Several Texas youth got a literal and spiritual taste of what Jesus would do this summer, after visiting Jacksonville as members of the U.M. ARMY.
First United Methodist Church-Jacksonville hosted about 120 teens, young adults and adults from other Methodist churches across northeast Texas for a week in July, marking the 35th year the U.M ARMY (United Methodist Action Reach-out Mission by Youth) has marched through Texas, lending hands and hammers and tending to hearts and homes. This year, the group completed 60 different building projects at 15 locations in and around the Jacksonville area – including installing new steps and hand rails to Pine Grove resident Virginia Dennis' house on County Road 1804.
“I am so pleased with the work they did for me,” Dennis said. “They did a great job and it's so nice to have good steps and a firm handrail. I'm so thankful and blessed.”
Work crews also built wheelchair ramps; painted homes; did yard work; and provided other types of home maintenance work, both inside and out. Local church officials provided the list of those needing help – many of whom were referred by social service organizations such as HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Enrichment), Adult Protective Services and other churches.
“A few years ago, my group and a group from Jacksonville worked together in another community,” said Larry Porterfield, director of the group who visited Jacksonville this year. “They were a wonderful group to work with and Jacksonville is a wonderful town to work for.”
Porterfield, a member of St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Houston, also commented on the weather.
“We were here when all that rain was passing through,” he said with a laugh. “The temperatures were so nice that week, if y'all could do that every summer, I'd love to move to Jacksonville.”
Porterfield said he's pleased with what his groups were able to accomplish within the week the ARMY was in Jacksonville.
“At first, it didn't feel like 15 locations was enough,” he confessed. “But then I looked at all the different jobs we were able to do at each home – we did a ton of work! We tried to prioritize jobs so we could address as many safety issues as we could. It's sad – the level of help needed is always more than the time limit we have to get it done.”
According to the organization's website, www.umarmy.org, “U.M. ARMY began in 1979 when 36 youth and adults from Houston area churches decided that rather than go to Tennessee for a mission project, they would save the travel money and spend it working on needs near home. Why? High cost of gas, long lines at gas stations and concerns about whether or not the group could make it there and back caused them to consider building a new ministry right in their own backyard of East Texas.”
Those churches continued building on that momentum – so much so that in 1998, the Board of Directors decided to cement U.M. ARMY’s future and moved to officially charter the group the U.M. ARMY Texas Conference, and half of the Board of Directors was named U.M. ARMY National.
“Now, more than 35 years after its humbling beginning has grown and produced fruit with almost 5,000 participants working up to 2,000 worksites annually,” the organization's website states. “U.M. ARMY is now planting seeds across the country with new chapters in Southwest, North and Northwest Texas, and new chapters are being planned throughout the U.S.”
The U.M. ARMY continues to remain committed to helping those who have neither the physical nor financial means of doing the work themselves.
“We're always delighted to host people willing to help those in need,” said FUMC-Jacksonville member Barbara Hugghins. “It's fun to meet all these wonderful new friends and support and encourage them in the work they are willing to do for our community. We are so thankful.”
People of all denominations and beliefs are welcome to join the U.M. ARMY, and church groups of all sizes are welcome to attend. Visit http://www.umarmy.org/ for details on getting involved or to learn how to support this organization.