First United Methodist Church is committed to serving those in our community. This commitment has led us to create ministries where our church members are actively the hands and feet of Christ. As a part of FUMC’s Vision an Urban Repair Ministry, Revive225, was established in 2014. Mission Day Camp is a week-long opportunity for children in 4th and 5th grades to put their faith into action throughout Baton Rouge. Both Revive225 and Mission Day Camp allow participants to make a difference in the community, and are great opportunities for us to walk the talk.
BY MOLLY ANN WALKE
When friends ask me about Revive225, I get so excited that I just don’t know where to begin. In six short months, it has become my favorite thing about my job (which has started to feel less like a job).
Technically speaking, Revive225 is a ministry of FUMC where high school and college students come to Baton Rouge for a week to share Jesus’ love by doing home repair and acts of service. I would argue, however, that it’s so much more than that.
As a significant part of the new vision of FUMC, Revive225 exists to reach families within a three-mile radius of our church. We want to share the love of Christ that we know to be so present in our lives with those who may have lost hope for one reason or another. We want them to know they have a church family in FUMC and that we care about their well-being.
January was the month in which Revive really came to life for me. Co-directors George Ragsdale and Alex Byo brought me along to Highland Park UMC in Dallas for a youth directors’ conference to introduce our new project to youth leaders in need of a mission opportunity. After so many weeks of planning, we were finally able to go out and promote it, which was really exciting. Armed with Mardi Gras beads, king cake and jambalaya, we lured youth directors to our table one by one, passionately explaining why they should visit Baton Rouge this summer.
At the end of January, we held our first church-wide workday, which was a massive success. Seventy volunteers showed up ready to work on our first wave of houses, and we had a lot fun doing so. In February, bunk beds for the volunteers were ordered and the idea of Revive was turning even more into a reality. Finally, in March, our first group ever landed on our doorstep, and Revive was in full swing.
We welcomed Florida State University Wesley as our first crew to spend a week in Baton Rouge fulfilling our vision. Forty students spent their days disassembling an abandoned house, digging a trench, patching a roof, putting up siding and installing gutters. More importantly, the FSU students spent their days getting to know Mr. Peter, Ms. Patricia, Ms. Elnora and Ms. Christine. Little did they know, they were helping form relationships that continue to grow today.
When asked about his experience at Revive225, FSU Wesley Director Ivan Myers said, “The program allowed our students who have a passion for mission to serve those in need and experience the culture of Louisiana. Our students cherished their experiences and left with bigger hearts. It is a mission with a great vision and wonderful leadership.” He also mentioned his hope of returning to Baton Rouge with his students.
University of Alabama’s Wesley group came the following week, and they dug a hole in Ms. Patricia’s yard until they could no longer dig. Immediately after Bama, we hosted the youth from FUMC Little Rock—an all-boy group, which made things quite interesting!
On Easter Sunday, we welcomed a crew of 35 from Gainesville, Georgia who rocked our world. The students were eager to work, excited to worship and ready to love on anyone they met. Instead of taking their Wednesday half-day of R&R to New Orleans, they opted to stay in Baton Rouge and join our youth group for Bible study, which was a true blessing. GFUMC’s youth director, David Burchett, later remarked, “Our team was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Revive225 staff and FUMC and amazed by the faith and gratitude of those whom we were there to serve. Our entire group feels more blessed by the experience than anything we could have done while we were there. The lives of many students were impacted and changed by our time at Revive225. It was a unanimous vote after we returned home–we will be returning to Baton Rouge next spring and can’t wait to get there.” GFUMC was an inspiring bunch, to say the least. It was the perfect ending to our Spring edition of Revive225.
The off-season, if you will, involved intense planning for our summer groups. We held a kid-friendly, church-wide workday in which families were able to create a sensory garden at Ms. Mandy’s house, do yard work at Ms. Patricia’s house and other various tasks around South Baton Rouge. We hired new interns, we expanded our tool shed into the back of the America Street parking lot. We cleaned. We ordered t-shirts. We were ready.
The second week in June brought our largest crew yet: Suncreek UMC. This youth group of 55 came in like a wrecking ball, but we loved every minute of it. They were thrilled to use power tools, climb on a roof, install a new sewer line, paint walls and so much more. In the words of their youth director, Erick Dahl: “I have been on 35 mission trips in my life, and I can honestly say that we’ve never been on a trip as organized and challenging. Revive225 knows its purpose and has people in place to get stuff done. Our youth were put into positions where they worked with real tools and did real work, which is far from the case in most mission opportunities.”
Words of praise like these are incredibly rewarding. Without the help of our faithful church members, however, we can’t do what we do. On a Sunday afternoon, you can stumble upon our enthusiastic members tossing Mardi Gras beads as a Revive group arrives, and it will make your day. Throughout the week, you can see the smiling faces of those who serve Louisiana-style meals in the kitchen each week, and it will be just as exciting as watching a high-schooler nail in the last shingle on a roof. During the day, you can listen as a site leader explains how cutting a board is a metaphor for his walk with Christ, and you’ll agree. At night, you can sing along as Chris Rosborough leads a worship service, and it will take your breath away. On any given day, you can watch our youth interact with youth from far way, and it will fill your heart with joy. Nothing compares to witnessing the impact our church has had on our community, on our own volunteers and on the volunteers who only stay for a week.
When friends ask me about Revive225, I smile and tell them it’s the reason I’m excited to wake up in the morning. It’s watching Floridians taste crawfish for the first time and spit it out. It’s teaching a youth group how to play Nine Square and seeing that they’ve purchased it the next week. It’s snapping pictures of Alex changing a tire in the rain. It’s chatting with Lowe’s employees about what Revive225 is all about. It’s seeing a homeowner move into her house after years of being displaced. It’s being okay with being uncomfortable because, like Rev. Brady once said, “mission work begins where your comfort zone ends.”
BY SHERI LOY
Mission Day Camp has been offered as an option for FUMC’s older elementary students, for many summers now. For one week in July, 35 students in 4th and 5th grades, work with local non-profit agencies to learn how these agencies are serving our community and to help along side them. This year, our students visited and worked with: HOPE Ministries, Connections For Life, Magnolia Woods Elementary School (one of FUMC’s partner schools) and Revive225. The students are led by several Children’s Council Members and Revive225 staff, as well as parent volunteers.
Mission Day Camp was held from 9 am – 12:00 pm on July 13th – 17th.