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Individual volunteers program offers chance to do more

by Linda Bloom

The Rev. David Barkley had been "reading and watching and praying about the terrible suffering going on around the world" and decided he wanted to assist in some tangible way.

That decision led him to the individual volunteer program of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, a program sponsored by the denomination's General Board of Global Ministries.

In 2004, the program placed 164 individuals in 27 countries and 13 U.S. states, according to Jeanie Blankenbaker, the board executive in charge of mission volunteers. Length of placement can vary from two months to two years or more.

The individual volunteer program worked for Barkley -- who retired as pastor of Sierra Vista (Ariz.) United Methodist Church in 1999 -- because he didn't want to be away too long from a project in Mexico that he has been involved with through a nonprofit organization.

Barkley joined 14 other potential volunteers at a weeklong orientation and training event in Phoenix in February. Eight of the trainees were young adults who are attending college or had recently graduated. "Their commitment and their faith was so strong," Blankenbaker said. "I was truly impressed by that."

Many applicants for the program - who, besides young adults, include former or retired missionaries, retired pastors or professionals and those interested in missionary work - have had a previous volunteer in mission experience.

Some volunteers arrive for orientation knowing that they want to serve at a specific location. "Others come to our training just knowing that God has called them to do this," Blankenbaker added.

For Barkley, a placement as a relief pastor in Grenada became a possibility within a week after the training event. It seemed like a good fit. "I didn't feel like I could take out the money to go to Africa or Asia," he explained. "Everything about this (Grenada) just fit right in place."

He arrives in Grenada on April 26 for an orientation from the pastor overseeing a circuit of eight churches and four schools of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, Grenada district. From May 1 to Aug. 31, he'll be there on his own, ministering to residents of an island hard hit last September by Hurricane Ivan.

"The people will be grieving," said Barkley, who has experience as a grief counselor. "Just being there and listening and trying to be of what help I can - that's what the Lord want me to do."

Pastors are in demand for placements, according to Greg Forrester, who is the national coordinator for the individual volunteers program as well as head of the UMVIM office for the denomination's Northeastern Jurisdiction. But people with medical skills or construction skills or who can teach English or serve as guides for volunteer teams also are in demand.

Most people, he noted, can teach English as a second language. "That's one of the major requests that come through."

Other teaching is more specialized. "Many of the seminaries worldwide are looking for what they call traveling professors," Forrester said.

Some volunteers are seeking to use skills outside their regular profession. One current placement involves an attorney who is teaching English at a youth house in the Ukraine and helping the institution apply for grants.

In the past, the applicant pool has been comprised of about one-third young adults and two-thirds retirees, but Forrester has seen a change in that percentage lately. "Based on what I've been experiencing in the last two months...I think it's going to end up being a 50-50 mix," he said, attributing the increase to the current job market and the desire to gain life experience before going on to graduate school or a job.

Most applicants need to be at least 20 years old, but there is no upper age limit "as long as they're physically able and their health doesn't require specific needs."

Once the applicant is approved and trained, the placement soon follows. David Walton, part of the February group, will report March 27 to Cookson Hills Center. The center is a collaborative mission project of the denomination's Oklahoma Conference, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Women.

Walton, a member of First United Methodist Church in Bartlesville, Okla., had spent many Saturdays working on local Habitat for Humanity projects. Although his church has sent volunteer teams to a sister church in Estonia for a decade, he had never gone because a tendency toward airsickness had dampened his enthusiasm for the 26-hour trip.

One day, however, one of the teams needed a construction foreman. "When they saw my tools, they wouldn't let me not go to Estonia," he recalled. "So far, to date, I've never got sick on a mission trip."

By the time Walton retired last year from the computing department of ConocoPhillips, he was totally hooked on the mission experience. He applied for the individual volunteers program with the intention of helping coordinate volunteer teams in Mexico, but then learned of a need for a volunteer coordinator at Cookson Hills Center.

He will be guiding teams who come to the rural area around Cookson to make repairs and do weatherproofing on the homes of the Cherokee residents. "It's the poorest part of Oklahoma," Wilson added. "It's going to be a lifestyle change for me, even though it's in the U.S."

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

See Also...
Topic: GBGM programs United Methodist Church Volunteers
Geographic Region: EstoniaGrenadaMexicoSouth Central U.S.United States
Source: United Methodist News Service

arrow icon. View Listing of Missionaries Currently Working in: Estonia    Grenada |    Mexico |    South Central U.S. |    United States |   

Date posted: Mar 23, 2005