JOPLIN, Mo. —
If anyone should be commended for putting faith into action, it’s the youth department at First United Methodist Church in Joplin. Last month, 43 high school students from the church returned from an eight-day mission to Puerto Rico, and on Monday, as many as 25 seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders will begin a four-day labor of love at the People’s City Mission in Lincoln, Neb. In addition, all of the FUMC young people continue to help victims of the Joplin tornado, just as they did right after the storm left its trail of disaster in 2011.
Elaina Warren, who will be a senior at Joplin High School this fall, said helping the tornado victims was beneficial in bringing her youth group closer together.
“We spent a lot more time together last summer because of the tornado, and we have been spending a lot more time together throughout the year,” she said.
The kids have not only helped adults affected by the storm, but also those from their own youth department whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
Warren, who plans to attend Missouri Southern State University and get involved in mission work there, calls her youth department her faith family.
“With everything that is going on in the world, you really have to try hard to maintain your faith,” she said. “We all try to help each other, and that is what I love about my youth group.”
After last year’s mission trip to Puerto Rico was canceled because of the tornado, the senior youth department gathered more strength and put faith in action when it visited Vieques -- a small Puerto Rican community just off the main island -- last month. In addition to remodeling a church parsonage, the group also pitched in help at two separate vacation Bible schools. It was all part of United Methodist Volunteers in Missions, which has an office in Joplin that has been helping out tornado victims.
Barry Sanborn, who is nearing his 20th year as a youth minister, said last month’s trip marked the third Puerto Rican mission the youths have been on since 1995. Although providing manual labor is a big part of the mission, there is another part that is equally important, Sanborn said.
“There are a lot of times when we are working with them that we get to talk about life and about faith,” Sanborn said.
Not only did the kids in the youth group have to raise a big portion of the money needed to fund the trip, they paid out of their own pockets the portion they weren’t able to raise.
And it’s no bed of roses after arriving at the mission site.
“There was no air conditioning, and we had to share bathrooms and shower facilities with cold water only,” Sanborn said.
Space and supplies had to be shared by all youth team members. The key in working together was cooperation, Sanborn said.
Sanborn said everyone in the group was required to be selfless in order to make the mission a success -- and they did a great job, he added.
Warren said it has been the Puerto Rican trips that have influenced her to consider missionary work as a possible vocation. She provided care for 3- to 6-year-old children last month at a Puerto Rican vacation Bible school.
“Being there and constantly paying attention to them meant a lot to them,” she said. “They loved having someone there to play with them and help them do everything. I love teaching kids about God and encouraging them in their faith.”
Back on the homefront, the mission-minded kids continue to do what they can to help others recover from the tornado. Along with helping to clean up and rebuild, Warren said she has also volunteered as a baby sitter for overworked parents who are still finding their footing.
The youths also assist those church members who work to provide room and board for out-of-town volunteers staying at First United Methodist Church.
“From last May 22 to the present, we have hosted around 100 teams of workers from all over the country,” Sanborn said. “They supply the work projects and we provide a place to stay, eat, shower and things like that.”
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.