Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mission Highlight: Summer of Serving

The summer of 2013 proved to be a full and transforming season for many of our short-term volunteers in mission. Over three hundred and forty-eight teams answered the call to serve locally, nationally and internationally and allowed us to “join” them on their journey.
Additionally, several individuals served for a longer period of time. In this Mission Highlight, we wanted to shine a bright spotlight on how God moved in three people and the communities in which they served.
To begin, please meet Elissa Ewald. This young adult with a heart for sharing God’s love all over the world moved to Kenya to serve for six months. She shared that God spoke very clearly to her during her freshman year of college and when the time came, she answered boldly to serve. While in Kenya, Elissa served with Divine Providence Training Center ( She shared in her writing upon returning home and we want to include her original words because it is written so well:
“Kenya is also my home. I have another family here. I have an entirely other set of friends. I have people that I dance in the kitchen with, ones who put up with my singing loudly in the car, and ones who notice when I’m not in church on Sunday. This is where I felt called to go my freshman year of college, never having heard the Lord spoken so clearly or loudly before. It is where these beautiful people captured my heart. It is where the Lord called me back to last year. It is where I have stumbled ungracefully through trials and learned great lessons about myself and about who the Lord is.
He brought me comfort, and joy, and love, and a whole new group of friends that I couldn’t even have hoped for or deserved. He brought me community. Not just people for the sake of people, either. He brought me people laugh with and cook for, to grow with and learn with, to encourage me and to gently correct me. He brought me people to remind me WHO HE IS.”
Elissa studied Photojournalism at the University of Georgia and the images she shares on her blog are simply stunning. You can see more, and read more, of her story on her
Now let’s talk about Shaun Smith. This guy has hardworking and compassionate written all over him. Hailing from Virginia and married to a UMC pastor, he said, “My wife had been praying for ‘my situation’ as she called it.” Upon finishing a prayer, she was searching online for information unrelated to UMVIM and stumbled across the information about the Individual Volunteer Program. “We’re serious about saying ‘yes’ to God,” he continued, “so when it happened, she told me.” After researching the program, he submitted the application the following day.
Shaun attended Individual Volunteer training and received a placement to serve with Upper Sand Mountain Parish in the North Alabama Conference. We were able to catch up with Shaun at the Parish and through our conversations, we learned that Shaun had a big, transformational morning. In a video interview, he shared the following story:
“I’ll tell you, I never thought I would be the person who would fall on my hands and knees and beg God to take that last little bit…to take it from me. I never thought I would be that person because I had to be in control of giving it. Well, if I’m in control of giving it, it’s never going to be given. I never thought I would be that person. Today I was.”
Finally, we want to introduce you to Kylie Foley. For a little history, in our 40th year in ministry, we were excited to launch a College Internship Program. After several interviews and many prayers, we offered Kylie the opportunity to serve as our first intern.
She is a recent graduate of Florida State University and has led teams to serve with friends in Haiti. Her pastor posted the internship announcement on their Facebook page and she applied although, she noted, “I started the summer skeptical of missions. I just didn’t know if my passion was really my calling, or something I just loved as part of church culture.”
During the nine weeks, she spent a week and a half in the UMVIM, SEJ office and we filled her with information in preparation for her time in service. We were excited to connect her with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Wesley Foundation to provide housing and friendship for her stay in Birmingham. Kylie attended North Alabama Annual Conference and she shared on her blog, “I could go on and on about the things I learned. But here’s it boiled down: We’re called to be disciples and make disciples. That’s it. The church can’t be dying if Jesus is alive, so get it together.”
She then traveled to Lineville, Alabama to serve for three weeks with the Learn and Serve Camp through Servants in Faith and Technology (SIFAT). She shared, “Summed up, missions is loving others because you love and obey God. It is not a trip, an experience, a set time or people group. Missions is how you live your life, and all of those things can be part of it as well. But it doesn’t define missions.”
Finally, Kylie served in Quesimpuco, Bolivia for three weeks facilitating the beginnings of a guinea pig farm (yes!) and greenhouse, and also serving a church. Kylie shared in an email the following:
“This summer has helped me to strip down the definition of missions and label it as…Being a Christian. I ended the summer STOKED about missions…Mission trips are another way of daily discipleship and not just a check mark next to charity for the year. Working for a church or short-term mission agency to make “missions” more sustainably focused and culturally sensitive would be an absolute honor, and I hope God uses me soon for whatever He has planned.”
On her blog she shared images of her journal of her entire trip, and it is such a beautiful testament to her kind and quiet spirit. That blog can be accessed here:
Individual Volunteers serve in all types of settings throughout the year; typically they serve between two months and two years. For more information about the Individual Volunteer program, check out our Individual Volunteer page.
We feel that for its first year, the internship program was a roaring success. In beginning conversations about the internship program, our hope was that the student might experience various aspects of mission and ministry, have quality conversations with mentors, see justice at work, and spend time in discerning his or her calling. All of these hopes came to fruition and we plan to continue this program for many summers! To learn more about how you can support, join and pray for the internship program, please see the Go! page on our website.

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