year the youth’s funds were matched by adult members and our Outreach Ministry Team funds and helped over 25 African kids go to school that year!”
This year, the MYF students have come up with the idea of holding a Saturday morning “Game Fest.” In August, for Somerville UMC’s “Back-to-School Blast”, they will be hosting a series of sporting events for the local youth. Events will include - “Gaga pit” games, basketball free throw and three-on-three contests, a volleyball tournament, and more. Adds Vickie, “This is so imaginative -- and way beyond the typical car wash or bake sale fundraising event! The adult members of the Outreach Ministry Team, who sponsor the MYF group, have again agreed to help and will sell BBQ and other “grilled goodies” at the event to add to the cause!”
Bryce Jackson is a member of the MYF group and expects to become an Eagle Scout this year, at age 13. He elected to construct a gaga pit for his project and chose his home church as the beneficiary of this endeavor. “This is an example of how Lakeview Methodist Conference Center extends its reach beyond its geographical borders because Bryce was inspired to do this by his camping experiences in years’ past,” shares Vickie.
Members and youth found it to be great fun to see all of the Jackson family, scouting buddies, friends and the Trustees contribute to building the pit. “What an amazing undertaking that was!” adds Vickie. “Suffice it to say it involves way more than digging a few holes for posts and attaching a few boards to the poles.”
Funds for their Future
The students are excited to see how much their special fundraising bash will bring in for the needs in Africa. Additionally, Tom has funded the start of a sewing industry there. “The women are now making gorgeous men’s shirts,” Vickie says. “Having only recently learned how to sew, the quality of their work is truly amazing!”
As the story unfolds, the congregation is feeling excited to be a part of seeing God at work. Notes Vickie, “Tom is a great Christian! He really listens to the Lord and we are blessed that he has chosen to open a door for all of us to be a part of the extraordinary life-giving events, for some of the poorest people on the planet. It’s a beautiful thing to see the connection at work in our youth. They are literally modeling God’s word in action by choosing to help others in need, not just locally but globally as well!”