Teens do homegrown mission
BY CARRIE MADREN
The morning was rife with a hot, grimy sort of mugginess that makes dirt stick to skin and weeds itch as they snare ankles. But a small group of seven teens and three adults toiled willingly in Mrs. Palmer’s backyard, ripping out an overgrown patch of lemon balm, scraggly squatter trees that overran the side yard and weeds that overran a garden plot and brick paths.
The team was part of a week-long July mission called Bowie Streetreach, an annual local missions project that started two years ago out of Mount Oak UMC in Mitchellville.
The idea for a local mission project occurred on a long flight back from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where Jason Craig, worship leader at Mount Oak, had led a 24-person mission team three years ago. In Belfast, Craig’s hometown, the group helped clean up yards and planted flower beds as they spent time with local youth, all after attending a Christian music festival.
“On the flight home, we asked ourselves why we had to fly so far away at so much expense to help people when there was need right here at home,” recalled Craig. “So we started to think about how we could do a missions week where we serve people we live beside.”
There was need in their hometown, and Bowie StreetReach was born.
Clearing the Way
At Mrs. Palmer’s house on Pointer Ridge Road, Russell Holloway is trying to identify a long vine of possible poison ivy so he can help the youth stay itch-free. Faith Woods, 18, sits on a brick walkway, prying crabgrass out from between the pavers; she’s about halfway down the path, but the weeds must be pulled from the root, and it’s a tedious task. At the back of the yard, Aliyah Blow, 13, and Brian Stewart, 11, pull fistfuls of waist-high lemon balm from an overgrown patch, shoving them into black plastic trash bags.
“I’m gonna be tired, but it’s fun,” said Blow, who screamed and giggled in surprise when she encountered a caterpillar on the lemon balm. Woods says she’s blown away seeing how much the mission team’s efforts make a difference. Her brother, Stuart, 14, nearby helping clear out an area of rogue weeds, said that doing the local mission work makes him realize how privileged he is, and he likes being able to help out.
The mission week creates a learning environment, too, said Mt. Oak youth pastor Dione Bowlding.“There have been a lot of leadership moments and I’ve seen a lot of teamwork,” he said of the annual mission.
Bowie StreetReach works like this: Volunteers clear brush and brambles from residents’ yards by day and reach out to local teens by night. Youth and adults camp on Mt. Oak’s property, where the group is treated like an outside mission team, with meals and showers provided. Each morning, mission volunteers rise at 7 a.m. to make it to their worksites by 7:45. The day’s work brings everything from weeding to mowing, clearing away brush and debris, bundling woody clippings and visiting with seniors. Groups wrap up around 3 p.m. to prepare for dinner and evening activities.
This year, 60 volunteers — including a group from New Jersey — split into work teams to tackle dozens of Bowie residences throughout the week.
Bowie has an aging population, and many residents have lived in the same house for more than 25 years. These seniors are unable to keep up with their backyards, and the city fines residents for having overgrown, unsightly yards as seen from the street. But backyards tend to get overlooked until weeds and growth overtake the property.
“So City Hall was trying to find city residents who were willing to help,” Craig said. “We said ‘that’s us, we’ll help.’”
Before the mission week, Craig said, 15 people had already called the church to request help, and after church on Sunday, the young missioners walked neighborhood streets handing out leaflets explaining the volunteer project. That’s how Johanna Palmer, 75, said she found out about the mission; she called because she just can’t keep up with the yard anymore.
“It was like somebody was listening, and came to help,” said Palmer. “I really appreciate this — it’s amazing.”
Evenings are spent sharing the Gospel. Free events at a local park and other local hangouts included a screening of “To Save a Life,” a skateboard competition, a water activity night and a Christian concert. Craig said they plan to film some of the skateboarding and post it to YouTube through the church’s youth website.
In this way, Craig said, “we can begin to make connections with the local kids.”
Make the Connection: Find out how your church’s youth can join in next year at Bowie StreetReach (www.bowiestreetreach.org).