Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

July 12, 2013

UM Army marches on Jacksonville; repairs homes

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — For most teens, summer often means finding ways to while away hot, lazy days, as they mentally tick off the number of days left until the beginning of school.

But members of the UM ARMY are getting a chance to put their faith in action as part of a weeklong work camp that helps local homeowners with beautification and improvement projects they might not otherwise have been able to afford.

Groups “go every year to different places during the summer, doing mission work and helping with people's homes – this year we are in Jacksonville,” explained Leah Brandin, a youth coordinator from Wesley United Methodist Church in Nederland who volunteered to sponsor a group this year.

Other members of the team she is overseeing this week are from Methodist churches in Marshall and Houston, “but UMA projects pull kids and sponsors from all over,” she said.

According to the UM ARMY website, the acronym stands for “United Methodist Action Reach-Out Mission by Youth,” a 30-plus year program that provides quality Christ-centered youth work camps serving those in need.

And while youths – who range from teens beginning their freshman year in high school to those beginning their freshman year in college – serve others, they're developing leadership skills and deepening their faith as they share fellowship, the site states.

“We do just go out and do all kinds of different projects,” Brandin said, describing a project in Jacksonville.

“On Tuesday, we built a big ramp in one lady's front yard, we cleaned up her yard, and then we built up three ramps to go up into the buildings (on her property).”

Eight teams – approximately 80 youths and their sponsors – have been staying at First United Methodist Church Jacksonville, which offered to serve as base camp for the UM ARMY this week. There, they bunk down for the night, hold a morning devotional service and eat breakfast before hitting the day's project.

They return to the church between 4 and 5 p.m., taking up gracious offers by church members to bathe at their homes, then meet back at the church for an evening meal and evening devotional. Lunch breaks are on site, and also include a brief period of worship.

On Thursday, Brandin and her team were at the home of Jacksonville resident Evelyn Wilcox, who said her 1002 Caroline Street home was originally owned by her parents, then passed down to her.

The white woodframe structure “is my old family home,” she said. “I grew up here, and this house is 60 years old.”

The home is original to the neighborhood, she said.

“When we moved up here, this was the only house here,” she recalled. “There was nothing but sand. A lot of the streets up here weren't open, and there were snakes and bull nettles and horned toads.”

Wilcox said she has known about the projects that the Methodist group has done before, but wasn't sure how to bring her home to their attention. “I don't want to let (work on) mine go,” she said.

However, a phone call dissolved her worries.

On Thursday, a 17-member team began scraping and cleaning the outside of her house, preparing it for a fresh coat of paint they hoped to brush on Friday.

At one point, she ventured out of her home to mingle with group members, who invited her to dinner that evening.

Generally, Brandin said, the homeowners “have been very thankful” for the group's efforts.

“Some think maybe they have to pay (for the service), but we're doing this for them – our fee covers (the cost of supplies and everything),” she said, describing the $250 fee paid by participating youths.

The kids, however, don't think of it as a hefty assessment, but simply a means to serve someone unknown to them in a new community.

“It changes your heart,” said Marshall resident Catherine Grant-ham, 17, who has participated for two years in UM ARMY projects.

Her fellow church member Andrew Taylor, 14, said he likes to volunteer from time to time at the local animal shelter, but this year, he wanted to be part of the work done by the Methodist youth ministry.

“I just love to help people out,” he said.

Sixteen-year-old Jalie Bell, who is a member of Brandin's congregation in Nederland, said the experience is just an “amazing” one because even though “you don't know anyone (when) you leave, it's like being best friends,” because the experience is so unique.

It's her third year to participate in the ministry, which she says allows you to “let go, and let Christ take your heart and lead you.

“You help everyone – you don't have to know them, they don’t have to know you, but you love them through God and you help them. You make things better for them. And,” she added, through this ministry, it's just possible that “you might actually bring Christ into someone's heart who has never (known) him before.”

What makes this church-based program so unique is that participants get to see first-hand how God works through them and for them, Brandin said.

“It just brings you closer to God,” she said.