|The 2012 Missions Extreme team (Amherst edition) pose in front of their sleeping accommodations — a dorm at Oberlin College.|
For pastors and members of small church congregations, hope can sometimes be hard to come by. A big heart and big plans can often run head-on into two big problems: little help and little money.
But in the Assemblies of God Ohio Ministry Network (formerly known as the Ohio District Council), one answer to helping ministers and small churches experience renewed hope might be found - at this very moment - gazing in the mirror at his or her first pimple . . . .
When Becky Garrett first entered the ministry as a children's pastor at Bellefontaine (Ohio) Assembly of God in 1995, she says the Lord began dealing with her about involving kids in missions. Adults and teens commonly go on missions trips, but her ministry was to children . . . and well, why not? She says that she began working on the idea and started taking teams of fifth- and sixth-grade students on missions trips overseas.
In 2003, Garrett became the Ohio Ministry Network Children's and Education Director. God continued to place a passion for missions within her. After careful and prayerful planning, in 2005 Garrett launched Missions Extreme - an in-state missions program for fifth and sixth graders that partners with AG Ohio churches to connect with and reach their communities.
But after beginning the Missions Extreme program, Garrett ran into a positive "problem" - kids participating wanted to come back, even though they were now in junior high . . . and now, several years into it, even in high school. So, in the last few years, she has expanded the age range.
|Becky Garrett and her husband, Mike.|
Since 2005, Missions Extreme teams have worked with one church each summer, including in Wilmington, Toledo, Pickerington, Cincinnati, New Philadelphia, Painesville (twice) and Fostoria. Last year, Garrett expanded the ministry to two summer team events. The second event this year is to be held in New Albany (in August) with hopes of adding even more dates in the years to come.
Pastor Dave McNeely of Cornerstone Community Church (AG) in Amherst, just had a Missions Extreme team of more than 60 pre-teens and teens partnering with his church the week of June 18-24. McNeely and his congregation - that runs 75 to 100 - were impressed.
"They didn't come in with a set agenda other than to partner with our church to impact our community," McNeely says. "They came alongside of us and basically asked, 'How can we serve you?'"
In Amherst, the need for the church was to connect with its community. With McNeely's approval, the team brought in inflatables, a cotton candy and popcorn machines and carnival games to hold an end-of-the week carnival. The church and team partnered with a local ice cream shop to hold a car show and the carnival. The team also visited a nursing home and purchased paint and painted a massive 15- x 80-foot concrete wall for the city and picked up trash.
McNeely said that when he first spoke to the mayor and city council about the team coming to help the community, they wanted to know what the church wanted. They weren't used to someone coming to them to give instead of ask for something. Following the week, McNeely met with community leaders again - they wanted the team to come back! They explained the team did what they said they were going to do and did it well.
|Pastor Dave McNeely and his wife, Shelly, at the carnival.|
"All the money raised through donations at the events held that week is going to be given back to our community through the city's Main Street Amherst program," McNeely says. "All these elements have spoken very loudly to our community."
Garrett explains that no two trips are the same as they're tailored to whatever the local church desires. "We've worked in homeless shelters, clothing banks, given out bottled water, washed police cruisers, washed and cleaned in parks, even held a reverse garage sale (all items free) - there's no limit to what we're willing to do in community service," she says.
The kids participating in Missions Extreme teams are not just serious about work; they're serious about God. Garrett says that each team member raises $375 to participate in the weeklong outreach. In addition, they have devotional materials they must complete prior to attending.
"We want them to be reading the Word, praying for the trip and be in the right frame of mind before they come," Garrett says. She explains the money pays for a full seven days, with housing, meals, transportation, T-shirts for the week and a "fun day" at one of the state's amusement parks all included. The money also helps pay for the materials needed to do service projects, so the projects are not a financial burden on the church.
|The Missions Extreme team uses scaffolding in order to paint a 15-foot-tall, 80-foot-long wall for the city of Amherst.|
In addition to working all day, each evening the team attends a service at the host church, with the church members invited to attend as well. "Our folks were greatly surprised," McNeely says. "We were overwhelmed at the level of spirituality of the kids - watching them press in. These kids worked hard, played hard and worshiped hard. They were just passionate about God and their pursuit about what God wants for their lives . . . it was just contagious!
"The services were just incredible," McNeely continues. "God was moving in incredible ways and the Lord really injected life into our church around the altars - the presence of God was just so powerful . . . the Missions Extreme partnership was a huge shot in the arm, not just in connecting with our community, but spiritually as well!"
McNeely says that the Missions Extreme team helped the church accomplish more than it could have ever done on its own. "These kids came to serve, and it was amazing to see what God did not only in the kids, but what God did in all of us," he says. "Any church - any district - should be looking at this and utilizing it. This is a tool to help with church health."
Garrett says she believes that the kids are impacted for life through the experience. "They love doing the outreaches, the community service, they love growing in their relationship with God, they love the friendships they're making with students from across the state," she says. "Many find they are able to come out of their shell of being a Christian - not afraid to witness and take a stand. Others have told me they feel they've been called into some kind of missions work. And kids tell me regularly, this is always their favorite week of the summer."
"I've been on and led many missions trips overseas during my ministry," McNeely says. "And without exception, the national pastor and congregation, at some point tells us thank you for bringing us hope. I thought I knew what that meant . . . this week, I think I'm beginning to truly understand it."
For more information about the Missions Extreme teams, see the Ohio Ministry Network website or go to the Missions Extreme Ohio Facebook page. For districts interested in learning about establishing a Missions Extreme team for their kids and churches, contact Garrett at email@example.com or call the network's office: 614-396-0700.