St. Thomas summer mission teams will build stoves and houses, lead Bible school

As reported in the Bull Run Observer July 19, 2013 issue.

By GAIL WILLIAMS
Observer Staff

St. Thomas United Methodist Church has an ambitious mission team and, this summer and fall, members will be joining other churches as they travel to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Kimberly Moore, missions chair, is leading a team of 17 others to Guatemala July 20-28.
"Four are from St Thomas; the rest are members of other area United Methodist Churches and
Catholic congregations; She said their ages range from 14 to 78 and many are first-timers to mission trips. This will be her ninth year going to that country. For the third consecutive year, the group will stay in Chuicavioc, a highland village at about 10,000 feet with no electricity or running water.

In the nearby village of Paja, the members will work with children but the primary purpose of the visit is to build 18 cooking stoves; each team of three or four should be able to complete one per day. Moore said the stoves are critical to improving the lives of the villagers.

'The people in the highlands still live a very traditional Mayan life, [including] cooking over an open pit. This causes a host of problems from upper respiratory infection to eye problems, children getting burned, lower back and knee problems and [use of] a lot of wood from the local forest."

A new stove, which uses less wood, has four burners, a door to control the heat, a chimney to get the smoke out of the house and a contained fire.

On Thursday afternoon, July 25, the villagers will thank the team with a special meal hosted by the women of Paja, followed by a gift exchange.

Each lady of the house will be presented with a prayer shawl that has been knitted just for her by one of the women in the home churches. "They usually present each team member with a special gift they made themselves, usually a weaving of some type. It's an amazing experience," said Moore.

On the following day, the team will plant 300 to 500 trees to help rebuild those lost through use
in fire pits. Moore said other teams visiting throughout the year plant a similar number.

"I continue to go because there are more stoves to be built and more lives to touch. I find that I need. .. a reminder. .. to take time to remember why God put us here in the first place. To do things for others, using what Fie gave us, our hands and feet, to do His work on earth. [For us all], it's the people: their kindness, generosity, love and so much more. They are so happy that we have come to make their everyday life a little better. What they don't realize is that [it's the
time spent] with them that makes our lives so much better."

She indicated that "better" includes an appreciation of simple ways, family, slow pace, kindness to others, doing something for someone else.

Honduras Oct. 11-19
Four young adults from St. Thomas will join eight peers in ConneXion NoVa's first international mission journey to Honduras from Oct. 11-19. According to Ryan Held, one of St. Thomas' participants, that organization is a regional United Methodist Church young adult ministry intended to provide opportunities to experience mission work, Christian study, fellowship and worship with their contemporaries. He said the United Methodist Church defines young adults as 18 to 35 and he expects a range of ages to travel to Honduras.

Held was on a mission team to Honduras in 2011 and encouraged ConneXion NoVa to consider it as its first international mission. They decided to join a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team at its facility in Tegucigalpa. While not all plans are finalized, Held said the St. Thomas team will lead a vacation Bible school for children and help with construction, including concrete work. ''We'll probably know more as the date draws closer, but for now, we're excited about contributing in both ways. [In addition], in my experience it's almost a must to be part of a worship service with the local • culture and are intending for this trip to be no exception."

To find out how to support this mission, visit connexionnova.org or contact St. Thomas.

El Salvador Nov. 7-14
In her third time in the country, Paula Renfro will lead a mission trip to Ahuachapan," El Salvador from Nov. 7-14. The St. Thomas team will join others in the Salvadoran Missions Project, made up of other United Methodist Church volunteers and the El Salvadoran Methodist Church. There, the teams will help residents build homes and work on a church but other groups will be hosting medical care, a feeding program and Bible school.

Said Renfro, "The Salvadorans submit an application to have a home built. There are only two requirements: they have to own the land and they have to help in the construction. They are the main workers and we do what they ask."

They also consider age and capabilities. Last year, for example, three of the four women on the team were over 60; the youngest was in her thirties but a native nephew also helped; The older women painted a large room and kitchen while the youngest helped install a ceramic tile floor.

Renfro said the team will probably stay at a hotel that has internet access but there's also a mission house in the area. They will have breakfast and dinner at their base and lunch at the work site provided by the local residents. While the construction is a focus, there will also be relationship building, which is just as important Said Renfro, "The work is good but I like the real goal. Just as we're loved by God, we want them to experience that love through our help. We want to develop a relationship with the people we're working with."

The team develops that relationship through working, eating and worshipping with them and learning about their culture. Asked if they try to evangelize, Renfro responded, ''We are building homes but, if they want to talk, the building is not as important."

She said the St. Thomas team will try to raise money for mission from church members and the community at large.

For more information about the missions and how to support them, visit StThomasUMC.org or call 703-368-5161.

St. Thomas' mission in DC targets least met needs of people living on the streets

As reported in the Bull Run Observer June 28, 2013 issue.

By GAIL WILLIAMS
Observer staff

One Sunday night a month, Pastor Matthew Smith takes a team from St. Thomas United Methodist Church to Washington, D.C. to hand out meals, clothing and other necessities to people living on the streets.

"We travel to the shadow of the nation's capital to people who can't or won't sleep in shelters at night," said Smith. "We begin at the Canadian embassy and caravan to numerous parks and other locations where they're waiting for us."

He said about eight members ride in or follow the church's 15 passenger van loaded with bagged meals (sandwich, drink, fruit, and snack) and hygiene kits for everyone, clothing, blankets, backpacks, sleeping bags, Bibles and devotional kits. They meet with another van carrying primarily food and shoes, donated by Faith United Methodist Church in Accokeek, Maryland.

Smith started this mission about six years ago but had been involved with such a mission for seven years before corning to St. Thomas; Smith’s former pastor and mentor got him involved. He said St. Thomas chose Sunday night because other churches went out on the other nights.

"We found a gap that needed to be filled," said Smith. "This is a wonderful ministry. We go Sunday night around bedtime for a reason: to provide mercy, feed the hungry and clothe the naked as Christ commanded. We want to make sure they're in their place when we get there. They know when we're corning, so we want to build that reliability and trust."

The group makes about 15 stops, bringing 150 meals. Asked how many people they see, Smith said it varies over the seasons. He said in the winter, a lot travel south. In the summer, there are more people in the streets, including thousands they won't see. There are few women and rarely any children because those groups are given priority for shelter.

"We target the least met needs," said Smith. "We don't ask why they're there. We don't do this because they deserve help. We do it because we didn't deserve the grace, love and forgiveness of Christ. As followers of Jesus, we are called to do as he would do. More than anything, we try to offer God's love and dignity."

Smith said the group tries to remember any special requests or needs, such as unusual sizes or steel-toed work boots. He said the members are always in need of lighter-weight and Spanish Bibles to pass out. On some nights, they may not hand out any Bibles; on another, they might give 30. "I want to dispel the myth that the homeless are not Christians. There are a lot of reasons they find themselves there. We just try to meet them with Christ's love."

Smith said so many church members wanted to participate in this mission that they went from bi-monthly to monthly. "We give priority to first-timers, while balancing the new with the experienced. Folks who come are real servants, ranging from teens to the older ones. We meet in Washington at 7 p.m. and get back at midnight, sometimes later. It's labor intensive. We love to give members a sense of people who are different and an appreciation of the blessing that we have. Many times, I've seen people give clothing off their backs or feet. It's a very meaningful and powerful mission."

People traveling to these places at night might wonder about their safety. Smith said, "It's not a dangerous trip. Our experience has been good. [However, there was one tragic incident.] A couple of years ago, one of our beloveds was beaten to death by a gang. They grieve as a community [over the loss of one of their own]."

Many more people participate in this mission than go to the city. "We have people who can't go but who donate their time to fill meals and collect clothes. Some find places that give donations or things like leftover corporate T-shirts."

Smith said the homeless mission, including van maintenance, gas and collection of donated items, is funded through the church's budget, rather than fundraising.

The main campus of St. Thomas United Methodist Church is located at 8899 Sudley Road in Manassas. For worship times and opportunities to serve, the church can be contacted at 703-368-5161 or at stthomasumc.org.

 

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